- Philip Crume
- Cleveland, OH
- United States
On local ecological carrying capacities and ethics
An English clergyman named Thomas Malthus began writing essays on population in 1798 that later influenced many of the leading theorists on biology and ecology throughout the 19th century, including Charles Darwin. His most famous observation was "a population will continue to reproduce until it reaches the limits of its food supply."
Contrary to popular belief, population is NOT an exponential curve but a logistic one, where it eventually plateaus. The growth ceiling is called its carrying capacity. What is important to understand is that carrying capacity is not the sum total of a whole species but its limit in terms of local conditions. For example, a hectare of barren desert will feed fewer people than a hectare of dense farmland.
What further compounds this issue is that a local carrying capacity can change. Either nature or man can degrade it or improve it. I would conjecture that quality of life comes from the ability to keep a local population artificially lower its the carrying capacity so that there would be abundant food for all of its members.
Of course the ethical issues are as numerous as they are unpleasant to deal with, and I think it will be important to consider them. Here are a few:
1) Is it ethical to maintain a carrying capacity margin when neighbors are over-populated?
2) Is it ethical for over-populated regions to continue to grow their population when they can no longer feed themselves using local resources?
3) Is it ethical for over-populated regions to continue to send immigrants abroad (moral hazard) instead of trying to curb their population?
4) Is it ethical to move to a region that is already beyond its carrying capacity?
5) Is it ethical to engage in food trade to regions that are beyond their carrying capacity, which if trade routes collapse, which could consign a larger number of people to death?
Those are just few of the issues that can be raised. They're not going away and their importance will only increase this century.