Posted on September 6, 2010 10:31 pm

Why Earth Won't Cope With Humans Much Longer

Why Earth Won’t Cope With Humans Much Longer
Frosty Wooldridge

In this continuing series on overpopulation in America by Marilyn
Hempel, editor of Population Press, you, a concerned citizen, will
find more information than anything in the main stream media. In the
current edition of Population Press, Hempel features John Gibbons with
“Six reasons why Earth won’t cope for long.”

This article was written on the eve of the last day of the Copenhagen
Climate Conference. The pressing reality, the dangerous convergence of
environmental and resource crises, has not diminished.

Richard Heinberg, author of Peak Everything: Facing a Century of Declines, said,
“…the discussions in Denmark took place in a conceptual fantasy
world in which climate change is the only global crisis that matters
much; in which rapid economic growth is still an option; in which
fossil fuels are practically limitless; in which a western middle
class staring at the prospect of penury can be persuaded voluntarily
to transfer a significant portion of its rapidly evaporating wealth to
other nations; in which subsistence farmers in poor nations should all
aspire to become middle-class urbanites; and in which the subject of
human overpopulation can barely be mentioned.

… It’s no wonder more wasn’t achieved in Copenhagen.”

“As world leaders arrive in Copenhagen for the crunch phase of the
climate conference, the focus turns to what kind of deal is likely to
emerge,” said Gibbons. “Pre-eminent climate scientist Prof James
Hansen of the Nasa Goddard Institute has already given the entire
process the kiss of death. Any political deal cobbled together is, he
believes, likely to be so profoundly flawed as to lock humanity on to
“a disaster track.”

“Hansen voiced publicly what environmental scientists and campaigners
have murmured all year. A political fudge that ducks science is the
likeliest outcome at Copenhagen. Earlier this week, for instance, EU
fisheries ministers agreed a deal that pleased government and
fishermen. However, it does little to arrest the progressive
annihilation of a common resource that, like our atmosphere, is owned
by no one-and so exploited by all.

“The world faces a dangerous convergence of environmental and resource
crises, not all directly climate related. All, however, are
increasingly difficult to resolve in a rapidly warming world. Taken
together, they are not amenable to a business-as-usual political
response. Here, in no particular order, are six:

1. Population Pressure: Sir David Attenborough has witnessed how the
natural world is being crushed by humanity. “I’ve never seen a problem
that wouldn’t be easier to solve with fewer people, or harder-and
ultimately impossible-with more,” he says. The Earth must provide for
around 80 million more people than this time last year. It took us
almost 10,000 years to reach a billion people. We now add that many
every 12-15 years.

2. Biodiversity: “The world is currently undergoing a very rapid loss
of biodiversity comparable with the great mass extinction events that
have previously occurred only five or six times in the Earth’s
history,” says the World Wildlife Fund. It has tracked an astonishing
30% decline in the Earth’s biodiversity between 1970-2003.
Overpopulation, hunting, habitat destruction, deforestation, pollution
and the spread of agriculture are leading to as many as 1,000 entire
species going extinct every week-that’s a species every 10 minutes.
The economic cost of destroying biodiversity is also immense. A 2008
EU study estimated the cost of forest loss alone is running at $2-$5
trillion (¤1.3-¤3.4 trillion) annually.

3. Ocean Acidification: The evidence of the effects of increased CO2
levels on the world’s oceans is unequivocal. Surface ocean acidity has
increased by 30% since 1800, with half this increase occurring in just
the last three decades. The rate of change in oceanic pH levels is
around 100 times faster than any observed natural rate. Increasing
acidity is impeding the ability of plankton called foraminifera to
produce shells. These creatures form the base of the entire marine
food system. The world’s vital reef systems are also in peril from

4. Peak Oil: This month, the International Energy Agency formally
predicted global peak oil by 2020. [Some industry analysts think it
has already occurred.] Today, the world burns the equivalent of 82
million barrels of oil every day. Projected growth in energy demand
will see this rise to almost 100 million barrels within a decade, but
by then, output from the oilfields currently in production will have
plummeted to barely a third of that. A massive energy gap is looming,
and with discoveries having peaked in the mid-1960s, we are
approaching the bottom of the cheap oil barrel. Non-conventional oil,
renewables and nuclear will be nowhere near capable of bridging this
energy gap in time. The oil shocks of the coming decade will be

5. Peak Food: The global food system is predicated on plenty of cheap
oil, fresh water, soil and natural gas. All four are in decline. The
food riots of 2008 were an early warning of a global system in crisis.
In the US, it is estimated every calorie of food energy requires 10
calories of fossil fuel energy. More food production is now being
channeled into fattening animals. Meat is a tasty but entirely
inefficient way to use finite food resources. Meanwhile, the UN
predicts the collapse of all global commercial marine fisheries by
2048, depriving up to two billion people of food.

6. Peak Water: During the 20th century, human water usage increased
nine-fold, with irrigation (for agriculture) alone using two-thirds of
this total. With almost all major glaciers retreating, many river
systems are at risk. Groundwater in aquifers is another key fresh
water source. Over-extraction, mostly for agriculture, has caused
their levels worldwide to plummet. Pollution, especially from
fertilizer overuse, adds to the loss of fresh water. The [Irish] Environmental Protection Agency yesterday reported only 17% of
Ireland’s rivers are of “high ecological status”.

“The 19th century naturalist John Muir famously wrote that “when one
tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of
the world”. As the Copenhagen conference draws to a close, the words
of a contemporary of Muir, politician and orator Robert Ingersoll,
have never seemed more apt: “In nature there are neither rewards nor
punishments; there are only consequences.””

John Gibbons blogs at