Planet Earth/8b. Rise of Human Consumerism and Population Growth.

Ecological EconomicsEdit

Crowds of people in New York City.

The United States has frequently been caricaturized as a citizenship of excess consumerism. Homes are disproportionately large for the typical family, with multi-car garages, manicured lawns and laid out in widely spaced suburban patterned streets. Houses are cooled during the hot summer with automatic electric air condition and heated in the winter with gas furnaces. Paved roads interconnect towns and cities, with wide interstates filled with large vehicles and trucks. Over these wide roads which cover vast regions, they provide daily commutes using large cars and trucks fueled by gasoline and diesel. A network of pavement between shopping centers, markets and places of employment at factories or offices, and the various leisure activities, making up these urban centers. Parking lots have replaced meadows and forests. While farms are now industrial scale, using large machines to harvest and plow large tracks of land. The wildlands cleared for timber, stripped mined or developed into industrial oil and gas fields is the predominate landscape of rural regions of the country.

Living within the urbanized Earth, it is difficult to fathom how we reached this pinnacle and precarious perch that humanity now stands upon. Humans have transformed the Earth in the last 200 years, changing its atmosphere and altering its oceans, with a swift progress that involved unique ways of cooperation. Study of this complex human cooperation through production, distribution, trade, and the consumption of goods and services extracted from the Earth is known as economics. Ecological economics is the subfield interested in how humans interact with the Earth, and emphasizes the need for sustainable practices that protect life on the planet from collapse.

American Mineral BabyEdit

How many countries are required to match demand (2018).

The Mineral Education Coalition publishes an estimate of the amount of raw minerals and rocks the average child born each year will use throughout their life. In 2019 it is estimated that every American will have used in their lifetime, 15 tons of salt, 7 tons of phosphate limestone, 6 tons of clay minerals, 26.5 tons of cement and lime, 10 tons of iron ore, 1 ton of bauxite for aluminum, 680 tons of aggregate for roads, construction and pavement, 165 tons of coal, 980 pounds of copper ore, 953 pounds of lead, 466 pounds of zinc, 31 tons of other metals and minerals, like tin, lithium oxide, and rare earth metals, with 75,327 gallons of petroleum and 7.7 million cubic feet of natural gas, and 1.5 ounces of gold. This does not include the amount of food and freshwater that a person needs through their whole lifespan. The total land required to meet these demands and are used per individual, is known as the ecological footprint—the land required to sustain the use of these natural resources from the Earth. The concept of an ecological footprint was first developed by the work of the Swiss scientist Mathis Wackernagel in the 1990s as a method to estimate the amount of space required per individual to live on Earth at their current consumption habits. This was expanded into the Global Footprint Network, which offers a Footprint Calculator for you to estimate the amount of space required, as well as the amount of Earth’s total surface actually required if everyone on the Earth lives as you do. The results are frankly startling, as the capacity of Earth is nearing its limit for the number of humans that can occupy the planet. This point in time is known as an overshoot, which occurs when the resource consumption exceeds the availability of those resources to maintain the current population and living standards. Overshoot events are thought to precede a sudden collapse within a society, as the resources are no longer able to match the necessary demand, which leads to scarcity, starvation, and general population drop depending on the resource in decline.

The Rise of Human ConsumptionEdit

Video on the rising demands on Earth's plant life, as human consumption increases.

The modern human species Homo sapien arose on Earth between 300,000 to 200,000 years ago, and for most of that time, humans utilized only the local resources of their immediate environment, such as plants, animals and water as well as natural shelters such as caves and other constructed homes from natural materials available. The rise of human consumption during the recent period of human history has been very rapid with the advent of human civilization. Civilization started with technological advancements in the domestication of animals (starting about 20,000 years ago) and the advent of agriculture (starting about 11,000 years ago). Since then, humans have become more cooperative with a complex network in the trade and exchanging of goods and items. This profound shift in using the Earth’s resources for the production of goods that are to be traded, lead to the rapid changes that you observe today on the planet. The growth of trade allowed for the extraction of natural resources to produce and distribute goods to widely spaced geographic areas around the world. This was accomplished in three stages that lead to the modern rate of trade and commerce that we have today.

The Origin of TaxationEdit

The advent of human agriculture and idea of land ownership had a major effect on Earth's surface.

Increases in domestication and agriculture came with the issue of protecting those place-bound resources from other groups of humans, which would attack, steal, or destroy those resources, and blunder those goods. The more production increased, the greater the need for cooperation between and among humans to guard and protect those resources. They also needed to be able to trade goods with other groups lacking them in exchange of goods scarce to their own region. These early trade routes and guarding armies required a percentage of the profit to flow to people not directly involved in the making of the goods themselves, this resulted in groups of traders and sellers exchanging goods, as well as taxes being levied against these trades. These profits resulted in a percentage of the exchange to flow through a community of people, eventually leading to an important aspect of civilization— egalitarianism. Egalitarianism is the idea or philosophy that all humans are equal and should be treated equally in a society with the sharing of profits and goods.

View of Kansas, showing individual agricultural fields and crops.

However, these early communities were far from being truly egalitarian, as they were besieged by tribalism and nationalism. Brutal wars, murder, genocide, and systematic violence was feverishly common between groups and individuals. These breakdowns in early civilized societies would result in their frequent downfall. Traders were often put at great risk in moving goods across the Earth without protection. Slavery existed, where an elite group regarded fellow humans as goods themselves, to be traded and forced to work, resulted in inequalities in these early societies. These inequalities persist into the modern age. Taxation likely developed from extortion and bribery, in which groups rather than bunder all the traded goods, would take some part of it, knowing that by killing or robbing the traders, they would lose the long-term access to these goods themselves. Taxation was a method of dividing profits to serve larger groups of individuals.

The Origin of Destiny BondsEdit

Slavery and the ownership of fellow humans generated major inequality during this period of history.

Taxation comes with the issue of having wealthy groups that might rebel when forced to pay these costs, and since they are wealthy they could hire their own army and overthrow the local group of elites if the taxes became too high. The development of contracts, or agreements between a ruling class and noble class in a society, lead to the early ideas of feudalism and land ownership. The most famous of these changes can be found in the Doomsday Book, or in Latin the original title Liber de Wintonia. In 1085, William the Conqueror ordered a survey of the land and goods that they had conqueror during the Norman conquest of England and Wales. These early surveys were meant to establish rights to individuals to own land, and establish taxes and fees to those entities. It was called the Doomsday Book, because people living on the land or in the region not recorded during the initial survey were subjected to servitude and lacked legal authority to the land. These surveys resulted in major inequalities between the upper-class landowners and those lower-class peasant and serfs that were required to work the land, but not own it. Such concepts of landownership resulted in increased need to produce crops and livestock to trade or sell in markets, and trade for goods that the particular parcel of land was unable to provide for. During this time, cities grew as places of trade and commerce, since each parcel of land resulted in different goods and items that required exchange at the markets and in the city centers. This process of dividing the land into parcels with a legal authority governing who owned what resulted in a major transformation of the Earth’s surface. It also promoted slavery and servitude to work the land, with the benefit of a wealthy landowning upper class. These primitive societies were still susceptible to invasion, attack and revolt. Often small city states hired mercenary forces to protect these lands, as well as standing armies who were overseen by nobility, such as a king or queen. Much of these services were paid for by taxes, which helped maintain the legal authority of landownership, by contributing to these standing armies or mercenary forces. However, many nobles receiving these taxes realized that the conquest of new lands could be of major benefit to them, as they would expand the revenue incoming to their own courts. However, if these armies pursued a war and lost, it would offer a major risk to the current landowners on the losing side. Landowners were not supportive of these efforts to invade other countries, until the advent of bonds. The concept of bonds developed around 1590 as a way to bind individual nobles together by offering loans to the rulers, which would be paid back with interest by the rulers or government. These came about with the increased cost of conducting wars and conquering other nations, such as the advent of firearms and other specialized weapons that required more money. Bonds unified the upper class, allowing the distribution of wealth to remain among the elite landowners, who benefited from exploits of wars and bounty during various conquests of exotic lands outside the boundary of their own nations. This was the age of colonization, which would see great global empires arise for the first time on Earth during the 1600 and 1700 centuries.

The Origin of StocksEdit

Entrance to the New York Stock Exchange.
Trading ships were financed by stock purchases among individual investors.

Local trade between one region to another became less risky the stronger the nation’s governance. However, shipping goods across an ocean to a far-off colony, carried much more risk if the ship sank or was attacked by pirates, and greater returns, in that what goods the ship traded for and carried back would be exotic and worth considerably more that the goods shipped out. To mediate this risk, stock was offered in which a ship owner would receive money before the goods were delivered, and then payout money with profit on the return of the ship, such that if a ship were to sink on its long journey, the ship owner would not have lost all the value of the goods and the ship. These types of transactions lead to a greater interest in making these risky trading trips around the world, and the exchange of goods across vast oceans between conquered lands. The concept of stocks would revolutionize the export and import of goods, and the increase demand for natural resources across global trading routes.

An example of a stock certificate from 1900.

Raising CapitalEdit

Large mines require major capital, to develop, such as this coal strip mine.

The rise of global trading routes financed by investors who would buy stocks in the ships at ports allowed a network of trade that made international trade possible, and resulted in a possible path for individuals to gain money and status in a society to own land, while not being of the noble class. People were attracted to investing with companies of individuals engaged in the trading and exchanging of goods. The windfall that befell those investors, resulted in a path toward landownership and becoming viewed as an elite within a society. This possibility of individual prosperity also calmed turmoil among the people locked within servitude. However, this pathway was limited to a select few, but during the age of enlightenment and the stages toward emancipation and freedom of slaves, this possibly of investment in stocks and bonds opened the door to a greater number of individuals with means to actually make those investments. This system of government is called capitalism. Capital is the equipment and materials required in the production of goods. For example, a ship and its crew would be regarded as capital in an expedition to trade within an exotic port, but so would the goods to be traded be regarded as capital. Sometimes these are referred to as capital assets.

Large agricultural businesses have taken over small farms, with major capital investments into land and machines.

The United States of America benefited greatly with this style of capitalistic society, as it was founded on the eastern seaboard of the North American continent, with trading ports between its shores and those of Europe, the Caribbean, and even North Africa. It also had a source in the interior lands of a continued conquerable lands from the native indigenous peoples of the interior. Between 1800 and 1850, in fifty short years, the United States purchased and conquered much of the western region of North America. As already occupied by native people, and being more arid and difficult to access, it nevertheless rapidly changed the ownership of this land during the years leading up to and after the American Civil War. In an attempt to quell the Civil War in the east, and to restore pathways to landownership in the interior, the government begin the process of giving land away to eastern settlers. This land reallocation pushed people in the east to go west to establish farms and towns in the more arid climates, and lead to conflict with native people in these regions. This great westward migration resulted in major conflict of the people already in the region, and also led to a completely alternated landscape, with the promotion of agriculture and landownership, as well as the major extraction of mineral resources found in the region, including gold and silver.

The Journalist and MathematicianEdit

Charles Dow was born on a farm in Connecticut near the Rhode Island border in 1851. His father died when he was six, and the family struggled during the Civil War. He nevertheless enjoyed reading and writing, and aspired to become a journalist for one of the many newspapers in the region. In 1877, he finally was able to find a job writing for a newspaper, and took an interest in the history of Newport Rhode Island. Newport was an important trading post since its colony days in the 1600s, but faced an economic collapse, but subsequently had become a revitalized port after its initial collapse. The town’s story was tied up with the whaling industry during the mid-1800s, and the massive efforts in harvesting whales for oil used in lamps and cooking, which were exported around the world. During this massive harvesting of whales, the population of along the North Atlantic collapsed, leading to a scarcity of whales, and a collapse of the local economy. To make money, the local population turned toward the illegal slave trade and the manufacturing of rum from imported sugar cane from the Caribbean. The American Civil War and freedom of slaves, ending these trade routes, which left a low value to the lands near the port. Many southern plantation owners moved north, and started trading in ginseng rather than cotton, that could be grown in the local climate and did not require large workforces of slaves that were now freed. Ginseng was exported to China which made fortunes and these people established large plantation style homes in New England, in the style of southern plantations. This transformation of Newport fascinated Charles Dow, and he wrote of the ways in which fortunes were made and lost in the town since its founding.

The mining town of Leadville Colorado in 1880.

In the 1870s during the reconstruction of the United States from its Civil War, individual investors were interested in investing in mining stocks. Many companies were looking to raise capital for the extraction of gold and silver from western mountains, which was heavily supported by the government with the passage of the Homestead Act in 1864 and switch to a gold standard for coins. However, unlike a ship and its goods, where the investors could inspect the vessel and items before setting sail, far off mines in the rugged regions of the interior where highly speculative, as most stocks were sold with no intentions of developing the mine, or demonstrating to the investors that the mine would produce gold and silver. This speculation was made all the more problematic because of the Homestead Act, and the giving of land away to white settlers, with the explicit rule that it be developed for agriculture or for mining. It was tempting for an individual living on the east coast to raise money to develop a mine somewhere west. However, if they gave those funds to a company that either disappeared or developed the land with little to no intention to make a profit, they would lose all their money. Fraud was common and many people lost their fortunes on such ventures. The government subsidized this great migration westward with finance speculation because it afforded the eastern states access to the interior of the continent and dispersed the warring population and fractions that had developed after the war. The government helped finance a transcontinental railway, giving large tracks of land to the railroad companies. All this required capital, funded through selling of stock to individual investors. For some, the risk proved very profitable, while others saw their fortunes evaporate. In 1879, Charles Dow was asked to cover a news story about the mines in Colorado, and he traveled to the gold and silver mines of the rich district in the country, the old west mining town of Leadville Colorado. There he quickly understood the pitfalls of east coast investors, as they did not know which mines were profitable ones and which mines were simply plywood cutouts and decoys to garnish more investments. Dow wrote nine letters from Leadville, concluding that mines are extremely risky investments and require insider knowledge of the mine and its true profits before one could invest in these stocks. On his return, Charles Dow realized the need to communicate financial knowledge about companies and their profits as an independent source to the public. The idea was sparked by his continued friendship with his friend at the newspaper Edward Jones. Jones was a mathematician, but also wrote for the paper and they discussed the importance of providing information to investors about the profits of companies and their worthiness in investing. They were joined by Charles Bergstresser, who suggested that they name their newspaper the Wall Street Journal, after the name of the street were the New York Stock Exchange and Treasury Building is located in Manhattan. This newspaper grew in importance because of the list of reputable companies that they published, which became known as the Dow Jones Index. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is the total stock of 30 companies that are ranked by the newspaper, often large capitalized relatively safe companies to invest with. These types of indexes had a profound effect on the flow of money into the most productive companies, which were subsequently able to exploit more natural resources from the Earth, through an increased drive for profits. Where before stock purchases were very risky, now for companies to be listed on the Dow Jones they had to prove to the public that they were productive, and this production self-drove continued investment depending on investor sentiments of growth and production. This made companies overproduce, and often this overproduction was driven by government incentives.

Large mining operations in the central Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Cripple Creek, Colorado.

These cooperative agreements meant that citizens, companies and even the government all worked together to incentivize the production of goods without consideration of the environmental damage these endeavors cause. In the case of the gold and silver mines, these were driven by the actual purchases of gold by the government itself. During the Civil War, inflation plagued the dollar, which became uncoupled from the price of gold. In the early 1870s the U.S. Government begin purchasing gold from these western mines to back the dollar and restore the dollar’s value. Price fixing became a major issue, and forced the U.S. Government to suddenly drop their order for gold from the mines in 1873 to bring down the price. This resulted in a rippling effect through the economy and the collapse of the value of the dollar, as people exchanged dollars for gold. However, in the decades to follow, silver coins became worth less than an equal currency value established for gold coins. So, investors bought silver, exchanged it at the mint for gold coins, and then sold these gold coins in the market for more than they had paid for using silver turning a profit. Quickly gold became scarce and much more valuable than silver. Mining companies had extracted large quantities of silver (which is more common than gold), resulting in an oversupply of silver metal. To fix this issue, mining companies lobbied the government to begin buying large amounts of silver and issue fewer silver coins, to keep the mines open and running. This oversupply of silver continued since the government was buying this silver, which resulted in a drop in the price of gold relative to silver. In 1893, people who held gold lobbied the U.S. Government to stop buying silver. They did this, as the government then passed into law that they would no longer buy silver. The price of silver suddenly dropped, resulting in a crash in the price of silver in 1893, resulting in massive economic loss in the western states in the silver mines.

Boom and BustEdit

The cycle of boom and bust are driving by the supply and demand of goods and the markets that they are purchased within. Trading of goods is driven by perceived scarcity, and the demand of those goods by other individuals, however these perceptions can quickly change in any economy. Many of these boom and bust cycles are driven by governments who push markets in key ways to support stock owning citizens, lobbyists and companies that donate to election campaigns, and receive kick-backs as part of these cooperative agreements. The boom and bust cycle of extraction of resources results in major large-scale depletions of natural resources followed by collapse, and leaves depleted often exhausted supplies of those goods. Many of these goods are not often necessary to living.

Most resources are non-renewable, and scarcity will increase over time, until alternatives are found or demand decreases. With governmental purchases and large scale subsidizes there will be an increase in demand, while governmental regulations can direct companies to find alternatives and prevent scarcity and depletion of natural resources. The middle ground is to have the government do nothing, called Laissez-faire capitalism, discussed by Adam Smith in his classic history of economics The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, the same year the United States declared its independence. The ideal of laissez-faire capitalism has prevailed in discussions of ways to govern since the inception of the United States. It however has proven to be disastrous in the promotion of the rapid depletion of natural resources.

The consequence of laissez-faire capitalism leads to what is called The Tragedy of the Commons, a concept developed by the ecologist Garrett Hardin in 1968. The Tragedy of the Commons is best illustrated with a simple example. Imagine a tiny nation composed of a single forest of 100 trees, and a population of 4 individual people who make a living cutting trees and selling the lumber. Each tree takes 10 years to grow back. If each individual agrees to cut only 1 tree each year, then the forest will never run out of trees, as the rate of cutting trees is less than the rate of regrowth, and the number of trees will remain around 64, after 10 years. However, imagine that one of the individuals wants to make a little extra money, and cuts 3 trees instead of just 1. In just 32 years, the forest will be depleted and exhausted. With laissez-faire capitalism there would be no penalty for this action. This example using the Tragedy of the Commons highlights the susceptibility for the rapid depletion of shared natural resources when there is little to no regulation and enforcement for the protection and the long-term preservation of the resource. The Tragedy of the Commons also highlights the incentive to cheat within laissez-faire capitalism to turn a greater profit. Simple laissez-faire capitalism always leads to rapid resource depletion when there is strong demand and little protection for a resource. Most countries today don’t apply a purely laissez-faire capitalistic government. Governments can choose to regulate and conserve or protect their natural resources, such as limiting the number of trees cut down per year, to avoid harmful effects.

Using our prior example, imagine that the 4 people of this forest nation is ruled by an elected president. During the campaign to be president, the candidate makes note that their country imports more wood each year than they can sustainably cut down. This is known as a trade deficit. Each year they have to buy 2 trees worth of lumber from another nation. This is expensive and the citizens want more jobs cutting trees. The candidate makes the promise that if elected they would select one of the individuals to get special permission from the government to cut down an extra 2 trees. The 4 people of this nation are excited at this possibility, as they could become much richer if they are selected for this extra source of wood.

Each pays the candidate money to swing favor toward themselves. This makes the candidate wealthy, and able to buy more ads and promote themselves politically. Once they win, as the president of this tiny nation, they award the extra tree cutting to the one individual who gave them the most money in their campaign. That individual is allowed to cut down 3 trees without penalty, increasing their wealth at the expense of other citizens. Since the depletion of the resource takes time, the loss of the forest resources because of this extra cutting of the trees occurs long after the president is no longer in office. Such methods of governance is very common around the world and is referred to as a kleptocracy, a government with corrupt leaders that use their power to exploit the people and natural resources in their own nation in order to extend their own political power and wealth. Such forms of government lead to ecological disasters that result in major poverty for the population with the long-term depletion of natural resources for these short-term gains.

Peak Oil and the Economics of HydrocarbonsEdit

No other product on Earth has driven economies in the roller-coaster of boom and bust cycles than hydrocarbons, like oil and natural gas, which are extracted from the subsurface. Petroleum was discovered in the subsurface in Pennsylvania by Samuel Kier in 1849, and was first used as a medical oil and ointment that he started selling in drug stores. This raw crude oil was discovered when drilling water wells in the region, as it floated above the denser water in the wells. It was soon discovered that this oil could be burned in oil lamps without much odor once it was refined and distilled. The oil through heating would be separated out into the various hydrocarbon compounds, each of which would produce a different fuel source, such as natural gas (methane), propane and octane. Early on, oil wells were drilled across Pennsylvania with the increasing demand for the oil in heating, cooking and gas for lighting, as well as a fuel (gasoline) for early combustion engines. Following the Civil War demand exploded as the number of whales (an early source of oil), became depleted. Production peaked around 1890 in Pennsylvania as drillers drilled deeper into the subsurface to find oil, finding less and less. A typical oil well only lasts a few years, before the oil is depleted and runs dry. Oil takes millions of years to develop in the subsurface, so it is a non-renewable resource, and every well drilled has a typical lifespan of only 3 to 15 years on average, with many dry from the start, but injections of water and gas can to help push oil into a producing well, and extend its production as long as 30 years at limited production levels. The increased demand for oil was rapid with the creation of motorized combustion engines in the twentieth century, and as people purchased cars and trucks, to replace horses, they needed a fuel source for them. Further demand came from the transportation of goods and supplies carried by gasoline powered trucks rather than coal and steam locomotives. This rapid demand for petroleum, resulted in oil drillers moving further and further westward in search of new locations (called plays), with major discoveries in West Texas in the Permian Basin, Southern California near Los Angles, as well as Wyoming. Many of these sources of oil were owned by landowners who held the mineral rights, but a large majority of these oil fields are owned and managed by the United States Government. The government would lease these lands through the Department of the Interior for companies to extract the oil for profit. In many other countries sources of oil and gas are also extracted directly by government owned companies. This arrangement often led to corruption, for example during the Warren Harding administration in the United States, the head of the Department of the Interior (Albert B. Fall) received personal bribes to issue exclusive access to oil fields in Wyoming to a select number of companies who paid him for those rights. He was later sentenced to prison in 1924 for corruption. Governments encourage the drilling of oil, since it provides a source of income (often as fees and taxes), as well as a cheap energy sources for personal vehicles and trucking transportation, as well as airplanes and air travel.

Oil production peaked in the early 1970s in the United States, the second increase during 2004-2010 was do to fracking and other technology.

In the 1950s, cities became interconnected by major Interstates built by the government that decreased travel times between major cities across the country, which was quickly replaced traveling by rail. Such changes in the society demanded more and more oil, with increased demand to travel by these large roads paid for by the government, and this led to a peak in the domestic production of oil in the United States in 1973, after this date oil production begin to drop as the resource became depleted. With production falling, and demand still rising, oil prices soared nearly 400%, and many gas stations ran out of gasoline to sell to its customers. Much of this shock came from the embargo of imported oil from the Middle East, and the fact that domestic oil production could not keep up with increasing domestic demand. The effect of this shock, resulted in high inflation and requiring major downsizing of motorized vehicles. Most importantly it led to increased fuel standards to increase the mileage and amount of fuel needed to travel any distance. From that point onward, the United States carried a trade deficit and had to import much of its oil from other countries, particularly Saudi Arabia. During this time the major oil producing nations formed the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to set prices on the international exchange of oil, these countries had an excess of oil, and were willing to work cooperatively to set prices. The United States became depend on these sources of oil, leading a continued push (sometimes turning to war) to make these oil markets low in terms of price, but also pushed for innovations to make cars more fuel efficient.

The British Petroleum (BP) Drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico 2010.

As a nation of widely geographically distributed citizens, the reliance on hydrocarbon sources of fuel continued. Technological advances to extract more oil continued in the 1980s, particularly exploring remote regions like the Northshore of Alaska, as well as deep ocean drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Technology also lead to the widespread use of directional drilling and horizontal drilling to tap into smaller pockets of oil in abandoned fields. In 2003 drilling expanded into previous regions long abandoned, particularly Pennsylvania, North Dakota, and eastern Utah, with the discovery of fracking, which is the process of introducing acids to dissolve rock in a well, which releases locked oil and gas within pore space inside layers of sedimentary rock. Some fracking technologies used injected gases or explosives and other mechanical ways to break open the rock. This process enabled producers to scrap the bottom of the bowl, and increased domestic production to near its 1973 peak, but this source is limited, and will be soon exhausted. Alternatives need to be found. Oil and gas are both consumables, which means they are used within a relative short span of time, and cannot be recycled or reused.

The ocean water on fire due to oil spill off the coast of the United States of America.

Consumables include food and oil and gas, while most other natural resources can be recycled and reused once they are extracted like gold and silver, but also glass and many metals like copper and iron, as well as wood and some plastics, although wood and plastic have a more limited recyclability compared to metals. Technological advancements have worked to increase the amount of recycle paper products as well as glass and plastics, but many would be considered consumable (used only once), however hydrocarbons used as a fuel are never reused, and instead are consumed by burning them to produce energy and carbon dioxide, as well as other pollutants. This makes demand much easier to predict since new sources are continually needed. These types of ventures result in ecological impacts to the regions that oil and gas wells are installed upon, covering vast regions of the Earth’s surface. Pipelines and roads are constructed (especially necessary to carry natural gas), and native vegetation and wildlife are disturbed or killed by this industrialization of rural regions of Earth. Oil spills, and deadly explosions at wells and in the petroleum distillation facilities near cities, as well as the pollution caused by the burning of these fuels all contribute to ecological collapse and rapid climate change.

Governments, particularly politicians wield enormous power in the preservation of the Earth through their policies and economic incentives. A large percent of the oil and gas reserves, as well as timber and meat production are carried out on government managed lands, which incentivizes its use and consumption for profit. Such governance can result in long term economic collapse, as the ecological costs of such ventures are often destructive to the long-term health of Earth’s water, atmosphere and lifeforms. Developing nations are particularly susceptible to these investments and projects which are often fraudulent, especially where there is rampant corruption. The United States is not immune to these problems and issues.

Conservation verses PreservationEdit

The Valley of the Gods in Bears Ears National Monument in Utah was designated as protected lands in 2016 (however many politicians have fought to open this land to industrial extraction of minerals).

Conservation is the prevention of the wasteful use of a natural resource, by extending its use over a long interval, while preservation is maintaining a natural resource within its original or existing state. Preservation of land is the action of protecting the landscape by eliminating its use for industry, agriculture and urban development. Preservation retains the landscape and its natural resources to its original form in perpetuity. Conservation on the other hand, allows the use of the landscape, but limits this use to a set quota. Examples of conservation include hunting and fishing limits, limits on tree cutting in National Forests, and fishery limits for wild caught seafood. Conservation requires close documentation of the available resource at any given time, and the amount of use to prevent the depletion of a resource.

Population Growth (r and K)Edit

The human population on planet Earth in 2020 stands close to 7.7 billion individuals, and the population has been rapidly increasing since 1800, when the world population was only around 1 billion people. Population growth of humans has grown exponentially over the last two hundred years. Prior to the advent of world trade and commerce the growth rate was very slow, only about 0.04% annually. After 1800, with the advent of global trading routes and growing commercial exchange of goods between various regions of the Earth, the human population exploded, with a rapid increase to 3% annual growth rates, resulting in 7.7 billion living people living on the Earth today. The Earth has more living human individuals on its surface than any time throughout its long history. It is estimated that about 108 billion human individuals have ever lived, and about 7.3% of those people are living today. There is great concern if the Earth can handle such a dramatic increase of human individuals, and this rapid increase in population density. Resource depletion and the allocation of those resources as they become more scarce fundamentally runs the risk of population collapse in the future.

Ecologists who study population change over time have observed two styles of population growth in nature. The first style of population growth is called r (lower case r), which stands for reproduction. An r or reproduction population growth curve is where a population rapidly increases dramatically, but then crashes very suddenly when it is culled back by increasing death rates. The reproductive strategy of these species of plants and animals is to produce the greatest number of offspring possible. Such organisms, include dandelion flowers, which will produce millions of seeds that are dispersed by wind each summer, with the majority of seeds not growing into new plants. Another example are rats or mice, that often have large litters of offspring, and if there is available resources populations can rise suddenly and dramatically.

An example of a K reproductive growth rate, where the population reaches a carrying capacity and levels off.

This style of reproduction strategy ensures that some individuals will survive, even at the expense of the majority. Species that exhibit these boom and bust population explosions are often very effective of exploiting a resource that is disturbed or undergoing major changes, since they are often the first species to colonize or occupy a disturbed region. The second reproductive strategy is called K (upper case K), the K stands for the carrying capacity, which (actually is spelled with a c). These species produce far fewer offspring, and spend more time and resources for their care. These species will also increase in population over time, but at much slower rates than r strategists. The K strategists will however reach a carrying capacity, that is a population that is balanced between new births and new deaths, such that the population is said to reach the carrying capacity. K strategists tend not to collapse, but will maintain this population for long periods of time. However, this strategy comes at the cost that it requires more offspring care and protection, but also that if disturbed, the population will not replenish itself for a long time.

The question that our current human population poses is whether humans are fundamentally a r strategist or a K strategist? Since humans spend much time in the raising and education of their offspring (especially compared to a dandelion), the clear agreement among most scientists is that humans are K strategist, and that given time the human population will at some point reach a carrying capacity, and remain stable.

What is the human population that the Earth can support?Edit

Some scientists argue that the human population has already overshot its carrying capacity, and that resource depletion as well as atmospheric changes in carbon dioxide and climate change, and limited food production, as well as diseases and pandemics with overcrowding, the human population will dramatically be reduced in the near future. Other scientists argue that the human population will soon reach its carrying capacity of the Earth and stabilize, with some estimate of human population between 8 to 10 billion people as sustainable. These scientists predict that population size will began to slow, as families reduce the number of children, with two or fewer offspring. These scientists are led to this conclusion based on economic data, which demonstrates that the more affluent a family is, the fewer the number of children they will have. More affluent families often are led by mothers who have more rights and say in the raising of their children, as well as their productive role in a society. The more that is invested by a society in raising and educating children and supporting woman’s rights, the slower the population growth of that country, compared to countries that have limited access to education and health care.

Hans Rosling supported the idea that human population would slow near Earth's carrying capacity.

Hans Rosling the late medical professor from Stockholm Sweden developed unique ways to visualize human population growth with a key insight into the response of economics and standard of living in relationship to population growth. He and his family, developed innovative tools to observe how countries population dynamics respond to the economic conditions within a country. He, along with his daughter Anna Rosling Rönnlund and son Ola Rosling developed a data viewer called Trendalyzer, which uses data from the World Bank to look at the dynamic nature of population growth and personal income. The results of this massive study suggest that as families become more affluent with increasing income, access to education, and healthcare, they reduce the number of children they have in a family and population growth slows. They conclude that Earth is approaching its total human carry capacity and will stabilize around 10 to 11 billion, as both personal income and life expectancy increases. The opposite is true as well, if families in a country reduce the average number of children in their family through family planning, then over time the average personal income will subsequently increase. This is exemplified in China, which from 1979 to 2015 limited the number of children a family could legally have, resulting in an increasingly affluent country and rising GDP, with a rise in average income for those families as the population of the country stabilized. This idea, that as individuals become more affluent and wealthier, population growth slows and ends, has been refuted by many scientists as being overly optimistic. Part of this comes from the fact that the more affluent and wealthier a person is, the more resources from the Earth they will use. Another observation is that as a human population becomes more affluent and wealthier they exhibit longer individual lifespans, with an increase in life expectancy well unto 80 years of life on average and may give a short-term increase, or bump in population growth instead. The idea that as populations became more affluent and wealthier they reach a carrying capacity and stop growing in population size has been contested in a number of interesting studies (maybe best summarized by Jared Diamond’s book Collapse). It nevertheless is a prediction that in the short-term human populations might began to hit a ceiling.

In the scientific field of economics, many studies have tried to examine the boom and bust cycles of local aspects of economics, suggesting that long term patterns might emerge, where an economy or society goes from a rapid expansion, to a boom, falling onto a recession and ending with a depression, only to restart this pattern again. In extracting and using Earth’s resources you can identify the same pattern, first discovery and utilization of a resource, massive extraction of that resource during a boom period, the resource quickly becomes depleted and scarce, and finally is economically extinguished with a major depression and collapse. The question becomes whether human populations themselves will undergo such a pattern into the future. The economist Thomas Piketty analyzed capital assets throughout European history, to see what patterns emerged from this massive collection of resource allocation through 200 years of history. His summarized results were published in his best-selling book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and his more recent book Capital and Ideology. Looking at the long period of capital investments by wealthy landowners, Piketty noticed a pattern of boom and bust that was not tied to a gradual rise and fall or swings in the markets, but one driving by increasing inequality over time, until inequality becomes so great that a society reaches a snapping point when everything rapidly collapses into war, disease or famine. Piketty envisioned a repeating pattern where societies increasingly become unequal over a long stable periods of governance where the ruling class because wealthier and more politically powerful, while the poor become worse off and powerless. This will continue until there is a cataclysmic event that snaps the increasingly unequal society into a revolt and there will be a redistribution of wealth and landownership, which acts to erase the inequality present in the society. Some classic examples are the French and Russian Revolutions, where aristocratic societies were overthrown and followed by a redistribution of wealth and capital assets. Piketty envisions that income inequality is like a ticking bomb within a society, and that as the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer, there will be a point of revolt, and the society will collapse. After this collapse the population returns to the beginning and slowly restarts the inequality clock for the next ticking bomb. It may not be a revolt, but some other cataclysmic event that can restart a society, such as a plague or disease, an invasion from another nation, a major famine, deforestation, poor land use, natural resource depletion or even the inability of the government to enforce conservation or preservation of natural resources.


Victims of the Rwandan Genocide at the Nyamata Memorial Site.

An example of this cycle of population rise, growing inequality and societal collapse can be illustrated by the events that lead to the Rwandan genocide, where the country’s population dropped dramatically between the years of 1990 to 1994, from a peak near 7.5 million people to a low of 5.5 million, as millions were murdered during major civil unrest in the country. The story of this collapse can be attributed to a growing inequality within the country that extended back nearly two centuries. The country of Rwandan was occupied by the hunter gathering nomadic society of the Twa people, but a major migration into the country from Bantu groups to the north brought agriculture and domesticated cattle, settling in the lush valleys. These groups of settlers quickly grew in population size, and begin to trade with each other building networks of villages and commence. Overtime the Bantu groups started to recognize two classes of people, the Tutsi who owned cattle and the Hutu who worked in the fields and farmed the land. This division of labor begin a process called Ubuhake, in which Tutsi would trade cattle for services carried out by the Hutu. This made the Hutu subjected to Tutsi power and rule, as they used their wealth in cattle to take more land and use Hutu as servants to sow and harvest the land. Overtime this class division became more racial, as the two groups viewed each other as separate races, avoided intermarriage and desegregation. The rise in income disparity between the upper-class Tutsi and lower-class Hutu became more and more pronounced. Colonization by Germany and later Belgium who both maintained this class division within the Rwandan society had begun the process to issue identification cards dividing people into either Tutsi or Hutu. It became impossible for someone to switch between groups, and there grew increasing resentment among the Hutu against the rich Tutsi ruling class. Social unrest increased until 1959 to 1961 when the Hutu overthrow the Tutsi monarchy. Hundreds of thousands of the Tutsi fled the country. The exiled Tutsi vowed revenge and begin a campaign to regain control of the country. This revenge came in early 1990s as Tutsi rebels attempted to invade the country, but meant with failure. This action of aggression only caused the Hutu living in the country to grow resentful of the Tutsi that they still lived alongside and had remained within the country. Major propaganda campaigns were launched by the media to persuade the Hutu population that the Tutsi were a indeed a separate race of people, similar to bugs or insects, and should be killed. This division increased as racial discrimination and acts of hate flooded the society’s media and stoked anger. This resulted in the radicalization of youth to carry out violence against anyone labeled as Tutsi. The president of the country, Juvénal Habyarimana realizing the growing hate and division within the country begin to attempt to broker peace with the Tutsi rebels, but when he was assassinated on 6 April 1994 as his aircraft was shot down above the capital, the country erupted in one of the worst genocides in Earth’s history. Neighbor killed neighbor, schools were burned, massive public executions were committed as villages and markets were burned and corpses filled homes. Hundreds of thousands of people died in just a few short months as the violence spilled over to moderate Hutu and other people who back the peace agreements. Nearly 30% of the country’s population died during the violence of the Rwanda genocide. By numbers, one of the worst human population collapses in Earth’s history. Eventually Tutsi rebel forces reestablished control of the country, led by Paul Kagame, who established himself as dictator of the country. The story of the collapse of the Rwandan society illustrates how racial division and inequality results in a society’s collapse, breed by hate. A civilized society must be an egalitarian society where each person has equal rights and opportunities extended to them, and were everyone within the society is viewed with equal importance. Civilizations collapse when laws, regulations and the true respect of your fellow humans is disregarded. The only way to solve the Earth’s problems is through love of your fellow mankind.