Responding to Prompt 2 (Malthus)

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I think we have surpassed our carrying capacity by far. Although we continue to survive with over 7 billion people on this planet, it is only due to impermanent advances in technology. While they work for now, there is no guarantee that they will work 10, 20, even 100 years from now. According to the law of conservation of matter, matter cannot be created or destroyed; this tells us that there is a finite amount of resources. While we have the technology to expand the little we have, we will never have the technology to spontaneously produce resources. In addition, as implied before, technology is unstable. The only way to ensure our survival is to live sustainably, or within the means of the Earth, without unnatural aid. As for the question of our extinction, I do not believe humans will be extinct 100 years from now. There may be a crash in population if our technology fails us, but I believe even in the worst-case scenario some humans will survive. For example, say our population reaches about 10 billion by 2050 (which some sources predict). Currently, with over 7 billion people, we have billions in third world countries who are starving to death. How will that number increase as our population increases? If the planet cannot sustain what we have now, how do we expect it to sustain 3 billion more?! However, let’s assume the planet is somehow sustaining 10 billion humans. CO2 levels have risen, raising global temperatures and increasing strength of natural disasters. Tsunamis, earthquakes, sinkholes, and rising sea levels inundate the world in 2050. The few humans left will inhabit the small remaining land above sea level. They will, in my opinion, adapt to the situation, outliving extinction. Of course, even in my idea of the worst-case scenario, this is less than ideal! We need to stop population growth now before it is too late, if it isn’t already. Think about this: is it ethical to throw our scraps to a population that cannot sustain itself? Would it be more ethical to leave them to stay at their carrying capacity? Or should we continue to give our limited amounts of food to those who will simply need more and more? What happens when we run out?

Brief sources: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=45165#.UiDW8WSDTFY http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/08/21/un-population-projection-map/2682459/

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6 responses »

  1. I agree with what you said about how humans have surpassed their carrying capacity and that we need to stop population growth in order to prevent the depletion of our natural resources. However, what I don’t agree with is the implication that technology will ultimately fail us. Over decades of years, science and technology has proved to improve the quality of life for humans, not completely deteriorate it by using up natural resources. Yes, technology can be an “environmental villain” and cause gas guzzling cars that emit CO2 into the atmosphere to be created, but technology can also be our friend in society’s movement towards a more sustainable lifestyle. For example, without the advances of technology and science, wind turbines, hydroelectric dams, and solar panels would have not been created. Do these sources of renewable energy come with no cons? No, these systems of renewable energy are not perfect. However, if we exclude technology out of the environmental equation, how can we have a chance to improve these systems? Furthermore, I believe we can’t expect society to live “within the means of the Earth, without unnatural aid” as you have said because since our modern society is so used to our technological conveniences, we refuse to give them up. Therefore, I believe that society must find a way to live more sustainably and we must find a way to do it without sacrificing technological advancement.

  2. To clarify, what I meant by “The only way to ensure our survival is to live sustainably, or within the means of the Earth, without unnatural aid” is that it is the only way to guarantee our survival (although we may have already passed the tipping point). Of course it is implausible, if not impossible, to truly live without unnatural aid at this point. I agree that technology is our friend in the fight against environmental degradation; in fact, I think it is our only hope. I do believe that it is our only way out of this mess we have gotten ourselves into, and as an environmental engineering major I plan to personally help advance the technology to do just that. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify!

  3. Your point referring to the law of conservation of matter was well said and I strongly agree with you there. On a similar note, it’s clearly unethical that the United States, making up 5% of the world population, uses 25% of the world’s resources (percentages from the World Watch Institute). Referring to Immanuel Kant’s deontological ethics, the world should be concerned with duty and good will. It should be the United States’ and every other country’s duty to share the resources more equally. Rule utilitarianism also strengthens this argument as it suggests “we should follow those rules whose implementation would bring about the greatest balance of benefit over harm for the greatest number” as explained in Earthcare by David Clowney and Patricia Mosto. Going one step further, most of the people in all first world countries are living beyond their means. A report from the UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2005 states, “Human activity is putting such a strain on the natural functions of Earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.” Here, I would like to argue a different point. Even though we are living beyond our means, from past examples, it is clear to see that science will most likely find new ways for us to survive without the use of natural resources. Your mention of the number of starving people in the world right now, however, is not just a problem concerning lack of resources but how those resources are being distributed. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, “40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten.” The government should find some way to minimize the production of food as a way to conserve water and lower waste products.

    Sources: http://www.fastcoexist.com/1678651/people-are-starving-but-theres-enough-food, http://www.nrdc.org/food/wasted-food.asp, http://www.worldwatch.org/node/810, Earthcare: An Anthology in Environmental Ethics by David Clowney and Patricia Mosto

  4. Normally I love to play Devil’s advocate and challenge what everyone says, however I couldn’t agree with you more. I thought referring to the law of conservation of matter was a flawless way of expressing that we are indeed going to deplete our resources at some point. We live as if the earth is ever giving and infinitely able to sustain human growth. However, the sad reality is that the earth cannot, and our rapid growth is polluting the earth and depleting its resources more and more every single day. As we discussed in class we have more births than deaths ad that is the very reason our 7 billion will soon turn to 10 million (as you said in your blog) in the next couple of years. The only part of your blog that I am a bit skeptical about is the survival of human beings. I do not think we will survive a good bulk of years after we have depleted our resources, I think it will be a disgusting experience. I see people falling to disease, and living in very uncomfortable situations. I do think death would take over our nation at a rapid rate. I do however agree that what you said might happen, and that there may be a few people that survive the earth’s natural disasters, but I really don’t even think that will happen. But it is a possibility, and I wont ignore that. I do have a question regarding something you wrote, when you say “unnatural aid” what exactly do you mean? Do you mean humans can survive on this earth only when they reject all material possessions completely, including necessities? Or perhaps you mean just simply material possessions like cars, cosmetics, etc.? Overall I really enjoyed your blog, I think you really hit on some key points that most average people are blind to.

  5. fofinho93, thank you for your input! To answer your question, what I meant in that context that the only “guaranteed” way to survive at this point is to live in nature without use of any technology that causes pollutants. Of course, this is not to say I think this is what we should do by any means, nor does it mean I think we could not survive by reverting back to a state, say, 300 years ago. I was simply taking an extremist point of view when I said that. However, as I stated in one of my comments, I actually believe that technology is our only way out of this, given we use it correctly. This is a pretty hard topic to find an answer to, and I am very open to new ideas and solutions.

  6. I agree with your insight on carrying capacity and the need to live sustainably. However, I have to disagree with you on the matter of human extinction. Maybe we will not be extinct 100 years from now or even 200, but humans are a species just like every other animal, plant, etc. and I think we are just as susceptible of finding ourselves on the endangered species list somewhere down the line. Looking at a geological time scale puts it in perspective for me. We are currently in the Holocene Epoch, which looking at the spiral graphic, makes up only a tiny sliver in relation to the rest. Like you said in your blog, we are at carrying capacity and using up all of our resources, which is making the planet less hospitable to humans. The planet might survive, but humans won’t and a new epoch will begin. We can only adapt up until a certain point until the planet is no longer livable for us.

    Geological Time Spiral: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Geological_time_spiral.png

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