Global warming is not the real problem

One way to view our lonely little world is as a remote, isolated island with a finite sustainable carrying capacity. Like any large island, some items – such as food and water – are endlessly regenerable when utilized within limits, and some items – such as metals located in the ground and fuel supplies – are either gone forever when expended, or extremely difficult to replenish. Within the confines of the island, the sustainable standard of living will obviously be determined by the number of people living on it. And the future of the island’s population will obviously depend on how wisely it allocates its resources.

In keeping with this analogy, most estimates reasonably project that the sustainable carrying capacity of our island planet is approximately 1-2 billion people at the U. S. standard of living. However, in the absence of the dreaded Malthusian catastrophe, and with advances in food production somewhat maintaining parity with demand, the Earth currently supports over 7 billion – although at vastly varying standards of living – and with a projected increase to 10 billion by mid-century. Yet, it is easy to see that this cannot continue forever. In competition with all the other life on this planet, the human population currently utilizes 40% of all the worlds biomass, has cleared 40% of all available landmass into city-space and farmland, utilizes over 50% of the world’s fresh water, produces more nitrogen that the rest of the world’s biomass combined, and introduces over 100 million tons of synthetic material into the environment every year. In the U. S. alone, 98% of all the rivers have had their flow diverted
to other use. Competition with other life forms has placed 25% of all mammal species, 29% of all reptile species, and 14% of all bird species at risk. Raising the world’s population to 10 billion is expected to further increase food demands by 70%. To believe that we can continue unabated is indeed living a Pollyannaish dream.

The point is that we have been doing quite a good job of destroying our biosphere in the absence of global climate change. Indeed, the unrelenting rise in CO2 is merely the byproduct of unrestrained population growth. Thus, while the geographical changes that a warming planet will bring about are quite dire, it is merely fuel on the fire.  The real problem is that we are literally a species out of control. Until we can find a way to check our unquenchable need to eat, drink, and occupy everything on this planet, rising seawater level will be the least of our worries.


Filed under Climate Change, The Unsustainable

11 responses to “Global warming is not the real problem

  1. I sometimes wonder whether global warming, if it wipes out a large swathe of humanity, will be the solution to the problem. The optimist in me though doesn’t want it to be that way. I’d like us shift to a more sustainable way of life. Whether this is possible or not I don’t know, but I like to think it is.

    • If it does, it will only be temporary. What we are experiencing is basically the tragedy of Easter Island on a global scale.

      Climate change will be unfolding over the next few centuries, but I suspect that the issues relevant to unrestrained population growth will come to a head long before then. The Earth won’t be able to support 10 billion people for long.

      Perhaps this is one of those times when it will be good to be living in a place as remote as New Zealand 🙂

  2. In the off-chance you haven’t already seen this, it is brilliant:

  3. You certainly know how to cheer me up 🙂

    Interesting, if depressing post. I don’t know enough about how we’re using our resources to really know how much of a problem it really is. Having said that there clearly are many who don’t give a damn and would happily keep stripping everything until there was nothing left. So I have no real reason to think that what you suggest isn’t quite a reasonable assessment.

    It has always amazed me that people aren’t more concerned about how we treat the planet and its resources. This goes for both issues related to global warming and all the other environmental problems we face. It’s quite remarkable sometimes how people use the term “environmentalist” as an insult. It’s such an odd insult. It’s a bit like saying “you’re a horrible person because you’re nice to others”.

    • It’s a bit like saying “you’re a horrible person because you’re nice to others”.

      Indeed. It seems like lately, hate has become a virtue.

      As for the other, I had something of an epiphany a few days ago about global warming, in which I came to realize that we’re really focusing on a symptom rather than a root cause. All the CO2 we’ve been pumping into the atmosphere is a direct result of overpopulation, and even if we magically were able to go carbon free, it still wouldn’t fix all the other — and arguably more immediately disastrous — issues with being wildly beyond what our planet can sustainably support.

      I’m not sure what the answer is, because other than a few isolated cases, the human race has always lived beyond its means. Maybe we’re just wired that way. But if we can’t agree to a solution now, with all the information at our fingertips, we probably never will.

      • I know I’m going to sound like an alarmist by making this comment, but in a broad sense I agree. It definitely seems like we’re heading for some kind of major catastrophe. Whether it’s directly linked with global warming/climate change or has some other cause (food security, water, economic instability) we just do seem to be heading in the “wrong” direction with regards to almost everything.

        • Yep. Although I don’t think it is being an alarmist to raise your hand and point out the obvious. The curse of Cassandra, after all, wasn’t that she was an alarmist, but that no one would listen to her 🙂

          I think the best we can do now is just keep putting good, factual information out there while debunking the obvious misinformation being spread by those with an economic interest to do so. And solutions, too. Because we’re going to need good solutions to lead us out of this mess!

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