DeepResource

Observing the world of renewable energy and sustainable living

The planet’s human carrying capacity


This is a post we would prefer not to write. It is one thing to predict that the price of car fuel will increase dramatically in the coming years (as we do predict), presenting a model that forcasts the premature deaths of billions of people is something entirely different. We do it anyway to illustrate the gravity of the current situation in the hope that the predicted outcome will not materialize. The model presented is from 2007. It is a truism that we would not have problems resulting from resource depletion if there were not so many people around on this planet. But there are. The model is based on core ecological concepts of sustainability, carrying capacity and overshoot. The aim of the model is to calculate how large a stable human population can be that can live for thousands of years without harming the environment or running out of resources. The outcome as well as the projected trajectory is presented in the graph. Its disturbing message is that resource depletion will start to bite in merely a few years from now. The only reason why world population has quadruppeld since 1900 was/is the availability of oil, resulting in massive increase of food production and hence population. As a rule of thumb: one food calorie needs 7-10 non-food calories to produce. The model is based on a strong correlation between the availability of energy, that is fossil fuels. No fossil fuels, no (not enough) food. That’s the drama. The author assumes a peak oil date that is actually behind us: 2005. It is also assumed that there will be no real replacement for fossil fuels and that the role of photovoltaics, wind and biofuels will be marginal. Furthermore it is assumed that stabilization will occur at the moment all oil will be gone, that is in 2082. The final number of people that can be sustained is determined by the level of fossil fuel replacements after oil is gone and is calculated to be 1 billion people. The author concludes: “The human cost of such an involuntary population rebalancing is, of course, horrific. Based on this model we would experience an average excess death rate of 100 million per year every year for the next 75 years to achieve our target population of one billion by 2082. The peak excess death rate would happen in about 20 years, and would be about 200 million that year. To put this in perspective, WWII caused an excess death rate of only 10 million per year for only six years.

[PaulChefurka]

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