Another Inconvenient Truth: The World's Growing Population Poses a Malthusian Dilemma

Solving climate change, the Sixth Great Extinction and population growth... at the same time















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7 Billion People and Counting Can the planet handle more than seven billion humans?   » October 27, 2011

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MALTHUSIAN DILEMMA: How to feed a human population expected to reach nine billion by 2050 while also grappling with poverty as well as climate change, dead zones, biodiversity loss and other environmental ills? Image: © iStockphoto.com / Tobias Helbig

By 2050, the world will host nine billion people—and that's if population growth slows in much of the developing world. Today, at least one billion people are chronically malnourished or starving. Simply to maintain that sad state of affairs would require the clearing (read: deforestation) of 900 million additional hectares of land, according to Pedro Sanchez, director of the Tropical Agriculture and Rural Environment Program at The Earth Institute at Columbia University.

The bad news beyond the impacts on people, plants and animals of that kind of deforestation: There isn't that much land available. At most, we might be able to add 100 million hectares to the 4.3 billion already under cultivation worldwide.

"Agriculture is the main driver of most ecological problems on the planet," said economist Jeffrey Sachs, Scientific American columnist and Earth Institute director. "We are literally eating away the other species on the planet."

Sachs made his remarks yesterday at a symposium hosted by the institute on how to improve agriculture to address the mounting challenge of feeding the world while combating climate change and stopping the wholesale loss of biodiversity, among other interrelated issues.

Agriculture—thanks to deforestation, nitrous oxide from fields, methane from cattle and rice paddies—is responsible for one third of global greenhouse gas emissions from human activity, making emissions from transporting food, known as "food miles," a "rounding error," said ecologist Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment (IonE) at the University of Minnesota. Pasture has become the dominant ecosystem on the planet, he added, and humans directly employ some 40 percent of the surface of the planet. "Very little of that is urban."

In addition, agriculture accounts for at least 85 percent of human water consumption—a growing concern as aquifers diminish and hydrology changes in the face of climate change. And, by Sanchez's rough calculation, humans now use some 171 million tons of nitrogen as fertilizer every year, much of which ends up polluting lakes, rivers, streams and even the ocean. "Fifty-four percent of that is fertilizer—the Haber-Bosch process; 11 percent is atmospheric deposition—the plus side of pollution; 18 percent is in situ fixation," or nitrogen-fixing cover crops, like legumes, Sanchez said.

And it's not like so-called organic agriculture is helping with that: Nitrate leaching into waterways can come from manure, as in the Netherlands or overuse of fertilizer, as in Iowa. The result is the same: dead zones.

So how can agriculture be intensified to feed a growing population while addressing environmental concerns? Simply put, yields on existing lands must increase.

That's what Norman Borlaug and his colleagues achieved in the 1960s and 1970s with the Green Revolution that staved off famine for millions. Yet, "there can be no permanent progress in the battle against hunger until the agencies that fight for increased food production and those that fight for population control unite in a common effort," Borlaug said in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. "[Man] is using his powers for increasing the rate and amount of food production. But he is not yet using adequately his potential for decreasing the rate of human reproduction. The result is that the rate of population increase exceeds the rate of increase in food production in some areas."

That demographic contradiction is nowhere more true than in many countries of sub-Saharan Africa, where a population of 800 million must subsist on local yields of one ton per hectare—one third of yields in the rest of the developing world and one ninth those of the U.S., Europe, Australia and other parts of the developed world. Yet, "we already grow enough food to feed the world, we've been doing that for decades," noted ecologist Catherine Badgley of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (U.M.), who led a study assessing whether organic agriculture practices alone might adequately meet global nutritional requirements. "We need to address accessibility."

Global markets for food, however, spectacularly failed in 2008 as countries shut down exports in the face of rising grain prices. "International food markets are deeply wounded and faith in them has collapsed. Global institutions failed to keep food moving," Sachs said. Add to that the looming specter of growing crops for biofuel, which reduce available land for food, feed and fiber production, he said: "Biofuel is going to be an unmitigated disaster, that's as true in an African village as it is in Iowa." Norman Borlaug agreed in a warning he had issued in the 1980s to agricultural economist Mark E. Downing of Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Genetically modified varieties—currently illegal in most of Africa, according to political scientist Robert Paarlberg of Wellesley College—might boost yields. Such biotechnology is "critical for achieving the ecological intensification required to meet human food demand on a global scale," argues agronomist Ken Cassman of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. At the same time, genetic modification is not a panacea, despite claims for drought tolerance and the like from companies such as Monsanto. "Anything you do to reduce the water that plants transpire will reduce yield," he added.

Perhaps, fortunately, there is still a lot of room for improvement by more conventional means: the targeted application of fertilizer and the like. The Earth Institute's Millennium Village of Sauri in Kenya has tripled yields even in the face of a crippling drought gripping the region, and Malawi doubled yields through fertilizer subsidies in just four years. "If we want to increase production, it's better to have small to medium-size farms," argued U.M. ecologist Ivette Perfecto. "Precision agriculture is already done by [such] farmers."

At the same time, the collapse of agriculture in the "bread basket" of eastern Europe, such as Ukraine, leaves room to "triple food production in that region pretty easily," IonE's Foley said.

And, ultimately, a little change in diet might do a world of good. Global demand for beef is an inefficient way to get protein, possibly unhealthy, and a major driver of deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. "Beef is costly per kilogram ingested of both mass and protein but also probably unhealthy," Sachs said. "We should not take dietary choices as a given but rather as something that needs to be evaluated," at least if we want a fighting chance to avoid the grim fate Thomas Malthus predicted.

"Sustainability is still an unsolved problem, it is the same problem Malthus identified about 200 years ago," Sachs added. "How we feed the planet, slow population growth, and thereby raise living standards is still an open question."

Editor's Note: We used Twitter to cover the conference live. Follow me @ dbiello or us @ sciam. And thanks to Jon Foley, whose presentation headline, "Another Inconvenient Truth," I have borrowed.



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  1. 1. John_Zeray_Gazette 03:58 PM 10/2/09

    The real inconvenient truth here is that predictions of population bombs have always, always, always been wrong.

    The doomsayers are using the same theoretical models that have failed every time that they have been used in the past century. Why should they be taken seriously now?

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  2. 2. John_Zeray_Gazette 04:00 PM 10/2/09

    The real inconvenient truth is that predictions of population bombs have always, always, always been wrong. Without exception.

    Since this round of doomsayers is using the same theoretical models as those who have failed in the past (e.g. Ehrlich), why should they be taken seriously?

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  3. 3. ElectricTurtle 04:16 PM 10/2/09

    John Zeray Gazette is correct. Thomas Malthus was a fool to ignore technology as a factor in human logistics, which is why the world is functioning fine already way above numbers that he thought would destroy society.

    The article itself already alludes to the solutions staring everybody in the face, apply first world methods to the developing world, and outputs will multiply, making deforestation unnecessary. When arable land finally runs out, it will eventually make financial sense to pursue hydroponics, which heretofore has not been cost-effective, but it could be applied virtually anywhere, and you can stack facilities in skyscrapers if you feel like it making land use virtually irrelevant.

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  4. 4. notslic 04:52 PM 10/2/09

    The article clearly states that ACCESS to food is the problem. Did you even read the article, John? Or do you automatically respond with right wing rhetoric? To say the world is functioning fine is a bit of a misstatement. Electric Turtle can zip down the street and purchase anything he wants. Do you realize how much water it takes to grow the weed you smoke too much of with hydroponics? Millions of people on this planet are on the brink of starvation. And Malthus was 200 years ago. He was not a fool, but rather someone who worried about the future of humanity. John and Turtle obviously don't.

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  5. 5. jonderry 05:03 PM 10/2/09

    You are both assuming that everything really is fine currently. Even though few people are starving, it could be argued that we are currently running 'environmental deficits' that will eventually lead to a catastrophic amount of 'environmental debt'.

    Also, some would argue that we have *already* claimed too much arable land for agriculture. We have certainly devastated the habitats of a vast variety of species already, but this doesn't bother everyone.

    Electric Turtle, you cannot bypass the need for land by growing food in skyscrapers. The energy needed to feed light to the plants must come from somewhere, and all renewable energy comes from the sun (however, it would really be funny if corn were grown for ethanol, which was burned to provide light for corn grown in skyscrapers). The only non-renewable resource that would last more than a few centuries is hydrogen, if fusion can ever be developed into a viable source of energy.

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  6. 6. kfreels 05:13 PM 10/2/09

    Good thing we'll soon have a lot more land available to farm in Antarctica.... :-P

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  7. 7. Mims 05:14 PM 10/2/09

    So what you're saying is, even if we grew enough food for 9 billion, our dysfunctional system for distribution would still fail to distribute it equitably, just as it's doing now. I know the WTO thinks agricultural self-sufficiency is insane from an economic perspective, but that assumes a world of rational actors and all that other stuff that's a fiction of the Chicago school of economics.

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  8. 8. John_Zeray_Gazette 05:15 PM 10/2/09

    <i>You are both assuming that everything really is fine currently. Even though few people are starving, it could be argued that we are currently running 'environmental deficits' that will eventually lead to a catastrophic amount of 'environmental debt'.

    Also, some would argue that we have *already* claimed too much arable land for agriculture. We have certainly devastated the habitats of a vast variety of species already, but this doesn't bother everyone.</i>

    How is this different from the population bomb arguments of the 1960s and 70s?

    I've already seen this movie a few times. In the end, the bomb doesn't go off. Ever.

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  9. 9. jonderry in reply to jonderry 05:16 PM 10/2/09

    John, on the off-chance that you are not merely trolling when you say "The real inconvenient truth is that predictions of population bombs have always, always, always been wrong. Without exception," do you really think this logic applies ad infinitum?

    What about when population doubles 10 more times so there are more than 1 trillion people on Earth?

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  10. 10. jonderry in reply to John_Zeray_Gazette 05:20 PM 10/2/09

    When the full consequences of today's actions are not felt for hundreds of years, you cannot claim the practices in the 60s were safe just because we're still sort of fine today.

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  11. 11. EvolvingApe 05:21 PM 10/2/09

    hm, Jon_Zeray, you've obviously never driven through India, or been to Africa.... What part of "limited resources" do you fail to grasp?

    The West should tie aid to family planning, otherwise it's just exacerbating the problem.

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  12. 12. Alx 06:18 PM 10/2/09

    Maybe governments can put disease's in vaccines and start lots of unnecessary wars so that people will die in mass amounts and our population won't be a problem in 30 years.

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  13. 13. Alx in reply to kfreels 06:20 PM 10/2/09

    lol, I'd be the 1st one to farm with the penguins!

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  14. 14. Alx 06:30 PM 10/2/09

    How do we manage to feed a human population of 6 or 7 billion? I wonder if there are any obese people commenting on here that eat in one day as much as a whole ethiopian family will eat in a week. There was a time that only the wealthy got fat. I think our american lifestyle of excessive consumption (of everything) is the real problem. If we can fix that problem than nine or ten billion people won't be a problem. America can probably feed small countries with just the amount of food that goes in the trash. Think of how many turkey's come off the store shelves and go in the trash every thanksgiving.

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  15. 15. Toolmaste49 06:31 PM 10/2/09

    The Box only holds so much space....who doesn't understand that. It won't take another hundred years..

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  16. 16. kellyaf30 07:36 PM 10/2/09

    In agreement with derry, that "bomb" that other John describes WILL go off at some point. And if food access were not a problem, if it were solved, the dramatic increase in fed people would accelerate that timer. If food access is never solved, which is the likely scenario, attention should be shfited to population control to shift the balance. In the end, is developed civilizations (which I think we can all agree are the biggest contributors to this problem Overall) willing to wait until the model is perfected? proven? I think we should begin to take it seriously before we realize how serious it is, because at that point, it's too late. Too late for everybody, for reasons that will vary with one's economic status. Planning is imperative, because the Earth's resources Are finite.

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  17. 17. scientific earthling 10:07 PM 10/2/09

    Malthus has always been right, he only got his timing wrong. Science and technology had delayed the end result, but the sixth extinction is well advanced. Too bad there will be no one around to finally say "look Malthus was right, we are now extinct."

    Biodiversity supports and maintains life and we have been reducing it ever since we started on our insane quest to fill the petri dish with more of our kind. Each ethnic group believes it is special and must out-populate the others.

    We should now direct our efforts to documenting our rise and fall for future life-forms that will evolve after the extinction runs its course. We have a lot of understanding of how sentient life-forms can be made to behave irrationally. We understand how gods and demons are created by sentient tribal life-forms using dreams and nightmares to gain control over the tribe. No doubt moving from a tribe ruled by the strongest to one controlled by the use of the mind advances the tribe, but at some stage the resulting religions must be discarded. We failed, hopefully a future life-form will succeed for a time.

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  18. 18. juan 10:40 PM 10/2/09

    It's

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  19. 19. elizabettac123 10:45 PM 10/2/09

    People are destroying the environment and eliminating biodiversity at an alarming rate. Our planet could be devoid of life as we know it within the next century due totally to human impact. We know what to do when wildlife populations become too big -it's hunting season - or when locusts swarm, or our pets get old and sick. But people are so arrogant in their belief that we are different from any other species and therefore "sacred", so none of these solutions can ever apply to people. What we need is MANDATORY birth control of all humans beginning at puberty, and making everyone meet certain criteria before they can reproduce. Having a child should be privilege earned, not a right that any drug addicted, unemployed, emotionally unstable person is entitled to exercise.

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  20. 20. juan 10:58 PM 10/2/09

    These comments are truly sad. Even after reading all the detailed facts posted by scientists, there will always be people that believe the earth is flat. That things are "fine" and nothing is really happening to the planet. The main factor here is ignorance. Ignorance of their causes and ignorance from the great starving masses in the 3rd world that are multiplying exponentially. The solution: Here in the west we cannot do what the Chinese do. We cannot legislate procreation, therefore we have to attack ignorance similarly as AIDS: education. Perfect? no, but it helps a great deal. People must learn and become aware that the current situation is not sustainable. Specially in 3rd world countries, where misery, starvation, lack of water, food, joblessness, crime and lawlessness is the norm. Naive people think that technology or better governments/management are the solution. That all the needs of human beings can be built (schools, jobs) and developed (natural resources, food, oil) at an EXPONENTIAL rate. A childish idea believed by so many in the West. Truly sad.

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  21. 21. Alx 12:18 AM 10/3/09

    Sounds like a bunch of commies on here. I think the population increase problem is a fear campaign to cause people to allow more government control. I don't think it's as much of a concern as some say it is. If we can manage with 6 plus billion then we can manage with 9 billion and if we cant it wont cause extinction. Worse case scenario, it might cause mass deaths but not extinction. I don't know how some of you think but I think a human life is more valuable than any animal. I think we have plenty of time and room for people on earth. When population starts to really become a problem we will probably be in the beginning stages of colonizing mars.

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  22. 22. wolfkiss 12:47 AM 10/3/09

    Juan is right that education in the end is the answer, but such education should encourage the technological idealism of Electric Turtle. As with most solutions the optimal path is in the middle; an integration between unwavering realism and foolish idealism. On any path forward there will be haves and have-nots, but we can certainly aspire to raise the lowest rung of those without. I appreciate John_Zeray_Gazettes reaction against doomsday predictions, but he ironically plays the same game by speaking in absolutes; where is the Hopi civilization today? They were one of the most advanced native American civilizations; gone. Why? Probably a combination of resource over-extension and rapid environmental change; specifically, drought. The Neanderthal also disappeared. Current theories speculate that their body type (a technology in a wider natural sense) was ill suited to weather similarly rapid environmental change. Everything grows and dies, whether a life, a company or a civilization. Mostly, something rises from the ashes, but not always.

    The best we can do to ensure that we survive in some way is to learn what we can from the past and plan as judiciously as our collective institutions will allow. Science and technology is a part of that. Policy shifts emphasizing more efficient systems and restrained reproduction can only help as long as fascism of any stripe is avoided along the way, because such systems are themselves brittle and unstable.

    If doomsday scenarios get you out of bed in the morning, or the converse of complete denial, well then thats your deal. But the way forward isnt there. Such fear tactics and/or blind denial are just static reference points for people willing to do the real work of moving homo sapiens forward. Just remember that we are still here enjoying what lifestyle we have because of people willing to take the hardest road; the one in the middle where realism and idealism are equally respected in one mind. I challenge all of you to live and act in that space.

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  23. 23. bhaskarmv 01:45 AM 10/3/09

    One solution is to grow more fish.
    Fish population has been declining due to water pollution, ocean acidification, dead zones, etc.
    We are promoting an unique new solution to these problems i.e. to use Diatom Algae to increase Dissolved Oxygen, reduce CO2 and provide food for fish.

    Diatoms require silica, iron and many other micro nutrients, we have invented a nano technology micro nutrient powder that contains all these.

    best regards

    Bhaskar
    www.kadambari.net

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  24. 24. BJ Bonobo 02:32 AM 10/3/09

    Add to this the fact that the ocean which covers almost 70% of the earth's surface and at one time supplied vast tonnage of huge and edible fish is dying. Over 400 dead zones (oxygen starved) of various sizes have been located and researched to at least some extent, coral is depleted or entirely dead and the ph level of this entire massive ecosystem is falling to dangerous levels of acidity. Hopelessly polluted rivers and man made sewage systems pour chemicals, petroleum waste products, including plastic of every sort and other pollutants too numerous to mention into its depths at an ever increasing
    rate.

    Nine billion people in the next 40 years. More than half of them would be starving and hopelessly diseased. The rest would be in a state of siege or outright revolution.

    The warnings have been ignored and are scoffed at - even on the blog site of a magazine devoted to scientific enlightenment. Who reads this stuff and posts comments as though they had been perusing a comic book or some misunderstood tome of mythology composed and constantly revised over the past three or four thousand years .

    The earth will survive in one form or another but thousands of species have already disappeared and thousands more,
    including all forms of hominids, will be depleted to such an extent that they may find themselves on the brink of extinction.

    Extinction of species and depletion of life forms is not new to this planet. The reality of such an event is simply not grasped in its entirity by a populace so hopelessly removed from the complexity of its own environment !

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  25. 25. mo98 09:14 AM 10/3/09

    Dictatorships are responsible for making people feel powerless (especially former commie types who have a poor history for making credible headway in sustainability). The surviving population of the most mutilating horrors of world war two now live in a country with the most certified sustainable trees per land area. Food supply is not a relevant issue there. Obligatory mixing 5% ethanol with fuel seems to conflict with efforts by the likes of Dr. Pedro Sanchez. International dialog is essential to get local polititians feeling powerless off their pedestals of blind power and see things globally without killing local agricultural niches.

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  26. 26. candide 09:38 AM 10/3/09

    Let's have modified Soylant Green - just use dead people.

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  27. 27. Big Jon 09:54 AM 10/3/09

    This is not science. It is politically motivated theory. We have reached a point where scientists are motivated by the politics behind their research grants. They routinely use science to advance their own political views and the views of their backers. Al Gore would be proud, but he is not a scientist and his positions are not based on science. That's the inconvient truth. Would that backers of this article have the world adopt the Chine one child policy and have police pick up pregnant mothers from the street for forced abortions for the good of mankind. The mindset that produces this drivel is very dangerous. Unfortunately Washington DC and the UN are full of it.

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  28. 28. urza 12:27 PM 10/3/09

    LOL do the math you can fit the entire population 6 billion people in just Texas and Mexico every one would have up to Two acres of land and that's not even building high rises room to spare the earth can support 2x that 16 million as for food if company were not greedy GMO can easy deal with this problem... Global warming is a scam Get a clue

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  29. 29. Ms. Patty 01:10 PM 10/3/09

    It is a simple matter of fact that what John_Zeray_Gazette reminds us of is true. Without exception, predictions of our planet's capacity to carry a certain population have been shown incorrect.

    Unfortunately, I believe we are ignoring the true problem. It is excessive consumption, and attendant waste, that plagues us all. And that consumption and waste is not evident in the burgeoning population of the so-called under-developed countries. It is the rich, those in the (over) developed world, who demand absurd amounts of everything. So much so that the lower birth rates in "developed" countries is grossly offset.

    As George Monbiot summarized in an article titled The Population Myth: "Its time we had the guts to name the problem. Its not sex; its money. Its not the poor; its the rich." (see http://www.permacultureusa.org/2009/10/01/the-population-myth/#more-1364)

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  30. 30. carlofab 02:15 PM 10/3/09

    Malthus was not wrong. Unless kept in check by predators populations expand to the limit of available food. If an advance in technology makes more food available, the population simply expands to the new limit. Another thing to worry about is problems that can arise when you try to lower a human population. You will not have enough young to support the elderly.

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  31. 31. mista_earth 02:35 PM 10/3/09

    Without any doubt, from a global perspective, the unchecked expansion of human influence on this planet would resemble something of a mold, devastating and degrading the homeostatic balance of vast swaths to sustain the exponential rate of collective consumption, at the expense of the environment -- and ourselves -- that we so capriciously seek to conquer.

    The only real solutions will involve initiating a global effort to bring the developing world up to speed with the 21st century. While much of developing S. America, Africa, and Asia exploit antiquated slash-and-burn methods and low yield landrace crops to sustain their burgeoning populations (who are living on less than a dollar a day), I daresay the prudent combination of hydroponics and GMO should be a viable solution. Of course this would require moderate initial investment, as all things, but it would bring about higher returns and should be an essential part of addressing the problem of 'not enough land and too many mouths to feed'. For example, these technologies already have introduced to the world strains of rice that yield three times as much, such as during the Green Revolution of the 1970s. And just to clarify previous statements made here, hydroponics does require a good bit of water, but don't doubt that this water can be recycled instead of being lost to the groundwater table, necessitating the transport of yet more water. The water-to-yield ratio in hydroponics makes traditional soil-growing pale in comparison, with considerably less environmental impact, as well as continuous year round cultivation.

    The changes occurring now to our planet are real. Will you be an skeptical armchair critic or take a chance on something to be a benefactor to billions? It's this fatalistic and attitude that everything new is too outrageous to implement that will make our only Earth a different place in 30 years. The air will not be suitable to breathe nor the water suitable to drink, and you will have to put on a suit to avert the UV rays bombarding you from an ozoneless atmosphere. Is this the world you would want your children to inherit?

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  32. 32. wolfkiss 03:19 PM 10/3/09

    The Population Myth referenced by Ms. Patty is a sobering perspective. I concede that I rankle a bit inside when my “environmentalist” friends even think of having a third kid here in the US. When I did an environmental sciences degree in college I had a certain disdain for the hypocrisy of my wealthy fellow Enviro students as they hopped in their parent purchased Saabs and SUVs while protesting oil drilling off the Santa Barbara coast.

    While privileged to study in such a beautiful affluent area, I privately hoped we would keep our crazy acceleration of consumption just so we’d be forced to realize our relationship with our only planet. Simultaneously, however, I believe nature knows what she is doing. We as a species exact a disproportionate slice of the pie, but we also have much greater potential to sow the seeds of mother earth to the stars. I personally hope our species will make it there, but there are no guarantees.

    Personal fantasies aside, I’m an educated white male optimist. The best I can do for our species is take those resources I find myself with and produce tools that help refine our (1st world) behavior towards more sustainable habits via awareness. If we don’t do it, our finite world will dramatically do it for us. The choice is ours.

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  33. 33. wolfkiss 03:20 PM 10/3/09

    The Population Myth referenced by Ms. Patty is a sobering perspective. I concede that I rankle a bit inside when my “environmentalist” friends even think of having a third kid here in the US. When I did an environmental sciences degree in college I had a certain disdain for the hypocrisy of my wealthy fellow Enviro students as they hopped in their parent purchased Saabs and SUVs while protesting oil drilling off the Santa Barbara coast.

    While privileged to study in such a beautiful affluent area, I privately hoped we would keep our crazy acceleration of consumption just so we’d be forced to realize our relationship with our only planet. Simultaneously, however, I believe nature knows what she is doing. We as a species exact a disproportionate slice of the pie, but we also have much greater potential to sow the seeds of mother earth to the stars. I personally hope our species will make it there, but there are no guarantees.

    Personal fantasies aside, I’m an educated white male optimist. The best I can do for our species is take those resources I find myself with and produce tools that help refine our (1st world) behavior towards more sustainable habits via awareness. If we don’t do it, our finite world will dramatically do it for us. The choice is ours.

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  34. 34. wolfkiss 03:25 PM 10/3/09

    The best we can do is educate ourselves and act accordingly. Such issues as global warming and population have been wrested from rational and unbiased scientific discourse. They are mere political tools now. The question is what ideal world do we want to live in and what can I rationally do to increase the probability that we will get there.

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  35. 35. Extremophile 06:23 PM 10/3/09

    John, have you ever noticed that it is absolutely save to jump from atop of a 50-floor building and that nothing will happen to you over a falling height of - say - 49 floors?

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  36. 36. notslic 07:29 PM 10/3/09

    Waste is not even an issue here. There is plenty of non-arable land in Nevada to deposit all of the U.S. waste. Bulldozers powered by natural gas could bury it all and we would not even feel an impact. Solar powered trains could transport it there from all over the country.

    Over-consumption is not an issue for me because I'm not willing to give up the lifestyle that I have earned through 20 years of VERY hard work.

    The issue raised by the article that we are supposed to be discussing is OVER POPULATION. Forget your political (either side) fantasies and address the real issue. In America and elsewhere, the least productive people make the most babies. This is the siphon that is draining our world. I raise enough food to feed many villages in Africa or elsewhere. WTF are they doing for me?

    I'll keep my angus, honey, vegetables and fruit for my neighbors. My angus fertilize my garden and orchard. My neighbors will keep their feed corn here for my angus. Here in western Colorado we can fully support ourselves. Can you say the same for the 3rd world? Or for the cushy big city where most of you arrogant people live? And the Feds think that they can order us to give water to Vegas. We'll soon see on that one. We all also have guns and we don't shoot ouselves in the foot, like Texans. I really hope that, as one poster suggested, all the impoverished people of the world move to F---ING TEXAS. Most of them already live in Mexifornia.

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  37. 37. John_Zeray_Gazette 09:01 PM 10/3/09

    "John, on the off-chance that you are not merely trolling when you say "The real inconvenient truth is that predictions of population bombs have always, always, always been wrong. Without exception," do you really think this logic applies ad infinitum?"

    No, but if the same prediction has been repeatedly made, and it has repeatedly failed to come true, why should future predictions based on the same model be taken seriously?

    "What about when population doubles 10 more times so there are more than 1 trillion people on Earth?"

    Sure, why not? Given that Malthusian famines were predicted at 1 billion -- a number that the earth feeds comfortably -- why not support 1 trillion?

    "When the full consequences of today's actions are not felt for hundreds of years, you cannot claim the practices in the 60s were safe just because we're still sort of fine today."

    But the predictions that we're hearing are that the world will end in just a couple decades -- not in hundreds of years. Sure, you could say that I could be wrong and that it's still possible that we'll finally experience the apocalypse in a few hundred years. But in the absence of evidence to that effect, there's no reason to think that it's true, or to make public policy decisions on the assumption that it's true.

    The doomsayers have an important task to address: they must explain why past predictions were wrong and why their models are completely different, and therefore the failure of those past predictions to come true is not evidence against their predictions.

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  38. 38. MickeyMudTurtle 09:37 PM 10/3/09

    Uh, am I missing something, or do a whole lot of people have their heads someplace where the sun don't never shine? Folks, we've got to cut down on our reproduction, clear & simple. What is the problem with acknowledging that simple, inescapable fact?

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  39. 39. fisixisfun 09:47 PM 10/3/09

    The big problem is that we are horribly inefficient in virtually every aspect of this. We do generate enough food for everyone, but not everyone can get to it. The Third World countries are using antiquated techniques because they either don't know about modern methods, can't afford modern methods (incidently the expensive ones tend to cause more environmental problems than the cheap ones, but they do make more food), or believe modern methods are some sort of Western conspiracy against them. Ultimately however our planet does have limited resources, and sooner or later we will reach the limit. If we worked at a more optimal efficiency (sustainable farming, clean energy, reforestation, etc.), the planet could probably comfortably hold over 10 billion. But we don't work efficiently at all, and even if we do, eventually the Malthusian Limit will arrive, since our planet is only so big. Then we will need another planet. Fortunately, improvements in efficiency may delay things long enough for us to have another planet, although that may be a little optimistic of a viewpoint. Recent estimates say that in the next 100 years, between 60 and 70% of all species on Earth will die as a result of climate change. Humans will not be among them, there are simply too many of us and we are too technologically advanced to be wiped out by the predicted climate change. But things will still be very unpleasant, and in the long-run we could well be set back a century or two because of climate change. On a side note, the Earth does not 'restructure' itself every 26,000 years, that's just a myth (the dinosaurs lasted 160 million years, more than 6,000 'cycles'). We are in a paradoxical situation because it tends to be the poorer, less educated people whohave more children, but it is absolutely impossible to put economic standards on having children, it simply will not be stood for. Unfortunately, there are some large groups that say birth control is evil in some way because even potential lives are 'sacred', and so they only add to the problem. Barring stunning increases in efficiency (or the sudden terraforming of the moon or Mars), we face the ultimate paradox: we want to save lives, but our population must stabilize, we can't legislate reproduction, and the irresponsible have more children (usually, not always) than the responsible.

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  40. 40. hanuman34 10:00 PM 10/3/09

    Im surprised no one has mentioned an important part of the article. A lot of deforestation is from the misuse of land due to beef consumption. Beef is a very inefficient source of protein as far as resources is concerned. The world could easily support a large population if more people adopted a primarily vegetarian diet, and they would be healthier too. We need to end a lot of the agriculture subsidies given to farmers and meat producers in the US. Allow the markets to adjust the price of meat. Yes, beef would be a lot more expensive, but right now taxpayers are paying for it anyways. Also, Giant industrial farms would not persist as well in a true free market and that would be a good thing for those pesky mutating viruses. You do not have to become vegetarian, but its only fair to pay the true market price for this kind of luxury.

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  41. 41. AskGerbil 07:53 AM 10/4/09

    World agricultural output rose from about 1.0 tonne per hectare a year in 1950 to 2.75 tonnes per hectare in 2000.
    There are very good reasons to be confident in achieving 70-100 tonnes per hectare a year. Taking off our blinkers to innovation is all that is required. A modification to the existing scheme for encouraging innovation (intellectual property rights) might be a good place to start.

    A collection of some relevant website references and summaries of each is available here: www.gerbilnow.com/foodproduction

    Feeding the world's population should not and need not be a problem.

    We are a successful species because of our creative problem-solving abilities. The internet in the last few years by providing a global communication system has amplified those abilities immeasurably.

    Cheers,
    AskGerbil.

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  42. 42. notslic 01:05 PM 10/4/09

    Hanuman...You are the victim of disinformation. I'd sure like to see some of those subsidies that beef growers get. Your choice of lifestyle is none of my business. Don't try to make mine your business. Oh yea, you aren't in my face where I could knock your teeth out. So brave in telling others what to do over the internet. Stay in the city and shut up. Don't forget that people like me feed you, whatever you eat.

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  43. 43. hanuman34 02:33 PM 10/4/09

    I should be more clear. Beef growers benefit from subsidies through feed grain being subsidized. Feed grain constitutes 35% of subsidies in the US. If beef growers had to pay the true market price for feed grain, then growing beef would hardly be profitable. Its only fair that farmers are subject to the same market forces as any other business.
    The only relevance this topic has to lifestyle choice is that if the price of beef was truly paid for by its consumers, then you would have to pay more to maintain your lifestyle. McDonalds would also be a lot less profitable too. If thats your lifestyle, thats fine, but you should pay for it, not taxpayers. So, Im not telling you what to do, eat whatever you want, but you should pay the true price for it.
    Im lucky enough to live in a rural part of the country where local family run organic farming is the norm. These farmers sell to the local store and overall, the prices for produce are much better than I found in the city. I would like to see more of this kind of farming where the farmers benefit directly from the profits.

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  44. 44. lithiumdeuteride 02:45 PM 10/4/09

    It is silly to say that since population hasn't been a problem yet, it will never be. You can argue about the exact number at which it becomes a problem (and technology certainly increases that number) but it is inevitably a problem so long as population continues to grow.

    It may not be a problem 10 or 100 years from now. It may not even be a problem 1000 years from now, if we are able to colonize other planets (assuming we find suitable ones and have the technology to reach them). But the same arguments that applies to Earth continents applies to planets - we will eventually run out of them.

    Sooner or later, we will be forced to behave responsibly (by voluntary population control), or face starvation. As the sole species with the capability to take stewardship of this planet, it would benefit us to consider acting responsibly now, *before* population becomes a problem.

    The solution isn't complicated...don't have more than two children. It's cheaper for you, and it means incrementally higher quality of life for everyone. And since you cannot expect people to willingly disobey such a basic biological imperative, it's obvious that a higher power must assert control over birth rights.

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  45. 45. John_Zeray_Gazette 03:31 PM 10/4/09

    lithiumdeuteride wrote:

    "It is silly to say that since population hasn't been a problem yet, it will never be. "

    Hypothetically speaking, how many Malthusian doomsday predictions would have to fail before you would accept that the reasoning behind it is flawed?

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  46. 46. zsy 05:53 AM 10/5/09

    The increasing number of population is so fast that will make the lands are still short in th long run.

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  47. 47. ElectricTurtle 08:21 AM 10/5/09

    There's a lot of BS in here, and wading into it is not going to be fun.

    Jonderry: "Electric Turtle, you cannot bypass the need for land by growing food in skyscrapers. The energy needed to feed light to the plants must come from somewhere, and all renewable energy comes from the sun (however, it would really be funny if corn were grown for ethanol, which was burned to provide light for corn grown in skyscrapers)."

    You fail to realize that the solar energy that reaches the earth is more than 10000 times our current energy needs? That the amount of solar energy in the grid is increasing exponentially over time? As Dr. Ray Kurzweil is so fond of pointing out, in an exponential function, 1% is halfway there.

    scientific earthling: "Biodiversity supports and maintains life and we have been reducing it ever since we started on our insane quest to fill the petri dish with more of our kind."

    Do you know anything about the biosphere? If your basic premise were correct, there would never have been a mass extinction, because it has always been that biodiversity is greatest before mass extinctions. You simply don't understand how life works, and when speciation gets out of control, the weakest forms die. Period. There's no morality to that, and it's stupid to be blaming humanity for a mass extinction like that means something. The micro-organisms that caused the first mass extinction completely changed the earth's atmosphere and killed untold numbers of species of anaerobic life. Perhaps we should demonize them too, despite that fact that all of today's animal life could not exist without that event?

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  48. 48. galaxy_man 11:57 AM 10/5/09

    Every time I read the comments on these environmental issues, I become more and more convinced that humankind deserves to die.

    Most of you are selfish, self-absorbed, self-righteous, egotistical, intolerant, conservative consumer big business right wing NUTS. In a word, jackasses!

    I cannot comprehend the sheer audacity it takes to not only turn a blind eye to the damage we as a species are causing the planet with our overarching need to drain the entire system of all its resources, but to actually encourage these habits into expansion!

    The only reason anyone could be convinced that there are zero consequences to such irresponsible behavior is that they are convinced in the so-called afterlife and of their place in it. Too bad you'll never know better - you'll already be dead, and your descendents will be doomed to go on living on the ashes.

    But please, disregard everything that tells you the disaster is coming! Go on polluting, eating more than you need, and generally making a mess of things! It's not like reason ever stopped someone before, why try now?

    I just hope when you do destroy the planet, it happens fast enough that those of us who tried to stop it will die first. Why should we suffer for your sakes?

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  49. 49. ironjustice 01:03 PM 10/5/09

    If one looks at the Sargasso sea and its ability to grow seaweed then if one extrapolates that to food / seaweed then one could easily harvest the sea for seaweed and use if for food and fertilization on land.
    Seaweed contains a natural herbicide.
    One might argue that it isn't very palatable but that would should be easily overcome with a good mushroom sauce.
    Mushrooms too can easily become a very large food source as evidenced by the largest mushroom ever found in the United States.
    http://www.extremescience.com/biggestlivingthing.htm

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  50. 50. Hermit 01:44 PM 10/5/09

    Slowing, much less reversing, population is impossible when The American Way of Living requires it. Like the housing industry, one of the main pillars of our economy, "Grow or die" is the maxim for all. Now we're exporting it to the rest of the eager world through the Internet. Populations now must Grow Or Die in this economic environment.

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  51. 51. ormondotvos 02:01 PM 10/5/09

    Same ridiculous avoidance of population control, external, internal, psychological or famine. Same old thinking. There are too many people! SciAm needs to publish articles on how to talk people into not overpopulating. The rumors about fertility suppression drugs need to be true. Go for it, CIA!

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  52. 52. Hermit 02:02 PM 10/5/09

    Slowing, much less reversing, population is impossible when The American Way of Living requires it. Like the housing industry, one of the main pillars of our economy, "Grow or die" is the maxim for all.

    Now we're exporting this unsustainable "lifestyle" to the rest of the eager world through the Internet. Populations now must Grow Or Die everywhere in this economic environment. Note the bounties and tax breaks paid for babies in Germany, Australia, the USA, etc. and the levels of immigration in these less-than-replacement-birth-rate countries, as well as the still high rates of birth in undeveloped and Muslim nations.

    "And the meek shall inherit the earth."

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  53. 53. Hermit in reply to John_Zeray_Gazette 02:09 PM 10/5/09

    Many Population Bombs have gone off, regionally. History is full of them, and we just misread them as plagues or wars. But we've never done anything near this scale or universality before, and so very quickly.

    I call ignoring this a bad bet.

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  54. 54. scientific earthling in reply to Alx 10:10 PM 10/5/09

    Alx: Why is it everybody who does not think like you is a commie?
    Are you saying that everybody who believes in science or is an atheist a commie? Please define Commie?

    Are the super-capitalists who want no regulation, but seek to control every persons beliefs and action, to increase their personal wealth commies? Remember absolute communism is exactly the same as absolute capitalism. One individual owns and controls everything.

    Extinction is progressing steadily, it will eliminate the Homo sapien species and life will return. Sadly the self named sapien turned out to be too smart for himself, an idiot who brought on his extinction by destroying biodiversity required for his survival.

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  55. 55. sofistek 05:21 AM 10/6/09

    There are a lot of good comments here and a lot of very bad ones. It's truly incredible, it really is, that readers of a science magazine can believe that the earth's resources are infinite. And when they object to such a characterisation, they just write something else that proves the point (like substitution of resources, or like growing food in skyscrapers). Until the people of the world stop consuming resources beyond their renewal rates and stop damaging the only habitat that is known to support human life, then collapse of our civilisation is certain. Unsustainable societies can't be sustained by wishful thinking; societies can only be sustained by acting sustainably.

    What is so difficult about understanding what sustainability it and what happens to unsustainable arrangements?

    By the way, population growth seems to have levelled off over the last few years (since around 2003). That means the hopes that the growth will continue decreasing appear to have stalled. Hopes for a natural plateau to global population may not be realised (even assuming the earth could support 9 to 10 billion people).

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  56. 56. ElectricTurtle 08:33 AM 10/6/09

    scientific earthling: You must have missed my response to you earlier, as you're still pushing a ridiculous and easily disproven premise. Biodiversity doesn't preclude mass extinctions, it PRECEDES mass extinctions. It is no coincidence that the categorization of life is often likened to a tree. Speciation drives itself in rapid expansion under certain conditions, because each specie respresents untold numbers of mutations that might themselves become separate species.

    So in a favorable environment, this leads to over-speciation. It causes many species to compete for the same resources in the same or similar niches. When the environment changes and those niches narrow or close, the lifeforms that fill them must change or die. There is no morality to this. Mass extinctions have been happening since the first during the Siderian. I have a feeling that you don't know how that went down. Micro-organisms that used photosynthesis started producing oxygen. This was toxic to a large number of other micro-organisms, the anaerobic bacteria, and numerous species were snuffed out by in inexorable change in the composition of the atmosphere. Perhaps we should demonize these upstart microbes for instigating climate change! After all, this terrible damage to the biosphere only happened to ENABLE THE EXISTENCE OF ALL ANIMAL LIFE.

    Humans are one-dimensional in their thinking and so sentimental that it blinds them. They see all the cute fuzzy animals they like and think that somehow means they should last forever in the face of a confluence of environmental factors and natural selection that says otherwise. And worse, they can't see over the horizon and think that the biosphere that exists now is the only one that can possibly exist, and that if the species here now go extinct that the process of speciation that has restarted after EVERY OTHER mass extinction will fail to change the biosphere.

    sofistek: Of course the planet's resources are not infinite, but the way humanity can approach them virtually is. You talk of "beyond renewal rates" as though renewal rates can't be changed. That's why Malthus was and continues to be wrong, because mankind always seems to find some way to increase outputs. As long as the "wishful thinking" you characterize keeps getting turned into real and actual increases in logistics whether through production or efficiency, sustainability is a very relative thing.

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  57. 57. Carlton22 11:06 AM 10/6/09

    Lets take a look at the Real problem of the population from the Spiritual (not religious) perspective.

    What would happen if all of the children attending school were, in effect, refusing to graduate and kept repeating classes? You would have massive overcrowding. Let me be facetious a moment. Would we be talking about lining the kids up against a wall with a firing squad to help alleviate the overcrowding? Or would we seek to understand the problem; maybe take a look at our teaching methods, books and materials, etc.?

    Planets, such as our earth, are school rooms and laboratories for souls to expand conscious awareness of who and what they are; to experience and gain mastery of the physical dimensions; to learn the correct use of energy by experiencing the outcomes of those uses (karma or cyclic return of energy); to develop and expand their True Spiritual Nature and then graduate and return back to Spirit as permanent members of that Great Society. There is a Divine Plan, a course of study so to speak, established for each individual soul.

    The planet is intended to host one "class" of souls which are called Root Races. A Root Race is a group of souls with a common mission and purpose. Prior to the rebellion of Lucifer and the Fall of man, Three Root Races successfully completed their development on earth and graduated. The Fall occurred during the time of the Fourth Root Race. They were beguiled by the fallen angels; started listening to them rather than their true teachers; lost their connection to Spirit; forgot who they were and where they came from, and more importantly, how to get back. They became earth bound, and stuck in the rut of being. They in effect became "caveman". The "spark of life" had gone out in them and no one was graduating. It became so bad that Cosmic Councils were about to permanently close the school.

    A great soul, The Ancient of Days, and 144,000 of his disciples volunteered to come to earth on a rescue mission. Certain advanced souls among them were designated as "Teachers" to provide guidance and a direction.

    Many thousands of years passed. The Fifth Root Race came and also became stuck here. Then the Sixth Root Race came and they got stuck also. To complicate things, the remnants of souls from two other planets were also brought here after they destroyed their planets (they burned their school down).

    So, our school is overcrowded. My twitter name is "newcarlton". There are links to my website and to other sites, to help explain and resolve this dilemma.

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  58. 58. stueysplace 07:56 PM 10/6/09

    The "world" is having trouble holding the current population. It is very unlikely that it will hold many more, at least not for long. Actually, if Dr. Lovelock is correct, and I have no doubt that he is, the population will be considerably less by 2050. Economies that rely on growth will collapse and most of our infrastructure will fail due to lack of skilled workers to maintain it. That includes the internet. Those who are left will revert to our natural instincts for survival.

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  59. 59. cecily 12:35 AM 10/7/09

    Those who claim the "doomsayers" are always wrong are incorrect. The very act of issuing "doomsday statements" affect the behavior of people who are responsible, and their behavior prevents some degree of calamity.

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  60. 60. scientific earthling in reply to ElectricTurtle 02:16 AM 10/7/09

    Electric Turtle: Sorry I missed your earlier response.

    I am aware of how evolution and extinctions work. We know of 5 extinctions and I believe the sixth is ongoing. I know life will return in different forms, diversity will re-establish itself and perhaps things will be better than they are now. I accept there is no morality, no right; no wrong; no purpose and everything will end. The sum total of all the energy (including gravity) in the universe is zero.

    Regarding your theory that rapid speciation causes extinctions I don't think so, evolutionary pressures will not permit that. Speciation is the result of mutations, good mutations are rare and survive, bad mutations are damaging and the individual or the species will not survive. Overall species evolves to take advantage of resources, which could be the waste of other species. While things are in balance life thrives.

    Our problem is we have destabilised our environment. We have changed our atmosphere, cleared the landscape and caused the extinction of thousands of species that helped keep our environment stable. Agriculture is one of the main causes of the problem. Go check out the soil in a farm where chemical fertilisers have been used, no worms, no bacteria, no fungi, nothing.

    After the last ice age barely a handful of our species had survived, that was about 100kyrs ago. It is too soon for us to go extinct, worst of all by our own activities.

    To extend our survival we must stop changing our environment as rapidly as we are. We must halt loss of species (fuzzy or horrid) and rapid changes in our atmospheric composition and re-vegetate the landscape (allow weeds to grow). This action will give our species more time to understand the universe and ourselves. Knowledge is all that matters. Population control will go a long way to achieve this.

    Honestly I don't believe it will happen. The extinction will run to its conclusion. Our species will have been less successful than those that roamed the planet before the fifth extinction, unless you consider being the principal cause of extinction a success.

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  61. 61. Uncle B 06:22 AM 10/7/09

    America, in great unbalance, consumes up to 80% of world resources! How does this fit under your dissertation! In my mine it does not bode well for the "Fatted Calves" of America, who now has no resources to call their own, and live in wasteful extravagance, at the very frai9l edge of the equation, unable to fend for themselves and survive without huge infrastructures, and copious amounts of oil! "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the world!" Not my words, to be certain! The less dependent, the more independent you are in the approaching Holocaust, the safer and more likely you are to survive it!

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  62. 62. Carlton22 in reply to Uncle B 09:38 AM 10/7/09

    I quote Hermit: "America, in great unbalance, consumes up to 80% of world resources! How does this fit under your dissertation! In my mine it does not bode well for the "Fatted Calves" of America, who now has no resources to call their own, and live in wasteful extravagance, at the very frai9l edge of the equation, unable to fend for themselves and survive without huge infrastructures, and copious amounts of oil! "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the world!" Not my words, to be certain! The less dependent, the more independent you are in the approaching Holocaust, the safer and more likely you are to survive it!"

    Luke 8:18 Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.

    This passage is a statement of the Law of Karma (cyclic return of energy). As ye sow so shall ye reap, what goes around comes around. America is a blessed place, the land of the "called out ones", the re-assembling place of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Even the poorest among us fare better than many people of the world. America has all of the resources she needs to be totally independent of the world but "false brethren" block our access to them.

    We are here on this planet to learn the correct use of God's Energy. Everything in creation is composed of God' Light, Energy and Consciousness and has Innate Intelligence. Our souls were created in Spirit, in the image and likeness of God, out of the fire of God's Sacred Fire (our God is a consuming fire). We are the Christs of God, His sons and daughters, and as such we are to inherit the kingdom of God and have dominion over all of the creation. The earth is a schoolroom and laboratory for the testing and proving of the soul. The soul must learn the correct us of God's Energy and this is accomplished by experiencing the results of our use of that energy through the laws of Karma and Reincarnation.

    The soul does not die at the passing of the physical body but abides for a time in either the Etheric or Astral planes. The Etheric plane contains 33 levels wherein are "schoolrooms of the spirit", Etheric Retreats where our souls are tutored and prepared for the next incarnation. St Paul talked of meeting a man who was caught up to the Seventh Heaven. Souls who have wasted their time in the earth doing evil and who have not developed spiritually end up in the astral plane which also has 33 levels. The 33rd level is known as "the Pit of Hell". Your choices decide your fate.

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  63. 63. ElectricTurtle in reply to scientific earthling 11:28 AM 10/7/09

    I never said rapid speciation causes extinctions, in fact I was very careful to avoid the word 'cause' (I said 'precedes') since the correllation is demonstrably incidental. Favorable environments, the addition or widening of niches, are what drive speciation. Consequently, there are always the most species prior to a mass extinction which happens as environmental conditions sour (with respect to a given biosphere paradigm, as conditions that are negative for one type of life are positive for other types, which is why life always keeps going), niches narrow or close.

    There is no such thing as 'balance'. That is a subjective illusion based on whatever biosphere paradigm is current. Everything after the Siderian period could be said to be 'out of balance' with everything that came before it, but I doubt you'd want to suck all the oxygen out of the atmosphere, kill all the animals, and repopulate the world with anaerobic bacteria.

    I think your pessimism is misplaced. Adaptation more than anything else is what enables life to continue, and humans are the most adaptive life ever known. We can take resources thought mere decades ago to be unusable and now extract them. We can make wastelands into paradises with the right effort and engineering. In a way I hope there is a crisis that forces humanity to regain its diminishing backbone. Treading lightly didn't produce this civilization, and it won't sustain it. Does development cause problems? Hell yes it does. For centuries those problems were dealt with head on. Waste water? Build a sewer and treatment. Flooding? Build a dam. Now we're so afraid of our shadows we're paralyzing ourselves. We should be in space by now, but no, we're too busy wasting time and material propping up scores of no longer viable species as though somebody made it our job to maintain some false idea of a static biosphere.

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  64. 64. scientific earthling 11:25 PM 10/7/09

    Electric Turtle:
    I believed you were pointing to a link between speciation and an extinction, glad to know you do not believe speciation causes extinction. Is it not logical for speciation to be at a maximum before an extinction? Why even mention it.

    I again don't agree with your idea that there is no such a thing as balance, the entire universe is in balance at any given time. Events destroy balance and bring about change.

    The oxygenation event you refer to destroyed life forms we are not familiar with, they have been replaced. It took millions of years. I said nothing about restoring those conditions. They created conditions that make current life possible. An abundant supply of oxygen on early earth amino acids and other organic chemicals would never have formed.

    Charging forward without thought is dangerous. We tested nuclear weapons in the 1950s, we still live with C14 levels 900 times what they used to be.

    In Australia we name the dust storm that swept across our eastern regions Red Wednesday, it was great fertilising the ocean around us, what no one mentions is that it carried radioactive dust (nuclear testing and uranium mining) from the desert and dumped it on us all.

    Dams cause earthquakes, proved by the Bombay quake mid last century.

    Mining for resources previously unobtainable using acid leaching of the minerals from the ore is dangerous. In Australia we are considering uranium extraction from underground ores by drilling into the ore-body, pumping in acid then pumping out the acid downstream from another well. Would you like that to happen in your neighbourhood?

    In the Punjab they treated fly ash from coal powered power plants in unlined pits, now the aquifer is loaded with uranium, which was concentrated by coal and left behind in the ash. The Guardian newspaper has an article about it.

    Sadly in life we do everything for money. A company would not spend one red cent for safety or environment if it was not forced to. That is a lesson India and China have not learned. They discard safety measures in advanced countries as being overcautious, to cause misery to their poorest.

    We were aware of asbestos and fibreglass related disease in the 1930s, business always found scientists to mess up the debate. When Asbestos was finally outlawed in the US, workers worked around the clock and the workforce was increased to maximise its use in the twin towers. Then the population was exposed to it by the 9/11 event.

    We try to preserve our biosphere to preserve ourselves. Also there is a microscopic world to consider.

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  65. 65. ElectricTurtle 12:36 PM 10/9/09

    Firstly, I mentioned the relationship of biodiversity/speciation to extinctions because twice you said that that former prevented the latter. Now that the matter is settled, we can move on.

    Now really, you think that everything is balanced except when things change? Firstly, you make the grand assumption that the universe gives a damn about your concept of balance or symmetry. It doesn't. Life exists here because it can. There are plenty of places where, so far as we know, it cannot. These places are not 'out of balance' because that is a human abstraction. When most people think of a 'balanced' or more accurately 'favorable' biosphere, the implicit defining parameter is 'for us and other life that we are familiar with and consider normal'.

    It's funny that you talk about low level radioactive material being bounced around the environment. There are some who think that it is the very prevalence of such material on earth that might have and may continue to drive the rapid (a guess, as we don't have extraterrestrial biosphers to provide a frame of reference) mutation between generations, the engine of speciation as you will. Yes, it probably increases cancer too, but thems the breaks, as it is said. Might even be that balance you're talking about (that's sarcasm).

    As for dams causing earthquakes, I'm sorry, but no. A dam and more importantly the water behind it might make an impending earthquake happen sooner, or maybe might increase the energy released a little, but I cannot believe that the influence of a dam provides all or even most of the pressure necessary to move an entire tectonic plate. At best a dam can be a catalyst, but if such a quake were to happen eventually, which is virtually guaranteed unless you think that faults are there just to spice up the design of the crust, why bother taking that into consideration as point against construction?

    As for acid mining, I don't know enough about the process to offer an opinion. Asbestos is only dangerous when you grind it up and breathe it in. It really was only dangerous to construction workers and in the cases like 9/11 where buildings structures were completely compromised. I'm not arguing that its use should be continued, but it should be viewed for what it was, an efficient material for its time. It's easy to demonize it now, but when it was 'discovered' it was a boon.

    We should preserve ourselves to preserve ourselves, the biosphere at large is supposed to change. Trying to hold it static as we try to do now is as artificial as purposefully changing it.

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  66. 66. MaGoPi 04:06 PM 10/9/09

    ALL OF THESE ASEVERATIONS, "The real inconvenient truth is that predictions of population bombs have always, always, always been wrong. Without exception," do you really think this logic applies ad infinitum? Our planet does have limited resources, and sooner or later we will reach the limit. Sooner or later, we will be forced to behave responsibly (by voluntary population control), or face starvation. Populations expand to the limit of available food. If an advance in technology makes more food available, the population simply expands to the new limit, ARE WELL EXPLAINED ON THE MAGNIFICIENT BOOK "COLLAPSE" BY JARED DAIMOND.

    The world could easily support a large population if more people adopted a primarily vegetarian diet, and they would be healthier too. AS CAN BE SEEN IN INDIA.

    Most of you (WE) are selfish, self-absorbed, self-righteous, egotistical, intolerant&, AND IDIOT, AFTER ALL WHY WE EXPLOIT HUMAN BRUTE FORCE INSTEAD OF BRAIN FORCE (COMPARE HOW MUCH CAN WE OBTAIN FROM THEM).

    WE ARE USING TEN THOUSAND YEARS OLD LIVESTOCK. WE NEED A NEW ONE LIKE AFRICAN SULCATA TORTOISE AND GALAPAGOS LAND IGUANA, WE HAVE ALL THE BASIC GENETIC KNOWLEDGE TO DO IT QUICKLY. DUE THAT THEY ARE COLD BLOOD ANIMALS THEY EAT LESS TO MAKE MEAT.

    BY VERTICAL CULTURE WITH SOIL SUBSTRATE (OR HYDROPONICS), WE COULD PRODUCE FOOD IN OUR HOUSE, IN ANY WALL, INTERNALLY OR EXTERNALLY, IN ROOF AND OVER THE WALLS. ALSO, THIS GOING TO COOL OUR CITIES. WHETHER WE PRODUCE SOME OF OUR FOOD (LIKE VEGETABLES AND STRAWBERRY LIKE FRUITS), WE GOING TO LEAVE SOME LAND FOR BIOFUEL OR ENVIRONMENTAL USE. OF COURSE, WE NEED TO CHANGE OUR MIND THAT PRODUCE FOOD IN OUR GARDEN IS NOT COOL. ALSO WE CAN PRODUCE MEAT FROM OUR GARDEN BY COOL BLOOD ANIMALS.

    EDUCATION HAVE BEEN PROVED TO BE THE WAY FOR A BETTER FUTURE, FOR INDIVIDUALS AND FOR HUMANITY.

    EDUCATION, VEGETARIAN DIET, COLD BLOOD LIVESTOCK, IN HOUSE VERTICAL CULTURE, IN HOUSE COOL BLOOD MEAT PRODUCTION; EXPLOIT BRAIN FORCE, ETC. CAN BE GOOD FOR ALL OF US IN THE WORLD.

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  67. 67. co2dog 03:29 PM 10/10/09

    The people who are smart enough to limit population are shrinking in number and all of the idiots are having babies.

    We will have pandemic diseases and starvation to limit the population. Then only the smart will survive. The last 5% can then have 100% of resources to live the US life style. We don't need all of those other mouths to feed.

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  68. 68. DeniseM-TorontoOnt 04:34 AM 10/12/09

    "Here in the west we cannot do what the Chinese do. We cannot legislate procreation, therefore we have to attack ignorance similarly as AIDS: education. Perfect? no, but it helps a great deal. People must learn and become aware that the current situation is not sustainable. Specially in 3rd world countries, where misery, starvation, lack of water, food, joblessness, crime and lawlessness is the norm."

    Humans are genetically predisposed to reproduce. We might feel it as a desire to have descendants carry on for us, or as a way to achieve immortality, or as a love of having children, whatever, but there is a pressure to reproduce. Adding to that, is that in much of the world, particularly the ones with least access to food, having children is a form of pension plan, a way to get yourself taken care of in your old age. On the individual level, for most people, those far outweigh any education we could do. True, over population keeps being less of a problem than predicted, but the direction is still clear. Unfortunately, we are already heading into a world where for so many people survival depends first upon one's luck when it comes to one's parents, and then one's ability to survive lack of food, lack of shelter, lack of medicines, etc. I say unfortunately because I'm not sure those are at all the factors we would like to have determining the future of the human species.

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  69. 69. Sweettkt 10:53 AM 10/12/09

    It seems most people think that getting people what they NEED is the problem. When people talk about the end of the world why don't they instead talk and try to solve the the problem of getting supplies to people?

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  70. 70. Pamela Dexter Oregon 02:48 PM 10/12/09

    I've been writing an essay on how woman should birth the healing of our earth instead of more humans. There are so many benefits for women to not have children for themselves as well as all other species and habitats, such as economically, education possibilities, adoption if they want to raise children, or being foster parents for pay. The list goes on and on and we need to educate our sisters, daughters, friends, co-workers so humans and all the other species even have a decent future. We must face reality on our consumption, pollution and population problems.
    with love, peace and unity,
    Pam Driscoll
    Dexter, Oregon
    U.S.A.

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  71. 71. 2008RealityCheck 12:42 AM 11/11/09

    Contradictions Abound in this article:
    It is the environmentalists push for food-to-ethanol that causes much of the increase in N2O emissions and nitrogen pollution that causes "dead zones".

    Africa is afraid of GM foods ONLY because they are afraid the EU won't buy their crops, otherwise they would love to use GM seeds. So the environmentalists are causing GM foods not to be used there. India on the other hand has more GM crops than anywhere else on Earth and feeds its people.

    Environmentalists are trying to reduce CO2, which is the essential ingredient to growing food. More CO2 means more food. So environmentalists will end up starving the 3rd world by reducing CO2. Increased CO2 also allows plants to use less irrigation because of the need for less stomata on the plant leaves.

    As for methane, if you eliminate cattle, you increase deer and elk. Environmentalists prevent us from using down timber from national forests, so the wood rots. Rotting wood emits methane, burning wood emits CO2. Methane is 22X more effective as a GWG until it ultimately oxides to CO2. So environmentalists are increasing methane in the atmosphere.

    The article mentions animal production as being wasteful and unhealthy, but wouldn't unhealthy mean shorter lives and thus fewer people? Isn't that what environmentalists want? After all, isn't this article paving the way for Obama's Science Czar Holdren to promote his forced population control schemes?

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  72. 72. bodebliss 12:56 AM 12/14/09

    the world could support 50 billion, a hundred billion people, but the world is not ready to put forth the effort that would take. The resources this would take are available. We could mine the solar system. There are unlimited resources there. The metals and hydrocarbons in outerspace are enough to last till the life of our Sun is spent. Even if the human race were to last a billion years we could find the resources to power cities under the cities that already exist.We could build a mile high above and below the ground so that each and every city on Earth would house a hundred times their current populations. We could burn the coal and oil and sequester the CO2 under ground. We could build all the nuke power plants needed to build tunnels networks and grow hydroponic gardens to mass produce food, clothing, and other organic supplies needed to support the hundred billion souls, but the world is not ready to commit to such endeavors. There is 7,000 yrs worth of nuke power in ore and ocean water. If we ever get fusion down pat there is an endless supply of fusion material in ocean water, Moon soil, and possibly Mars and Mercury soils to last till the end of time. We have not even begun to tap solar power. Solar power alone could supply all the energy we need to support even 20 billion people. With unlimited power we could desalinate seawater till the end of time, but the world is not ready to commit to such endeavors. People talk in poor mouth fashion about the human race. It is sad...very sad. It is not whether we can do these things, it is are we ready to do these things, and when will we be ready do these things to provide for a future in which the world will be populated by 10 or maybe 20 billion people. The days of cheap energy may be coming to a close, but to say there will be days when energy will not be available to meet the needs of the human race is very short sighted to say the least. Some countries are already getting ready for a future in which their populations will double, triple and other countries will never be ready. These other countries' populations will suffer for the short sightedness of their leaders. You can bury your heads in the sand, but the future is coming no matter your denial.

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  73. 73. kim85incali 02:32 PM 9/4/10

    What the author "conveniently" fails to mention is that pretty much everyone who studies these things is predicting human population with PEAK at 9 billion around 2050, and then begin to FALL dramatically thereafter. You need look no further than SciAm itself: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-reproductive-revoluti

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  74. 74. kim85incali in reply to jonderry 02:33 PM 9/4/10

    What the author "conveniently" fails to mention is that pretty much everyone who studies these things is predicting human population will PEAK at 9 billion around 2050, and then begin to FALL dramatically thereafter. You need look no further than SciAm itself: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-reproductive-revoluti

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  75. 75. rickb@hcc.hawaii.edu in reply to John_Zeray_Gazette 07:23 AM 11/4/10

    Erlich has been correct in his predictions, but has not been able to predict revolutions in food production. Much of this is due to fossil fueled farming, fossil fuel produced fertilizer, and irrigation to name a few.

    We may believe that technology will save us from Malthusian doom, but at some population (unknown) and some biophysical/biochemical 'squeezing' more food production, water resources, soil salinity and other thermodynamic realities will catch up.

    Maybe it will not happen in our lifetime, or even in this century.

    It is inevitable that there is some population that is beyond Earth's capability to support. When the big squeeze comes it will not be a pleasant place to be. Earth has a way of fixing itself by shedding excess biology. By the time we have caused most species to become extinct that excess will be us, and population levels will fall to some manageable level.

    I don't want to be here when that plague comes, in whatever form it may manifest.

    Keep up the state of denial and prove that humans are no more capable of ecosystem management than the yeast who consume sugar in fermentation until they die in their own alcoholic waste.

    Are we smarter that yeast, or just arrogant monkeys who think we are smart?

    Denial is a wonderful coping mechanism. It defines our humanity along with blind faith.

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  76. 76. candide 01:14 PM 10/27/11

    Sorry, there are only 40 people in the world - the rest is done with mirrors.

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  77. 77. scientific earthling in reply to ElectricTurtle 06:39 PM 10/27/11

    Malthus was a lot more intelligent than you will ever be. His "Essay on the Principle of Population" is a work you could not conceive of in a hundred lifetimes. The principles are still in force today, we don't starve because of science and an accumulation of organic matter over 3 billion years which we mine as oil and natural gas and covert to food.

    Biodiversity is responsible for the state of the planet today and its resources. An extremely overpopulated planet survives by exterminating other species in our size range and replacing them with Homo sapiens. Consider the impact of this change on the micro-species, that are the main life-forms on planet earth.

    Micro-species choosing hosts other than homo sapien have to re-evolve to adapt to Homo sapien hosts or go extinct. Those that do the right thing, change host this is accompanied by trauma to both host and refugee. We can expect massive outbreaks of disease as we, our pets and food become the sole mega species on the planet capable of supporting the principal life forms on the planet.

    You alone inspite of your arrogance and stupidity support at least 10 trillion living creatures. Hopefully you will be able to adapt to a lot more as they migrate from polar bears, rhinoceros etc to you.

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  78. 78. quincybones 02:47 AM 11/3/11

    A study by the London School of Economics found contraception is five times cheaper as a means of preventing climate change than investing in green technologies. But as this is hugely controversial with religious groups, the UN took it off the agenda at the Copenhagen, pointing out that the population will control itself as countries develop, women become better educated and families shrink. And pigs will fly.

    The study showed that spending $10 on family planning would save one tonne of CO2. A similar reduction would require a $20 investment in tree planting, $40 in wind power, $80 in solar energy and $150 in hybrid vehicle technology. This is not about saving the planet, but humanity itself. The planet will survive long after we have gone. It won't care a damn if it is populated by human beings or insects. When we are extinct, other species will replace us. If we don’t control our population natural forces will, as usual, take care of the situation. And with dreadful consequences for us all. This is not Malthusian hysteria, it is fact.

    Surely, as intelligent beings, we must accept this brutal truth, and put aside our religious and other prejudices. We need to urgently address the problem of overpopulation and its accompanying evils before it is too late.The global population is now 7 billion, and will rise to 11 billion by 2050. If fertility rates continue, the threats we will face are not only world climate change, but famine, increasing water shortages, wars, disease, and untold human suffering, And just possibly, extinction. Does religion really believe this is God's will? Why can’t we all, believers, agnostics and unbelievers alike, instead use the intelligence we either evolved or were given, face the facts, and solve this problem before it is too late?

    Quincybones

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  79. 79. podboq in reply to hanuman34 10:27 AM 7/22/12

    If your response to that person with the nasty attitude didn't shut him or her up, I can't conjure any belief in him/her never changing, or seeing reality.

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  80. 80. alendar in reply to John_Zeray_Gazette 06:38 PM 11/30/12

    Maybe because there's a lot more people? If the population had been more like a sine wave over the last 10,000 years, then I can see your point. But it's pretty damn high.

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  81. 81. alendar in reply to notslic 06:42 PM 11/30/12

    I think the Turtle meant the world was functioning fine for him. What's amazing about technology and science is that it has worked so slowly to access the great poor parts of the world. Obviously tech is not the only piece of the puzzle. If all tech does is crank yield up 10,000%, how will that reduce population? I don't see how Malthus was wrong because he didn't predict technological advances. The same pressures apply.

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  82. 82. alendar in reply to ElectricTurtle 06:45 PM 11/30/12

    You don't see any upper limit on this plan, do you? You represent the right so perfectly. "Just innovate and build and expand faster and more cleverly!" Squeeze people tighter, stack 'em higher. In fact, if you put the undesirables at the bottom of the stack, they eventually turn into fuel! Now that's Conservative sustainability! Have a cigar!

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  83. 83. tybeedoo in reply to John_Zeray_Gazette 01:18 PM 2/12/13

    Well that's just a "Boy Who Cried Wolf" situation. You close your mind to this growing problem because of failures in the past.

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  84. 84. robirdman 09:32 AM 2/14/13

    Malthus was right. There has always been too many people for the current food production. When there is increased production and more people starving. Thus each Ethiopian famine has millions more starving. Those who think humans should breed like rabbits or rats, with no restraint and keep increasing the arable land, seem to think that no other creatures have a right to exist and so all their habitats converted. Species are going extinct at such a rapid rate already as humans cut down forests, and convert other habitats. Some economists seem to fret when populations AREN'T growing, as in Russia, and human population should increase without end. Are they waiting for a population of a trillion, or think it can reach a hundred trillion, before it is determined that no one can have any children, or after ruining this world, we'll send millions to a terraformed Mars. (I know - we'll have gigantic starships to send millions to planets around other stars, light years away. Why worry about the diverse life forms on this one?) Yeah right.

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  85. 85. LMcLean in reply to urza 01:43 AM 12/8/13

    Urza: The total area of Mexico and Texas is 659,471,600 acres, for six billion people that gives about 0.11 acres per person, that is a significant error from 2 acres. I reckon that your view on Global warming is as accurate as your Arithmetic.

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Another Inconvenient Truth: The World's Growing Population Poses a Malthusian Dilemma

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