Thursday, June 05, 2008

People Are Not Passive

Are there limits to growth? That's what people tell me while citing higher food prices, a planet of 6.7 billion, and cities often exceeding ten million. "There are too many people," they say. What nonsense.

Eleven years ago, Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug wrote that with current technology we could feed 10 billion people (a population we're not going to reach until around 2050). With 21st century technology we can surely feed more. Alex Tabarrok reminds us that US land use for crops has been steady from the late 1930s to the late 1980s, a trend likely continuing right now.

Whenever people make note of the resource usage of developed countries or the "carrying capacity" of the planet, they always ignore that people are not passive. We are not infants, sucking thoughtlessly away at the tit of the world. We create more than we consume. Our inventions exceed our immolations (at least in today's world). For every mouth to feed there is a mind to think, hands to work, and feet to move. We cherish our lives, our wealth, and our hope for a better future and we will lash out with every appendage to maintain our true and steady course.

Are there limits to growth? Probably, but we're not going to encounter then in our lifetime. Or even in our grandchildren's grandchildren's lifetime. History is replete with doomsayers and prophecies of cataclysm. And as seductive as their wild-eyed claims are, as invincible as they seem, they're always wrong. Never forget that.


cupritte said...

I can see where you are coming from, and understand that if we use resources in the optimal way, with the best methods that this planet can support many more people. I think that in some ways the green movement may even encourage greater growth by making food supplies and the like more sustainable. My concern with the population problems is not in countries where they have ready access to required resources, it's when the people don't. When cultures that are fundamentally different (for instance nomadic cultures) usually it was for an ecological reason. I think this is where the world is running into a lot of trouble. People are living in was that our environment was not necessarily designed to expect, and unfortunately although we may adapt the environment does not. Like I said, I think that is where some sustainability movements will be useful, if they can be adapted worldwide.
If not I worry that we may loose too much of our supporting environment, and it will take us centuries to recover from the damage we caused.

David said...

Our adaptation process, especially as we grow wealthier, includes environmental improvement. Pollution is essentially when someone obtains a resource (such as buying it) and then throwing it way. For example, CO2 represents a lot of wasted carbon that people bought in the form of, say, coal or oil. Reducing waste (improving efficiency) reduces human impact, especially nowadays.

Bear in mind that people have a vested interest in making sure their environment doesn't go down the tubes. Lumberjacks plant trees.