When I was growing up in the 1970’s, people were concerned about overpopulation, what the earth’s “carrying capacity” was, and where we were in relation to that capacity. It seems that the dire predictions of the times did not come true, and the world population has now (May 2016) roughly doubled since 1970.
Estimates vary, but the current population is around 7.4 billion people, and many scientists think the earth’s carrying capacity is between 9 and 10 billion people. At the current rate of population increase (83M/yr) we will exceed 9 billion in 19 years; But the birthrate is thought to be declining, and taking that into account, it is predicted to happen in 22 years (2038). This is a mere blink of an eye in evolutionary terms and within the lifetime of many who are alive now.
Carrying capacity is an interesting concept, and seems to imply that the planet’s sole purpose for existence is to provide resources for humans. I think that there is another concept we would do well to develop: At what human population level could we live sustainably with the planet and it’s other life forms? What is the Maximum Optimal Human Population (MOHP)? I will make the possibly outrageous assumption that MOHP is greater than zero.
How would we know that we have exceeded the earth’s MOHP and are heading toward the planets carrying capacity? I submit a partial list here based only on my own intuition and observations. It seems that all of these are at least partially true today:
- Massive natural habitat destruction
- Massive species extinction due to predation and habitat destruction
- Dwindling natural resources (fish and animal populations)
- Dwindling mineral resources (oil, metals, etc.)
- Human societies waste products fouling the air, land and water
Within human societies as the paradigm of continuous growth falters I would expect to see:
- Increased Social Unrest
- Some parts of government preparing for further increases in social unrest through the militarization of police and other agencies.
- Instability of governments and social institutions
- An increase in public and private debt as we try to sustain the unsustainable.
- Instability of financial and currency markets
- A breakdown in the value systems supporting continuous growth
- A lack of opportunities for young people
- The young and disaffected search to find meaning outside societal norms with mixed results
- An increase in scapegoating especially in politics where each party blames the other and implies that all our problems would be solved if it weren’t for that other evil party and their misguided governance.
- Stress and anxiety within businesses, relationships and institutions resulting a quickening of change
- Wealthy people working to protect their own interests
- People turning inward toward their spiritual interests and their personal lives and friendships while ignoring the world as a whole.
- A general malaise within the population and an increase in depression rates.
I’m sure the above is an incomplete list, and I would welcome additional items especially from those with exposure outside of the United States who can give an international perspective. Do you think we have exceeded the MOHP and what do you think a good estimate is of the value?