The frightening truth about overpopulation is we are already predestined for extinction. We just don’t know it yet. The daily tasks of each human’s routine existence are now more than ever overshadowed by the worldwide nature of our burgeoning population. We as individuals are immersed in the mundane tasks of paying bills, shopping for groceries, commuting to and from work, and the everyday responsibilities of caring for ourselves and families. The significance of the impact these activities have on the planet is not something we routinely consider as we go about our daily lives.
Globally over 7.6 billion people occupy approximately 60% of the available land mass consuming energy, water, and other natural resources at an alarming rate. Each person is a consumer of the free goods and services provided by the planet’s natural environment. Simple acts of nature such as pollination, wind generation, and rainfall are not considered consumable goods, yet we are granted this bounty by the natural world free of charge and take advantage of them each and every day.
Some years ago, a group of economists and biologists tried to place a price tag on what the cost of natures manufacturing of freshwater, clean air, and healthy foods would be to mankind. The price tag for these ecosystem services worldwide that these scientists came up with was over 30 Trillion dollars annually. The number they devised equates to $4000.00 a year of services for every man, woman, and child on the planet earth. To the lay observer, the cost per person would not seem too much considering our planet sustains us every day expecting nothing in return for services rendered. Nevertheless, humans collectively have the most significant effect on the global ecosystem. Ecologists actually have terminology for this effect which is the keystone species, or in mankind’s case, hyperkeystone species.
The simplest definition of a keystone species is one that has the most significant effect on all the other species in a particular ecosystem. The fact that we are the keystone species of the Earth is an undeniable truth. Some might point to Genesis 1:28 noting this was preordained: God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Now don’t get me wrong I am no bible thumping religious zealot hell-bent on saving humanity from itself. I’ll leave that up to the Jehovah Witnesses or some other such dogmatists. But from a practical point of view, anyone can see that we as species have achieved dominion over the earth and its other species fulfilling the prophecy of Genesis. The problem is we have just been too good at subduing the planet for ourselves. The world population is approaching the 8 billion mark, and current scientific estimates indicate we will hit 8.5 billion by 2030, a scant dozen years away. Scientists and world health organizations often point to a phenomenon known as doubling time to define the growth rate of the world’s population and how long it takes to double.
If no check is placed on world population growth, it is expected that our population will be approximately 10 billion people by 2050 and easily double to over 14 billion in the next 100 years. Scientists and statisticians will debate this number and provided detailed data and statistical models to back up each of their claims and conclusions which are all eerily foretelling. The point is not about exact timing rather, unchecked population growth will eventually overwhelm the planets ability to sustain us as a species in the next 100 years or so unless we address the situation confronting us now.
We worry about climate change, depletion of nonrenewable energy resources, air pollution, water pollution, disease, famine, and even war. All of these are just symptoms of our exponential growth as we spread over the planet like an incurable infection seeking to take over the organism we inhabit until it completely succumbs and is no longer a viable host. Whether we want to accept this fact or not the 21st Century will be a watershed moment for mankind on planet earth. But how did we get to this moment in our history? What has allowed humanity to develop to a technological level enabling unchecked population growth leading to potentially catastrophic events in the next 100 years? The answer is energy. Or more appropriately stated, ”The conversion of energy into social structure.”
The idea of creating social structure out of energy is not new, and it may have been best promulgated in the early 1950’s by Carleton S. Coon. Coon was a noted Harvard educated anthropologist who eventually became one of the leading professors of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania in 194o’s and 50’s. In 1954 Coon published “The Story of Man” which puts forth an interesting theory of converting energy into natural structure. Coon theorized that “Man has been converting energy into social structure at an ever-increasing pace. As he has drawn more and more energy from the earth’s storehouse, he has organized himself into institutions of increasing size and complexity. “
More simply put, Coon believed that mankind has achieved its economic, technological, and cultural hierarchy through the expenditure of the earth’s vast energy reserves. An example of Coon’s theory can be seen being played out in any of the world’s large cities such as London, New York, or Tokyo. Imagine if all the power were turned off to any of these cities or even more cataclysmic, if the power were turned off to the whole planet simultaneously, even for just a few weeks. Let’s face it, it’s pretty damn hard to move food, water, and sewage up and down skyscrapers that are hundreds of feet tall without energy. An examination of 20th Century history provides a clear and concise depiction of what would happen if someone turns out the lights.
There have been numerous blackouts and power outages over the past 100 hundred years one could select as a case in point. One that is very well known took place a little over 50 years ago. The instance to which I refer was the Great Northeast Blackout of 1965. The Great Northeast Blackout is a prime example of what could happen if the power goes out for even a short length of time. New York City and surrounding suburbs were plunged into darkness due to a safety relay trip caused by a power overload in the northeast power grid corridor in November of 1965. Millions of people were without power. People were stranded as subway trains came to a grinding halt, passengers were stuck in immobilized elevators, plane flights delayed and canceled, and general distress was felt among those impacted by the power outage. Although mass chaos did not ensue, one can only imagine what the potential might have been for looting, fires, and the inevitable breakdown of social structure had the power remained out for any length of time.
Our entire way of modern way of life and population growth is primarily based upon the ability of man to convert energy into the social structure of living communities. These communities, in turn, become the foundation of our society allowing for large populations to inhabit finite spaces creating social order out of energy. As our population increases and we use up our energy reserves the social order we have devised around energy will unravel and eventually collapse. As we deplete our energy reserves, we bring ourselves closer and closer to the brink of extinction. Stephen Hawking’s predictions before his death on March 14, 2018, gave an ominous view of mankind’s future. As population increases conversely energy reserves are exhausted with the potential for plummeting our planet into darkness. The latter is a reality we all should be contemplating.
So, what happens when we’ve used up the energy reserves of our planet?
As I have discussed, the reasons nations, states, cities, and even small communities exist are because of man’s ability to convert the earth’s mineral resources into energy to do work. Perhaps this is an oversimplification, but the underlying theory remains the same. Our current civilization and standard of living are solely based upon our ability to transform natural resources into energy. Recognizing that fossil resources such as oil, gas, and coal are finite and limited; us folks that currently live on the planet will need to begin the future now if we wish to continue to exist as a society.
We need to transition to renewable and alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, biomass, hydrogen, even tidal energy from the world’s oceans as part of a renewable energy portfolio. Our current and future generations survival as a species depends upon it. Whether we chose to recognize it or not the need for long-term planning, research, and full implementation of these renewable, nonpolluting energy resources is crucial to our survival. We can choose to immediately embark on complete conversion from non-renewable energy to renewable energy sources or face the consequences of our lack of foresight. Either way what happens when we’ve used up the energy reserves and our planet are on this generation. There is no more kicking the can down road. The challenge as a society is can the majority of us be pragmatic enough to see the truth and do we have the selflessness to actually do something about it? Unfortunately, mankind has a tendency to wait until the clock is about to strike Midnight.
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Author: Steve Bartos
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