Op ed in the NYT saying what I’ve been saying since forever: Gosheroodie, have you noticed that the history of man is, overall, the history of increasing productivity? And who figured out how to increase productivity? Individual people — you know, part of the population.
Someone’s gotta be having the babies. We all need it. Spend less time and effort sterilizing poor people, and spend more time and effort figuring out how to help everyone live well.
There really is no such thing as a human carrying capacity. We are nothing at all like bacteria in a petri dish.
Why is it that highly trained natural scientists don’t understand this? My experience is likely to be illustrative. Trained as a biologist, I learned the classic mathematics of population growth — that populations must have their limits and must ultimately reach a balance with their environments. Not to think so would be to misunderstand physics: there is only one earth, of course!
It was only after years of research into the ecology of agriculture in China that I reached the point where my observations forced me to see beyond my biologists’s blinders. Unable to explain how populations grew for millenniums while increasing the productivity of the same land, I discovered the agricultural economist Ester Boserup, the antidote to the demographer and economist Thomas Malthus and his theory that population growth tends to outrun the food supply. Her theories of population growth as a driver of land productivity explained the data I was gathering in ways that Malthus could never do. While remaining an ecologist, I became a fellow traveler with those who directly study long-term human-environment relationships — archaeologists, geographers, environmental historians and agricultural economists.
Very happy with that phrase “I became a fellow traveler.” He means that he learned along with people who knew more than he did. And that’s what’s called for here. I am sick to death of rich white westerners leaning back in their sustainable bamboo chairs and telling everyone else to breathe less. Treating humanity itself like the enemy — what could be sicker?
This guy gets it. It’s not about numbers; it’s about people:
The science of human sustenance is inherently a social science. Neither physics nor chemistry nor even biology is adequate to understand how it has been possible for one species to reshape both its own future and the destiny of an entire planet. This is the science of the Anthropocene. The idea that humans must live within the natural environmental limits of our planet denies the realities of our entire history, and most likely the future. Humans are niche creators. We transform ecosystems to sustain ourselves. This is what we do and have always done. Our planet’s human-carrying capacity emerges from the capabilities of our social systems and our technologies more than from any environmental limits.
Two hundred thousand years ago we started down this path. The planet will never be the same. It is time for all of us to wake up to the limits we really face: the social and technological systems that sustain us need improvement.