World Population is Stabilizing

You may be surprised to learn that the average human lifespan across the planet is now over 60 years.   When did that happen?  It has been happening all along, gradually increasing with each new increase in health and food production.  And the average life expectancy increased dramatically as we radically reduced the number of deaths in early childhood.

But another surprising consequence of reducing childhood mortality is that people are having fewer children.  Makes sense when you think about it, but we do it without thinking about it.  At this time,  most of the world has families with about 2 to 3 children.

Please watch this great video: Hans Rosling: no more boring data.

The Myth of the Population Explosion

So the primary myth I would like to explode is that, because the world population is growing exponentially, it will soon explode if we do nothing to stop it.  I must admit I believed in this myth also until I learned the facts.   Where did this myth come from?  If you look at a plot over many thousands of years, averaging over hundreds of years, the exponential J-curve in the human population is apparent, as shown in the following graph from Population Growth over Human History.

Human Population Growth over Time

Human Population Growth over Time

But if you only do that, you would be missing what has been happening starting around 1980.   Look at the following graph from the same article which is a closeup of the period from 1950 up until now, and projected to 2050.  You can see that the curve changed direction around 1980.  Rather than going up faster and faster, the total world population is no longer accelerating, but it is now decelerating, slowing down.

Projected World Population Growth

Projected World Population Growth

While the growth rate has slowed, the population is still increasing, though at a slower rate than it would have been, and at our current rate, the population will peak at about 9 or 10 billion. At least it is no longer growing exponentially, and it is not exploding.

By the way, those graphs labeled “world population growth” are really showing just total population, and you have to guess how it is growing by looking at the curve and how the curve is changing.

Here is a graph that shows the change in the world population every year, rather than the total population.   You can see how the change has been declining from the high in 1990 of almost 90 million per year down to a projected 40 million in 2050,  and it looks like it would not reach 0 for another 60 years.

The next graph shows the growth rate, which is the ratio of the change and the total population in each year.

Notice that in 1970, the growth rate was about 2% and the population increased by about 75 million people in that year, while in 2000, the growth rate was down to 1.25%, but the population again increased by 75 million.    The explanation is that it is a smaller percentage of a larger population that works out to about the same amount.  So you can see that even after the growth rate starts declining, the change in population lags behind by at least 30 years.

What is slowing the growth?

To understand why the population growth is slowing, we have to understand why it changes at all. The change in population is the same as the number of births minus the number of deaths in each year. While the number of deaths is related to health, and we all want to increase health as much as possible, the number of births is more complicated.

Hans Rosling argues in another excellent video What stops population growth? from Gapminder Foundation: “The only way to stop population growth is to have small families.”    That makes sense, but why are we having smaller families already?   And why are many poor people  still having larger families?

“One fact about the world is very clear, and that fact is that the world population is growing.”   “We have to plan for being at least 9 billion by 2050, but that is the point where the population of the world may level off.”

Students are thinking “Population growth destroys the environment, so poor children may as well die.”  Hans replies, “The problem with that thinking, with this thought, it’s not that it is not moral, it’s that it’s wrong.”

“So this worry you don’t have to have, that poor children should die.  It’s like this instead: so poor children must not diebecause then eventually families can be smaller.

But why is the population still growing?

Why is the population still growing even while we are putting on the brakes?  Two reasons.    First, there is a typical pattern, called the Demographic Transition, which is caused by a lag between the reduction in the death rate and a later reduction in birth rate.  This is shown in the following graph:

The Demographic Transition

Even though the death rate (the green line) is declining, we tend to keep our cultural habits about how many babies we expect to have because of how many children tend to survive, and it takes a while to change such habits before the birth rate (the purple line) declines to match the death rate.  Eventually, the increased competition for resources due to a higher population density will encourage smaller families.  We have seen this same transition pattern in many local populations around the world.

It is conceivable that we could reduce this lag more quickly by education, by making the connection more obvious between the declining death rate and the subsequent need to reduce the birth rate.

But even if we somehow make a rapid transition to only having two children per family (which would mean zero growth, after stabilization) there is a second reason the population will continue to increase after a decrease in childhood death rate.  The reason is that there will be a bubble of a larger number of surviving children who will grow up and have children themselves.  This lag takes a whole generation or more to stabilize.  These two reasons are connected, however, because if the lag in the birth rate decline can be shortened, there will not be as much of an increase in surviving children to create this later bubble.

Jane Goodall has the right message here about how a little family planning can go a long way toward improving the lives of those in the developing world:

Another way in which the death rate is decreased is by lengthening lives.  Again, the resulting increase in population density should indirectly affect the number of children that people will tend to have.

Human Populations Stabilize Naturally

But lets look again more closely at the plot of historical population growth above.  Also look at the following two plots (from Population Ecology).   Notice that for several thousand years starting around 10,000 years ago (8000 BC), we had a relatively stable population of about 100-200 million.  These are necessarily rough estimates, of course, but close enough for our purposes here.

Why is there a long plateau for about 9000 years, and what happened each time the population started growing, before that time and after?

First, take note of the fact that we have reached stable population levels in the past.    We didn’t dramatically overshoot the carrying capacity of our environment given the level of technology we had at the time, certainly not anything like 10 times the carrying capacity that some people imagine.  As we approach the maximum carrying capacity, growth generally slows with the increased strain on the available resources.  ALL life tends to do this, not just human beings.  Life grows to fill any available niche, and we are no exception.   But life does not typically overshoot carrying capacity by a large amount because that would usually be followed by a catastrophic decline and ecological chaos, thus risking extinction, and an extinct species doesn’t survive to repeat the experiment.  One way life tends to moderate the extremes is by developing rich complex ecosystems with many species that balance each other out.

Second, if you look at when these population increases occurred in the past, and remember a little history, you’ll note that it was technology advances that preceded and allowed the population to increase because it was easier to support more people.   The agricultural revolution allowed people to harness the power of animals to help us grow more food and to build stable small communities.  The industrial revolution allowed us to use machines, powered by fossil fuels, to do much more, and support much larger and denser communities.

So it is very important to realize that it is an illusion to imagine that the world population has increased exponentially regardless of what our technology and the environment could support.   The advances in technology have allowed the population to increase, and while the population did increase at exponential rates, ignoring the intervening plateaus, this is because our technology has been advancing exponentially as well, thus allowing the population to increase.

Exponential Technology Growth Allowed Population Growth

Now we are on the cusp of a new revolution, the information revolution, where our exponentially increasing knowledge of how to manipulate the world is allowing us to exploit our resources even more effectively.  It may be that the information revolution will allow our population to continue growing to a much higher level, but it won’t happen just because we are growing exponentially, and many other changes must occur as well to continue to support a larger population.

Ray Kurzweil on how technology will transform us makes it clear that our information technology is racing ahead at an exponential rate.

If we are wise enough, we will learn that we must find ways to live sustainably, using clean renewable resources rather than dirty non-renewable resources that would quickly challenge our ability to survive.  Indeed, the impact of humans is now global, as never before, and what we do makes a huge difference to all life on Earth.

The video “Alex Steffen sees a sustainable future” (from Worldchanging.com) argues that reducing humanity’s ecological footprint is incredibly vital now, as the western consumer lifestyle spreads to less developed parts of the world.

The increasing costs of non-renewable resources, together with an increasing intolerance to the toxic side-effects of pollution will most likely force this realization of sustainability upon us eventually.    But if we hide the true costs of resources, and push the pollution problems off on someone less fortunate than ourselves, this short-term gain will only create a longer-term worse problem, and we don’t have much time.  If we continue on in the same direction we are now headed, we could find ourselves in a simultaneous global collapse of our socioeconomic system and the ecosystem.  The question is whether we will realize what we are doing and what we need to do,  and whether we take action before it is too late.

We need to accept that, while populations will stabilize on their own, we probably should not rely on doing nothing but waiting because we will likely experience a larger overshooting of the carrying capacity that could be avoided if we make conscious efforts to encourage restraint.   We also cannot afford to do nothing at this time because of the global effects that humans are having on the world.  We may trigger massive species extinctions and ecosystem collapse – we are well on our way to doing that already.

To Infinity, And Beyond

But here is the good news.  While we are trying to merely survive, we will have to solve the problem of obtaining clean renewable energy, enough to reduce the ecological footprint of each person to zero, and once we do that, there is a huge amount of energy available to us, more than enough to clean up all the mess we have been creating.  And furthermore, the large population we currently have will no longer be a problem at all.  Most likely the population will start growing again, because it can, until we reach a higher level that approaches a much larger carrying capacity.   We will also very likely have enough energy to move out into space, no longer being dependent on the Earth.

So are we having too many children?  Ben Wattenberg says “that’s baloney”.

Notes

    • If you have a problem with any of this presentation, please let me know why.  Post a comment or email me.  If you read this carefully, you will see that I am not an overpopulation denier, nor am I an overpopulation alarmist.

References to this page (many from me)

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30 Responses to “World Population is Stabilizing”

  1. Population Growth is Not the Problem « Global Consensus Says:

    [...] But in fact, since 1980 we have been slowing our growth, and most of the world is moving to a replacement rate of 2 children per family.  We will very likely stabilize at around 9-10 billion people by 2050, assuming nothing else changes.  (see World Population is Stabilizing) [...]

  2. sorry Says:

    i’m sorry. most of the facts are spot on, but there is a glaring equivocal, and a key fact is overlooked so that all the matter of population growth looks all harmonic and smooth.

    the human being, as a species, has been removing the natural constraints to its population size one by one. eliminating predators, augmenting food supplies and controlling the environment, and the last of such changes, controlling infection and disease has been the one that has caused the current overshoot.

    yes, there were stable aggregate numbers of individuals for great periods. but their life spans were incredibly oscillating, there were a lot of births, and a lot of deaths, most of those deaths were of young people. but this was just what everybody did (and some still do), reproduce frantically, the limits to the population size were not rational and planned, it was just that the people who lived were the ones who survived, and couples just had as many offspring as they could. this dynamic stood through technological breakthroughs that increased food production and such. nowadays, as has been recorded and proven, developed societies have families that are close to 2 children per couple, that’s because they benefited from the eradication of deadly disease earlier and are at their limit already (it’s not a virtuous and magnanimous consideration). but developing and middle income countries’ populations will keep growing until they are stopped by nature.

    that’s just the way it is, the consequences of his actions are lost on the individual, and oftentimes on the collective as well.

    • Daniel LaLiberte Says:

      Thanks for your message.

      I don’t think I have ignored the reduction in diseases (infectious or not), and the subsequent increase in population. In fact, I talked about that specifically.

      I think it would be an oversimplification to say we have removed natural constraints one by one in order and that reducing disease was the last. But perhaps you were just emphasizing that the reduction in childhood deaths (due to disease) is what tends to lead to an increase in population, as I also emphasized. So we agree.

      You might be mistaken about the state of middle income countries, however. You should watch the video again, and others by Hans Rosling, to note that *all* but the poorest of countries are already close to 2 children per couple.

  3. Susmita Barua Says:

    This is one of the best unbiased analysis of population growth I’ve read. Population growth tends to be higher within the same region or culture among the poor, illiterate rural folks and urban slum dwellers in developing countries without jobs and access to capital and resources.

    The best way to bring down overpopulation for the money has been found to be education and empowerment of women and improvement of living condition of the poor and marginalized. But the elite financial oligarchs and bankers do not want the rest of us to focus on actual systemic source of the problem of unequal resource distribution and mindless cycle of production and consumption, pollution and destruction of both natural and human capital.
    - the way the ‘currency as debt’ paradigm operates to enslave and coerce governments and people everywhere.

    • j4zonian Says:

      Yes, and specifically, it is an increase in security that reduces population growth; security in old age, disease and hard times. For us in the US specifically what would help is: 1. a greater emphasis on education and its benefits.
      2. Actually making sure it HAS benefits, by having a more equal society in which all can be educated, and the welfare of the poorest and most disadvantaged is the the greatest concern, and children and their welfare are at the center of all policies…
      3. reducing corporatism and oligopoly, returning to Glass-Steagall, and so on, so the kind of boom and bust cycle we’ve seen intensify the past few decades is banished.
      4. A national health care system provides for everyone
      5. A comprehensive and coordinated system of “needed help” is provided: unemployment insurance, education, training and retraining, medical care/physical therapy, psychotherapy, social services, etc. is available to all
      6.corporations are seen as what they should be: time-limited agreements primarily in service to the greater good, secondarily for individual profit.
      7. a national, even international, rather than employer-based retirement system. ie, fully funded social security that provides a decent income as long as it’s needed.
      8. reducing trauma, fear, rage and shame to reduce the ravages of conservatism, the hold it has on us, and its idea that we are each all alone in the world.

  4. Letter to a Population Eugenesist « Global Consensus Says:

    [...] problems for supporting a 30% increase in human population, peaking at about 9 to 10 billion around 2050, are mostly about ensuring we will have enough food and water in the places where people choose to [...]

    • j4zonian Says:

      There is no population-related reason we can’t feed everyone on Earth, even at 9 billion+. Unless we’re stupid enough to continue on our current path of destroying the carryng capacity of Earth through climate cataclysm. We grow enough grain alone to feed everyone 2500 Calories/day now. Cornell’s Jane Mt. Pleasant has shown that permaculture guilds like the traditional three sisters (corn, beans, squash) can increase yields over monocultures by 20% while improving soil instead of killing it, and that’s not even the full potential of more complex guilds and food forests. And all the other foods besides grain–fruits, nuts, vegetables, pulses, mushrooms, and pickled Rocoto peppers. We can do this; we just choose not to so far. Time for a revolution?

      • profbob2 Says:

        With dwindling water supplies, ie. Himalayan glaciers that feed the major rivers of India, China and Southeast Asia–and 70% of water being used for agriculture, where will we get the water at an affordable price? And will people living on $2 a day be able to afford it? Maybe if the Catholic Church gives its huge fortune to the poor!

  5. jacob Says:

    at points i agree with everything but you have to think about the fact that if two human beings want to have sexual intercourse you cant tell them not to. You cant really estimate about something like population, human beings make their own choices and actions and you cant control that unless a law is put in place that says not to have sex.

    • Daniel LaLiberte Says:

      I would agree that we should not try to control whether people have sex, but we should help people realize the consequences of their actions and make good choices. The consequences should include the full cost of raising new human beings, a cost that should be borne mostly by those who choose to have children, a cost that currently doesn’t account for all the environmental effects because we are still hiding the true costs, mostly by exploiting people in poorer parts of the world or simply by using non-renewable resources and dumping toxic waste products back into the environment. Our responsibility is not just to the children we create but the environment in which they live.

  6. John Heininger Says:

    Humans have supposedly been around 2.5 millions years which amounts to well over 35,000 generations of active copulation without birth control. Yet in the last 10000 years we have gone to 15 billion. So how was it possible that 35, 000 actively copulating generations produced little to nothing. Something doesn’t fit.
    p.s. I’ve just seen the wisdom of the young earth creationists.

    • Daniel LaLiberte Says:

      LOL. First, we are not at 15 billion people. Where did you get that number?

      Second, do you honestly believe that nothing has changed in 35 thousand generations, nothing that might have changed our ability to support more people? And it is not about the ability to copulate, which is fairly constant. It is about the ability to raise and support more offspring that result from copulation, so they can mature and do the same for their own offspring.

      The change I am talking about is the increasing ability to cultivate more land, to grow more food, to build denser communities supported by extracting more resources from the environment. We have done that, and the result has been that the population could grow, and it did. No surprise there.

      The problem is that we will not be able to continue this growth for long at the rate we have been going, and we need to change our ways fast to avoid severe restrictions on a global scale. I also believe there is enormous potential for much more growth, fueled by enormous quantities of renewable energy, thousands of times more than we need now, but we must do it sustainably, with zero waste and zero footprint. And then many more people with zero footprint will not be a problem.

  7. Bob OConnor Says:

    The fertility rate is going down but the lifespans are going up. The arable land is reducing considerably every year. Population experts, like Pimentel, say that if we are going to live at the level of people in the West today our population should be about 1 1/2 billion people. I suggest you read andgulliverreturns.info, Book 1 for an analysis of many of the factors involved.

    • Daniel LaLiberte Says:

      Thanks for your comment, Bob.

      Average lifespans are going up, though our maximum age is not going up very fast. The average lifespan is going up primarily because more babies are surviving the dangers of childhood and growing into adults who have their own babies. This makes it all the more important to tie improvements in health with the education and empowerment of girls and women, to decrease the “demographic lag” that otherwise results.

      Arable land has been reducing mostly because we have been very stupid about the long-term health of the land, and the planet in general. We certainly should *not* push our form of “advancement” on the rest of the world, because most of the problems are due to our destructive practices, not due to the number of people.

      In contrast, we can actually increase the arability of more land, restoring previously desertified land, while simultaneously removing excess carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere and extracting some biofuel energy, by creating a modified form of biochar from the waste plant material which is then added back to the soil, where it stays and improves plant growth. I suggest you watch this video about one very promising technology that can be implemented now: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkYVlZ9v_0o

      • Bob OConnor Says:

        Life spans are going up–about 3 years for every 10 lived. Infant mortality is only a part of it–medical science is a big part. Of course obesity and diabetes help to keep it controlled. Arable land is being built on or is being lost to the lack of water. Did you read what I suggested?

        • Daniel LaLiberte Says:

          Reducing infant mortality combined with the demographic lag has been the larger part of the population increase across the world in recent centuries. though it is less significant in areas that have already reduced their infant mortality close to zero – you can’t go less than zero. Meanwhile, though I believe there is no upper bound on the maximum lifespan, it gets more and more difficult to increase life span, until we have some major breakthroughs, and then I agree, it will be the more significant factor.

          I don’t disagree that arable land is being lost, but it is for stupid reasons, not necessary reasons. We need to learn how to leave zero footprint by using 100% renewable resources, replacing 100% of the nutrients in the soil, etc. And we will need to reverse the damages of global warming, which is certainly doable, though it will be a global challenge.

          Your link does not provide the text that you want me to read, and I haven’t found it elsewhere, so no I have not read it. Have you watched the video I referenced?

  8. j4zonian Says:

    Daniel,

    I don’t know about biochar. Maybe it works. It always sounds, however, like one more of the thousands of ideas to create perpetual motion or free energy… The things we do know work are to sequester carbon the way Gaia has been doing it for 450 million years–building soil,and increasing plant cover (in the form of trees and perennials, here in the Holocene). Since at the same time we can create a new food, fiber, material and medicine production system through food forests, it seems like an especially good idea.

    Bob,

    Checked out your book ref. Lost me with the first half of the first sentence: “Overpopulation is responsible for many of our planet’s problems–global warming…”. I’ll read as much more as I can stand but someone who writes so much with such confidence based on so wrong an idea so easily disproved … I can’t think of anything non-insulting to say, so I’ll just say “boy, I don’t know…”

    The richest 3 people in the world own as much as the poorest 48 countries. The richest 7% of people on Earth cause half of the greenhouse gases, the richest 20% cause 80%, while the poorest half of humanity, 31/2 billion people, causes 7% of the GHGs. Our problem is not numbers of people, it’s the overwhelming consumption by the rich. That includes most of us, among the richest 6 or 7% of people on Earth. If you could somehow magically disappear those 3 1/2 billion poor people, you’d still be left with 93% of the problem left to solve some other way. This is a problem caused by the rich, and it can only be solved by the rich.

    • Daniel LaLiberte Says:

      The carbon in the biochar plus the carbon extracted for biofuel would add up to the carbon dioxide extracted from the atmosphere, and the energy required to create these products is only what the sun provides, but we would need to use some of that biofuel to create the biochar. That is my understanding of the process, so there is nothing magical or impossible about it.

      I have no objection to letting nature takes is course to reforest what we have clear-cut and turned into agricultural land, except I believe it would take too long, and we don’t have time to waste. The C4 plants (grasses) apparently do the job of sequestering carbon dioxide much faster than the trees. And we need liquid fuels in the near term to power transportation until we can transition to all electric vehicles powered by renewable energy sources. At least biofuels are carbon neutral, and with some of that energy being converted to biochar that is added to the soil, it becomes carbon-negative.

    • profbob2 Says:

      The book I cited is replete with high level references. If we’re going to discuss this send me your references instead of just dismissing what most environmentalists know. While you note that the rich people are responsible for many of the problems, it doesn’t change the fact that there are far too many people in the world. Experts like Dr. Pimentel at Cornell University believes that one and a half to 2 billion people is all the world can handle if we are to live at the level of the West. I suggest you move to the end of the book where it takes on the skeptics to overpopulation.

      • Daniel LaLiberte Says:

        We obviously should *not* be all living at the level of the west, at least not in the way we are doing it. At best, Dr Pimentel is making the argument that we should not all be living at the level of the west, because, we agree, that would be catastrophic. The fundamental flaw in your argument is that the whole world should live like we do, and there is an assumption that everyone wants to. WE should not be living like we do either, and we could avoid it if we could just take back control of our lives and make concerted efforts toward changing our unnecessary addiction to fossil fuels. There are many technical solutions just begging to be used. What’s stopping us is partly arguments and misunderstandings like yours.

        The fact that you estimate the footprint cost per human based on the grossly high cost of western lifestyle is one problem. But even if you correct that problem, I expect you fail to understand how it is possible that we could reduce the footprint of humanity all the way down to zero. I suspect you believe that the goal of Zero Footprint is not possible, and that there will always be some minimal non-zero cost per human, and therefore, we can’t have too many humans. Tell me I am wrong, that there is some other reason. I really am trying to understand why some population alarmists fail to understand these relatively simple concepts.

  9. j4zonian Says:

    [As long as we can, let's reply at the bottom to avoid the one-letter wide 6 mile long posts]

    Who said anything about letting nature take its course? Wangari Maathai’s beautiful work and those inspired by her Greenbelt Movement have planted 50 million trees in Kenya alone, in the process empowering, educating and providing jobs for tens of thousands of poor women… which as we know reduces population growth. And they’ve become a powerful political force for change. The forests planted accomplish many tasks at once: women are trained in forestry; ecology, beekeeping; politics; ecotourism; and could easily be trained in permacultural agroforestry and lots of related needs. Food forests, complex constructed ecosystems of as many as 7 vertical layers, increase and deepen carbon sequestration over simple orchards and fields.

    Remembering that you can never break even thermodynamically, and your admission that “we would need to use some of that biofuel to create the biochar”, despite its enthusiasts I’m still suspicious of a big investment in biochar. 1. Can it help? 2. How much can it help if it can? 3. Can we get more bang for the buck out of it than planting food forests and low-meat local organic permaculture? The IPCC believes the cost of forestation is lower than other mitigation options. (I don’t know if biochar was considered.) Of course many plants multiply, so need little work or resources, if that’s what you mean by nature taking its course. Biochar etc. may be among the tools we use, but planting plants will most likely remain the main way we sequester carbon to get through this crisis—if we do.

    Deforestation seems to be responsible for as much as a quarter or more of global warming*, and we could make up more than that by planting forests, including in croplands that were grasslands created out of forests with fire and cutting by Native Americans, Europeans and others. Using succession permaculturally, during the first years of a budding food forest, especially fast-growing trees, annuals, perennials, grasses and vines can sequester carbon while providing food, fiber, materials, etc., (thus reducing harm and GHGs elsewhere from the production of those) and improving soil, preparing the way and getting a jump on the slower-growing large, long-lived trees whose sequestration efforts will outpace others later. Whether succession is allowed to proceed or not, sequestration would continue for decades or centuries, supplementing the dramatic reduction of GHG emissions achieved through efficiency, solar, wind, changed lives and other means.

    Proponents also give good story even about biofuels like corn ethanol, ignoring and denying the fact that it’s at best just above the breakeven point, and may be below that, costing more energy to make and transport than it yields in fuel. Large-scale biochar in our context? I don’t know. Do you? Can you cite studies to show it?

    C3, C4 and CAM plants don’t divide up so neatly as you imply, although there certainly are intriguing possibilties there as long as the Dr. Frankensteens don’t apply their insane reductionism and blow up the universe. (A little apocalyptic exaggeration humor, there). And I don’t know of any studies about the relative sequestration of whole grassland ecosystems vs whole food forest ecosystems guided to optimal levels by humans, though I’m looking. I suspect that despite the power of grasslands to sequester carbon and their use where forests can’t grow, that forests are better in most places where they’re a choice. Of course we’re removing choices every day we delay taking real action to avoid chaos, so maybe we should look into RDNA C4 jellyfish.

    *www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2006/1000385/index.html

    • Daniel LaLiberte Says:

      I expect we largely agree. I have to admit that I don’t know nearly enough about the plants and biochemistry involved in this process to speak with any authority, and will therefore have a tendency to misstate what I am really trying to say. My main reference (so far) is this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkYVlZ9v_0o which is a talk by Mike Cheiky, the President and Founder of CoolPlanet Energy Systems. He estimates (and this is confirmed by studies) that with 3% of the world’s land, we could reverse global warming, and bring many people out of extreme poverty in a very few decades. So we could do just a fraction of this, and do many other things with other carbon sequestration technologies, to actually solve our global warming problems, hopefully before they get too much worse.

      I am thinking that the application of the faster-growing C4 plants, along with sequestration via biochar, should be focused mostly on the land that needs it the most, the recently desertified areas, the impoverished croplands and areas at greatest risk of erosion. New forest plantings would have a better chance of surviving and thriving given a few rounds of grasses to start rebuilding the soil. One plant that might be able to serve both roles (my wild speculation here) is bamboo, the tree-like grasses.

      Halting deforestation as soon as possible is also a no-brainer, and I expect those areas will have a better chance of recovering if we catch it as soon as possible. (Clear-cutting rainforests to raise cattle is one of the stupidest ideas I’ve ever heard of.) But one important thing the video mentions is that mature forests are not capturing any more carbon (once they mature), and everything that dies thereafter tends to release its carbon back to the atmosphere. But we can harvest some of that material for long-term sequestration in building structures and other products, though we have to be careful to replace all the nutrients we take out, of course.

  10. j4zonian Says:

    Replying to profbob2 2013/02/24 at 7:52 am

    Well, Bob, my references are the number of people on Earth, the birth rate, the death rate, and my 3rd grade math teacher. But clearly if your book is replete with high level references you don’t need to be able to do math. As long as you cling tenaciously to the high level references and your innumerate projections you should be OK.

    This argument has been going on for years, and so you’re being hit with the fallout of my frustration with others who have made the same debunked arguments, over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over. And over. And over.

    I apologize. I don’t know you, but I am so sick to death of people willing to risk the collapse of civilization, such as it is, and the end of all life on Earth because they have an inordinately high opinion of their logic and math skills and one randomly chosen chart or book or Goddess forgive them, Youtube video that resonates with their psychological disabilities. I’m sick to death of people who are so attached to their ego protection that they grab onto some One Big Idea and start spinning out more and more and more ridiculous arguments and black-hole dust devil blind spots because, once out of sight of the shores of reality no direction seems any better than any other. They drift with the currents of their own—and their culture’s and subculture’s—unconsciousness, grief, fear and rage, latch onto whatever drifts by that holds them up and become determined that whatever direction it takes them is THE RIGHT WAY. Don’t get me wrong; I know that sounds very harsh and I do understand that we all cling to what keeps us from feeling guilty and ashamed and rageful and afraid and numbingly grief-stricken if we haven’t done the psychological work on ourselves to be conscious. But people who are so unwilling to do that for each other, and who read one thing and think it’s the only thing because it relieves their guilt, and ARE WILLING TO RISK CIVILIZATION, THE HUMAN SPECIES AND UTTERLY UNCOUNTABLE OTHER BEINGS rather than even consider reconsidering, flexibility, allowing in new ideas or engaging with the precautionary principle, or feeling some of the pain reality associates with their actions, sicken me, and sadden me so profoundly I am completely unable to summon any empathy for them some days. Years drift by, decades, and we go on unable to come to the INCREDIBLY OBVIOUS conclusions that simple math reveals, because so many are unable to face the pain of self-examination.

    I weep and howl with the monstrous pathetic tragedy of Sphinctorectus oralis, the “civilized” human.

    I’m not sure how I can be any more clear about the poorest half of humanity causing 7% of the greenhouse gases. I’m not sure how much more clear I can be about having 93% of the problem left if you magically get rid of 3 ½ billion people even if they magically are OK with their own mass murders and don’t fight back. (Which, by the way, would end us, as war is the most carbon-intensive thing humans do.) I am not a “skeptic to overpopulation”. I am someone who can add.

    • Daniel LaLiberte Says:

      I think we should produce a visualization that shows population of each country on one axis and per-capita footprint on the other. Each country would be represented by a box, where its width would be the population and the height would be the per-capita footprint, so the area of each box would be the total footprint of the country. Then we sort by per-capita footprint and stack all these boxes along the population axis. We can draw a line at the half-way point of the population and see the long short sliver of footprint on one side versus the short tall chunks on the other side. Has anyone done this yet?

  11. j4zonian Says:

    Replying to profbob2 2013/02/26 at 5:09 pm

    I had a dandy answer all prepared but let me stop and reflect, and ask exactly what you’re saying. What are you saying? That these are population problems? That they’re difficult problems? Or are you actually asking what my solutions are to those things?

  12. j4zonian Says:

    Replying to Daniel LaLiberte 2013/02/27 at 5:53 am

    I’m watching your video as I write; it sounds great. So does cold fusion if you don’t know enough to know better. I don’t know enough to know whether this is actually real or just another bottle o water with some tubes coming out of it. What I do know is that this has never been done. Oops, what does he say there: “I think it’s got a pretty good shot at working.” Whoa! Rein in the team! What? “a pretty good shot at working?” 10 seconds ago he’s saying with apparent certainty a million dollars profit for the village, employ lotsa people, provide energy for blah blah and now it’s gosh I think it has a pretty good shot at working???

    See the logos on the graphic? GE, BP, ConocoPhillips, NRG, Constellation (natural gas)… I don’t think they’re going to do this for the good of humanity. Well, I don’t think they (or anyone else) are going to do this at all, but when BP and GE and CP own something and are pushing it, you can bet just about any amount of money it’s not the answer.

    The studies you mention: lab-or-a-tor-y. The thing itself: Never been done.

    The more I hear the more sure I become that this is a massive, profit-oriented, pi-in-the-sky pipe dream scam, meant as much to make people think BP et al. are doing something, anything at all, about climate cataclysm when they’re not, as to make more of them billionaires while pushing millions more of us into poverty and slavery. (BP is well known for its alternative energy head fakes while driving toward the goal of drilling for dollars. Hint: watch the hips.) It’s Meterless power. It’s apologizing and firing some midlevel flunky for the Gulf disaster while hiring suddenly-former shrimpers to clean dead things off the beaches at night and prohibiting them from using gloves and masks for the toxic crud in case anyone sees them. Standing with tube-shaped hands to face, head lifted, shouting into the wind: IT’S A SCAM!

  13. Daniel LaLiberte Says:

    It is wise to be honestly skeptical in general. Perhaps Mike Cheiky is being very conservative in his prediction, or perhaps, by “it” he is not referring to whether the technology works but whether it can be scaled up to 1-3% of the land mass, which is rather a huge enterprise. The main reason I tend to trust this guy is that Google people have been examining the claims. So this is not just about all those greenwashing companies, who want to appear green and barely know what it means, but a company that has put a lot of money and effort toward being carbon neutral and succeeding at it. It sounds like they are moving forward with the project, and we will see how it turns out.

  14. World Population Growth Projections | Global Consensus Says:

    [...] You should be asking yourself, what has changed recently to stop the explosion?  Alternatively, what could change to increase the growth rate so the population would again be exploding?  The answer to these questions is explored in another blog: World Population is Stabilizing [...]


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