"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Argument for Carrying Capacity of 7.5 G

My good friend Howie spotted an as-yet obscure blog from Sweden, in English, by Folke Gunther.

Gunther is basing an argument for the world's carrying capacity on the private asteroid argument, turned on its head. Exactly how much land do you need? That is, what is each human's minimum share of the entire planet? He argues that you need just about the share you currently have.


Anonymous said...

Michael, I was just referencing your wonderful "private asteroid" grist post again yesterday. Did you ever attempt to do the exercise at the 6,000 person level, as you hinted at the end? Again, that "asteroid" post is just excellent. (And I really got a kick out of some to the "comments" that required your response "Please don't think about how you would feel or what the escape velocity would be, any more than you think about how the Little Prince got his clothes or learned to speak French."!)

Just another metric regarding "carrying capacity"... In E.O. Wilson's "The Future of Life", he makes the point that if, somehow, humans utilized as food ALL of the energy captured by plant photosynthesis on land and sea, some 40 trillion watts, the planet could theoretically support 17 billion people. Of course, we could never get to that limit, but with projections of 9 billion by mid-century, clearly we are facing daunting bottlenecks.

Also, just in terms of factoids that make you go "hmmm"... I cannot confirm these numbers (although here is the source http://www.manufacturingcenter.com/dfx/archives/0899/899trl_2.asp ), but I heard Dan Dennett reference the following point in last year's TED talk: "10,000 years ago, at the dawn of agriculture, human population plus their livestock and pets was approximately 0.1% of the land- and air-based vertebrate mass. Today, the combined weight of humans, livestock and pets is 98% of the land- and air-based vertebrate total." Yikes.

Michael Tobis said...

Tidal, thanks for the reminder.

The followup article turned out to require quite a lot of research to get it right.

It's turning out to be difficult to keep up with all the ideas for essays that I have. (sigh)

Anonymous said...

Since you're an optimist, I'll point out that there are several acres (AFAIK) on your little asteroid/world of ocean with plenty of sun and rainfall but very little life. A little plastic, some concrete floating islands, and you can at least triple your farmland. There's probably enough wind power for most routine work (soil drainage, irrigation, etc.), although stored power of some sort may be needed for harvesting and processing.

There's also essentially endless sunlight right over your head and a chunk of otherwise unused rock available for raw material. Orbiting solar power, even orbiting farms, could expand your farmland, industrial base, and power supply tremendously while leaving your little 21-acre world mostly natural.

(I realize the to/from space passage will have some effects if it happens too much, but most of the raw materials and heavy lifting can be between near Earth orbit and the Moon.)

Michael Tobis said...

AK, I am a technical optimist. The problems can be solved if there is the will and the skill.

I am a factual pessimist; I don't think we have a good grip, socially or politically or economically, on how to implement the types of solutions we need.

I think we owe it to the world to act on the basis of whatever optimism we can muster. That doesn't mean I actually expect that the next couple of centuries will turn out well. Actually, I think we are already a bit too crazy at this point and it's not getting better.

David B. Benson said...

An anthropological note if you intend to have a village asteroid. There is abundant evidence to the effect that an adult can only meaningfully interact with about 150--200 other adults. Turns out this is the size of existing hunter-gatherer societies, or companies, if you prefer. The company breaks into smaller bands for foraging, gathering and hunting, coming together once or a few times a year.

This looks more like a village size to me.

Anyway, your personal asteriod offers a wonderous perspective on resources. Thank you!