Monday, March 23, 2015

Malthus and the One-an-a-Half Earths

Studying Nigeria and, more broadly Africa, these past few days, I was reminded of an organization called Global Footprint Network. I’ve had a post on GFN on LaMarotte a couple of years ago (link), where the concept of calculating the earth’s carrying capacity is outlined. According to GFN we are now consuming resources at a rate which, if measured by the earth’s ability to replace them, would require another half of an earth—which is another way of saying that resources are not being replaced—hence we are approaching some kind of disaster. Those interested might wish to visit the GFN site (link). I turned in this direction because Africa is a rather sizable continent and, today, by no means developed. Hence its full-scale industrialization might well tilt things in the wrong way. I ended that post in 2013 thus:

The Global Footprint Network is, ultimately, looking at population pressure—thus falls under a tradition begun by Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834).  At the halfway point in Malthus’ life, circa 1800, world population was around 1 billion. We were then a long, long ways away form an unsustainable population. But we’ve increased population since then more than six times. And at some point somebody will be right. Unsustainability will be reached. Does that mean that humanity will disappear? No. But the return to long-term sustainability will be neither pretty nor due to some clever gifts of technology, no matter how ingenious.

Nigeria’s population growth in 2013, according to the CIA World Factbook, was 2.47 percent per year—with its northern reaches gradually desertifying; that of the United States was 0.77 percent.

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