If you’ve lived in the Southern United States for a while, you’ve probably seen something like this.
For some folks, there’s really no limit to what can be put in the back of a pickup truck, whose carrying capacity may seem infinite.
For some folks, there’s no limit on the stress humans can put on Earth. For some people Earth’s carrying capacity—the size of the population and their waste that Earth can sustain—may seem infinite.
How many people? Science doesn’t have a solid answer. There are too many unknowns. Estimates seldom exceed nine billion. (Since “billion” has different definitions in different countries, that’s 9,000,000,000.) The population today is more than seven billion and the United Nations estimates it will reach nine billion in 2037.
I don’t expect to be around in 2037… I would be 93 years old. But I expect my niece, grand-niece, and nephew, first-cousins-once-removed and their children to be part of that nine billion. And I fear for them, for while Earth might be able to support nine billion people, it will almost certainly not be in the manner we live, today.
Population pressures plus global climate change have already led to war. There is a direct link between climate-change-driven drought, migration into already crowded cities, and the war in Syria and the so-called Arab Spring. There is a direct link between climate-change-driven drought in Africa and the deaths of hundreds of children attempting to flee Libya and other countries across the Mediterranean. There is a direct link from climate-change-driven drought and over-population to famines in Africa that will kill millions. More people, more drought, and more war, famine, disease, and death. Those are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse dreamed of by John of Patmos. They’re also real forces created by human beings.
What can we do? We can tell ourselves that the problem is too big, and simply wring our hands in despair. Or, we can make a small difference. If enough of us make enough small differences, perhaps we can keep the scales from tipping toward disaster.
First, please recycle. No matter what you’ve heard, recycling does save energy most of the time and it reduces the volume of trash in landfills all the time. (Trash such as paper, put in landfills, decays without oxygen… an unnatural process that produces methane, a greenhouse gas.)
Registered Curmudgeon, scientist, skeptic, humanist, and writer.