Is the world facing ecological collapse? Not if we ‘engineer our environment’ more productively

| | July 10, 2018

In a recent Nature Sustainability paper, a team of scientists concluded that the Earth can sustain, at most, only 7 billion people at subsistence levels of consumption (and this June saw us at 7.6 billion). Achieving ‘high life satisfaction’ for everyone, however, would transgress the Earth’s biophysical boundaries, leading to ecological collapse.

In fact, we have been engineering our environments to more productively serve human needs for tens of millennia. … What the palaeoarcheological record strongly suggests is that carrying capacity is not fixed. It is many orders of magnitude greater than it was when we began our journey on this planet.

There is no particular reason to think that we won’t be able to continue to raise carrying capacity further. Nuclear and solar energy are both clearly capable of providing large quantities of energy for large numbers of people without producing much carbon emissions. Modern, intensive agricultural systems are similarly capable of meeting the dietary needs of many more people. A planet with a lot more chickens, corn and nuclear power might not be the idyll that many wish for, but it would clearly be one that would be capable of supporting a lot more people consuming a lot more stuff for a very long time

Read full, original article: The Earth’s carrying capacity for human life is not fixed

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