Opinion

Too much food, too many people on a finite planet – Steven Earl Salmony

Steven Earl Salmony
Steven Earl Salmony

Perhaps Pogo is correct after all: We have found the enemy and we are it.

Pogo understands what is real. In taking account of what is real, human, environmental and planetary health could be increasingly at risk because humankind denies scientific knowledge regarding the root cause of human population growth. Earth is finite; its ecology is frangible. Natural resources of the planet are being dissipated; the environment is being degraded. Humans are ravaging the planetary home upon which all of us are utterly dependent for our existence. By so doing now here, we are effectively ruining our children’s home as a fit place for future human habitation. Pogo knows.

The best available science indicates that the world’s human population – all segments of it – grows by approximately 1.5 percent to 2 percent per year, including more people with brown eyes and more with blue eyes; more tall people and more short people; and more people who grow up well fed and more who grow up hungry. We may or may not be reducing hunger by increasing food production; however, we are most certainly producing more and more hungry people.

The evidence suggests the spectacularly successful efforts of humanity to increase food production to feed a growing population results in even greater increase in population numbers. Science points out that the perceived need to increase food production to feed a growing population is a consequential misperception: a denial of biophysical reality and of the space–time dimension. If people are starving at a given moment in time, increasing food production cannot help them. Are these starving people supposed to be waiting for sowing, growing and reaping to be completed? Are they supposed to wait for surpluses to reach them? In such circumstances, increasing food production for people who are starving is like tossing parachutes to people who have already fallen out of the airplane because the food arrives, but comes too late to sustain their existence.

Human population dynamics is not biologically different in essence from the population dynamics of other species. We do not find hoards of starving roaches, birds, squirrels, alligators or chimpanzees in the absence of food as we do in many civilized human communities today, because these nonhuman species are not annually increasing their capabilities to produce more food. Among tribal peoples in remote original habitats, we do not find people starving. Like nonhuman species, “uncivilized” human beings lived – and still survive – within the physical capacity of their ecological niche.

History is replete with examples of early humans and their ancestors not increasing their food production annually, but rather living successfully off the land for thousands of years as hunters and gatherers of food. Before the Agricultural Revolution 10,000 years ago and the onset of the steady production of more food than was needed for immediate survival, human numbers supposedly could not grow beyond their ecological niche’s capacity to sustain them because human population growth or decline is primarily a function of food availability. From a species-wide perspective, more food equals more people; less food equals fewer people; and no food, no people. No exceptions.

Given its gigantic scale of 7.5 billion people and expected growth per annum, the human population precipitates identifiable and destructive ecological consequences worldwide. Recent global human population growth can be perceived and understood as the primary causative factor of a range of phenomena including biodiversity loss, global warming, climate destabilization, natural resources depletion and environmental degradation.

A point in human history appears to have been reached when the ever expanding global economy, the ravenous per capita consumption of natural resources, and the explosion of the human population can be seen as patently unsustainable. Understanding the ways humanity is a powerful force of nature that threatens future human well being and environmental health, is a necessary step toward changing our production, consumption, and population growth trends. Regardless of how long a culture prizes “unbridled growth for gains” and chooses to leave it unchecked, surely it is not too late to understand what ails us as well as accept limits to global growth in production, consumption and propagation activities of Homo sapiens by altering human behavior accordingly.

Steven Earl Salmony lives in Fearrington Village.

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