Two centuries ago Thomas Malthus predicted that the earth’s population would eventually outpace the food needed to sustain it if human reproduction wasn’t kept in check. Failure to do that would result in global disaster. Well, it wasn’t kept in check and all factors are pointing to a day of reckoning. We are experiencing the early stages now.
“World population is projected to reach 7 billion in 2012, up from the current 6.8 billion, and surpass 9 billion people by 2050…[from] the 2008 Revision of the official United Nations population estimates and projections…” Overpopulation is the driving force for the nightmare about to leave its mark on earth’s inhabitants. Like a plague of locusts, this mass of people will consume and destroy much of what is needed to sustain life. It’s a simple fact. The earth can only support a certain number of people at a certain level.
The problem is today’s modern, hi-tech lifestyle is now being acquired by a growing number of people across the globe. Citizens of China, for example, are putting 14,000 new cars on the roads each day (2004). Third world populations are now switching to western diets and eating more meat protein. Every nation overuses and pollutes their water. And climate change (whatever the cause) has affected crop growth around the world.
Oil consumption and prices are certain to rise quickly if the world economy returns to the pre-collapse state. Gas for $4.00 a gallon will be considered the good old days. There will be shortages and many of the 6,000 products made from petroleum will not be available. And there are no substitutes.
Our diminishing resources will cause increasing unrest as the world’s population races toward 9 billion in 40 years. There will be more resource wars. This planet is well beyond its carrying capacity and there are no plans that can fix this problem. What we have here is akin to playing Russian Roulette with a single shot pistol and one round in the chamber.
According to Lester R. Brown, writing in the Scientific American, there are three trends that are affecting the price of food and its availability:
“On the demand side, those trends include the ongoing addition of more than 70 million people a year; a growing number of people wanting to move up the food chain to consume highly grain-intensive livestock products…and the massive diversion of U.S. grain to ethanol-fuel distilleries.
“The potential for further grain consumption as incomes rise among low-income consumers is huge. But that potential pales beside the insatiable demand for crop-based automotive fuels. A fourth of this year’s U.S. grain harvest-enough to feed 125 million Ameicans or half a billion Indians at current consumption levels-will go to fuel cars. Yet even if the entire U.S. grain harvest were diverted into making ethanol, it would meet at most 18 percent of U.S. automotive fuel needs. The grain required to fill a 25-gallon SUV tank with ethanol could feed one person for a year.”
“The U.S., in a misguided effort to reduce its dependence on foreign oil by substituting grain-based fuels, is generating global food insecurity on a scale not seen before.” Scientific American, p.2
The planet is running short of water:
“A swelling global population, changing diets and mankind’s expanding ‘water footprint’ could be bringing an end to the era of cheap water.” We are at “peak ecological water”, like ‘peak oil”. The world can no longer use water as if there were an infinite amount.
“The world is in danger of running out of ‘sustainably managed water’, according to Peter Gleick, the president of the Pacific Institute and a leading authority on global freshwater resources.”
Concerning world food supply, Brown writes “…the spread of water shortages poses the most immediate threat. The biggest challenge here is irrigation, which consumes 70 percent of the world’s freshwater. Millions of irrigation wells in many countries are now pumping water out of underground sources faster than rainfall can recharge them. The result is falling water tables in countries populated by half the world’s people, including the big grain producers-China, India and the U.S.
“Usually aquifers are replenishable, but some of the most important ones are not: the ‘fossil’ aquifers, so called because they store ancient water and are not recharged by precipitation.
“For these-including the vast Ogallala Aquifer that underlies the U.S. Great Plains, the Saudi aquifer and the deep aquifer under the North China Plain-depletion would spell the end of pumping. In arid regions such a loss could also bring an end to agriculture altogether.
“In China the water table under the North China Plain, an area that produces more than half of the country’s wheat and a third of its corn, is falling fast. Overpumping has used up most of the water in a shallow aquifer there, forcing well drillers to turn to the region’s deep aquifer, which is not replenishable. A report by the World Bank foresees ‘catastrophic consequences for future generations’ unless water use and supply can quickly be brought back into balance.” ( That will not happen.) Read the complete article at Scientific American with the link above.
That’s not all. How about “No more seafood by 2050? from the New Scientist.
“There may be no more commercial fish stocks left in the sea by 2050, according to a new study cataloguing the global collapse of marine ecosystems.
“It blames not just over-fishing, but also mankind’s wider attack on the health of ocean ecosystems, for instance from pollution.”
Steve Palumbi and fellow researchers at Stanford University carried out a four-year study of the problem and concluded:
“Unless we fundamentally change the way we manage all the ocean species together, as working eco-systems, then this century is the last century of wild food.”
China and other nations are traveling the world these days buying up agricultural land and securing oil guarantees for this impending crisis. Fierce competition for resources, including water, will erupt in conflicts and suffering for people worldwide, including the United States. See- China Stakes a Claim for Major Access to Oil around the World.
China is now positioned, if needed, to offer the United States a deal it can’t refuse since the trade agreement with China has done so much for our nation’s economy:
“No country is immune to the effects of tightening food supplies, not even the U.S., the world’s breadbasket. If China turns to the world market for massive quantities of grain, as it has done recently for soybeans, it will have to buy from the U.S. For U.S. consumers, that would mean competing for the U.S. grain harvest with 1.3 billion Chinese customers with fast-rising incomes-a nightmare scenario. In such circumstances, it would be tempting for the U.S. to restrict exports, as it did, for instance, with grain and soybeans in the 1970s when domestic prices soared.
“But that is not an option with China. Chinese investors now hold well over a trillion U.S. dollars, and they have been the leading international buyers of U.S. Treasury securities issued to finance the fiscal deficit. Like it or not, U.S. consumers will share their grain with Chinese consumers, no matter how high food prices rise.” (Brown, Scientific American, May 2009)
“For many years I have studied global agricultural, population, environmental and economic trends and their interactions. The combined effects of those trends and the political tensions they generate point to the breakdown of governments and societies.”
“Our continuing failure to deal with the environmental declines that are undermining the world food economy… forces me to conclude that such a collapse (of our global civilization) is possible.” Lester R. Brown.
There is something new under the sun. We have never been at this point on planet earth. The earth is finite with finite resources. We have a population that has exploded in the last one hundred years and it is devouring these resources; oil, water, agricultural land, and food, at a rapidly increasing rate. Corporations cannot continue “growing their business” when the wheels fall off. Globalization will collapse.
Over the next four decades we will experience the descent into a dystopian world few will be prepared to deal with.