High School Student,

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Should humanity bend to nature or should nature bend to humanity?

Thomas Malthus theorized that there is a limit to the size of the human population on Earth based on essential resources like food and water and on the prevalence of diseases, war and other things that cause mass death among humans. Throughout the course of history we have pushed this limit (called the Malthusian limit) back with our advances in agriculture, medicine, cleanliness, etc. However, I see our popuation quickly approaching this limit. For example, there are water shortages world wide and much of in fact most of the human population lives in a country where starvation is rampant. But it doesn't have to be that way, we have the technology to yet again push back the Malthusian limit. We can push it back farther than we ever have before using technology like vertical farming and desalination. Also, we are curing and treating diseases at a rate that has never before been seen in human history.

Unfortunately, as I see it, humans will eventually reach a point where we will have to choose to tame nature so that its sole purpose is to allow for the increase of our population or to let nature remain untamed and force the human population to reach the Malthusian limit thus causing starvation, dehydration, epidemics, etc.

My view is that eventually nature will have to bend to humanity otherwise there will be death on epic proportions. However, I want to believe otherwise so please convince me that I'm wrong or if you agree with me help me fight back the hordes of optimists.

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    Jul 8 2012: Pick any of the Natural Laws and try to make it "bend" to your will. After a few decades of consistent failure you can assume the answer to your question is Man should bend to Nature.
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    Jul 8 2012: Humanity will have to bend to nature. It funny that because we are the most developed species in the world we believe that we can manipulate nature. That thought process is naive, and more importantly, dangerous. We are all a part of Nature, no exceptions, and if we decide that we are somehow better than Nature, it will tear us down.
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    Jul 7 2012: It should be both, we've got to preserve the environment end of. I'm not a huge conservationist etc but as a science fan the fact still remains that without sufficient tree's etc we will die.
    If we over populate or ruin the environment the human race will be extinct in a matter of years or at least face a huge near extinction.
    Though because we are advanced we have the power to stop this, control population growth, make better use of the land available (I would also use GM crops as they're just too beneficial not to be used) or an idea we need to give serious thought to, planetary colonization. Terraform Mars and start moving people, it's expensive but it works.
    People also argue and say it's just evolution if we use the whole planet to benefit us but we've stepped beyond evolution, we're one of the few species that actually has and we're aware of it. And I think we have a duty as an intelligent species not just to preserve ourselves but to preserve the environment and the species within it as Earth unfortunately is as far as we know the only planet with life (I know the odds suggest there is other life but Earth is the only provable one). So to destroy Earth for our sake and decimate the rest of the environment just so we could survive on a massive scale seems too selfish to me. We neglect how related we are to other species, I love the idea of looking at grass and realising that I'm partly related to it.
    So to conclude, cut our population by giving family planning to those in LEDCs, promote sustainable living, sustainable agriculture, prevent urban sprawl, restore habitats, save as many species as we can and save ourselves in doing so and all the while looking to the stars for our next home.
    • Jul 8 2012: I hadn't considered terraforming at first but now that I think about it, it is actually the most extreme form of bending nature to our will that I can think of, although it is different from over developing Earth because to the best of our knowlage we would not be disrupting any living things by terraforming Mars or any other planet or satellite in our solar system.
      I agree with you on family planning and you bring up a good point, a popular argument against Thomas Malthus' theory is that once a country becomes developed enough and its people are educated enough the population will stagnate this is seen in many developed countries, for example, Germany and Japan are actually showing a decrease in population. Some problems I see with this arguement though is 1 whether this will happen with all developed countries, maybe Germany and Japan are exceptions not the rule. And 2 assuming this will happen with all countries once they are developed enough, the majority of countries in the world would still have to reach this stage before we reach the Malthusian limit.
      Lastly, and I should have clarified this in the explanation by bending nature to humanity we would not be destroying all trees when I said "tame nature so that its sole purpose is to allow for the increase of our population" I meant that all aspects of nature (with the exception of things that are currently out of our control like the weather) will be controlled by us, so we would have enough natural areas to ensure that we will still be able to breathe.
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    Jul 9 2012: I am at odds with the idea that there is a true separation of humanity and nature. Why is an apartment building unnatural but ant hills, bee hives, termite mounds and beaver dams are?

    When I have a garden, is it natural? I have selected the plants, planted the seeds, tilled the soil, added fertiliser, removed weeds and fought pests. However, I did not provide the sun, grant the plants the ability to photosynthesize, provide an atmosphere or create a complex ecosystem of soil microbes.

    We are still part of the ecosystem. When we change the weather, we compromise our agricultural system. That's our food and the cornerstone of our economy. If we cause ocean acidification, we put at risk the fisheries one which we depend. If we pollute the oceans then we end up eating those poisons. When we pollute the air, we breath it in.

    When we protect nature we protect ourselves. Destroying nature is self destructive.
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    Jul 8 2012: Howdy
    We will bend to nature one way or another. Man has always trried t change naturet hasalways let us think we got her whiped just before she slams the out house door. There are many that believe man will win. We are part of nature not in charge of it and would be better off minding our place. I see your a fan of genitic enginering remember we eat the food there screwing with this to will bite our a** .
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    Jul 14 2012: Wow. I'm really glad you asked. People in the renewable energy business are trying to convice us we can. that nature should be humanity. Even imagining that we as a creation of nature could become it's master is psychotic. Nature is not. I think nature has been quite tolerant by allowing us to hang around. I'd be getting pretty pissed by now. Nature has an an interesting way of balancing things out. Humans, on the other hand, have messed with Nature enough to cause some imbalance. Will be survive the rebalancing?
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    Jul 11 2012: It seems that this is a false dichotomy since both are necessary.

    We could, for instance, try to ignore nature. And just do what we have always done. But that really will get you nowhere. It leads to the fall of a civilization through ecological collapse. Think how the local culture completely deforested Easter Island to get an idea of what I mean here. And a lot of the "drill-baby-drill" crowd falls into this camp.

    Fortunately, many individual humans are too smart for that. Instead, they notice when their tribe (or all of humanity these days) is heading smack dab into a wall. Instead of plodding on, they try new things out. And keep the more effective methods, and toss out the inefficient. Tradition be damned.

    This is how we've dodged the Malthusian bullet for this long. We've noticed a pattern in nature, and exploited it to increase our crop yields and energy capture. I see some similar things happening now.

    For instance, I come from Cleveland, OH. The much maligned buckle of the Rustbelt. And I just learned that Cleveland has among the largest base of urban farms, where people are making livings growing crops on vacant land, and demolished home lots in the inner city. Which is incredible.

    An urban farmer can grow chickens, fresh romaine, scallions and arugula during the day. Jump in the shower, and catch a world class orchestra in the evening. Not a bad life. And a lot less boring than rural Ohio.

    What a creative response to high food prices, high unemployment, a shrinking population and industrial base.I just drove by a huge operation on the once gang-infested E. 79th Street, and was amazed. Humans adapt.
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    Jul 10 2012: Perhaps we should learn to live in harmony with nature. Why does it have to be one or the other. We however, must learn to respect nature and not exhaust resources. We understand polution, oxygen generation, water cycles, erosion, etc ... this knowledge is of no value if not applied for conservation and maintenance of resources. So the decision is really ours in every generation. Are you part of the problem or part of the solution.

    All the best. Bob.
  • Jul 17 2012: By bending
    I'm assuming you mean 'to bow in reverence to"?

    Humans should always bow to nature since many of our problems come from trying to force Nature to bow to us.
    And, humans have lost their connection to natural and need to re-connect very soon if they are to save a place for a decent comment on their historical experiment as a life form.

    Either that, or something or other really screwed up by placing such an unnatural being or life form into or on, a planet that is and was, all about Nature.

    Such a beautiful planet has never been found or seen anywhere else that humans are aware of and they have done their best to destroy it. I don't believe in God, but if there was a Garden, this was it.

    There was enough for everyone (if managed for the rights of all life), until religion came along and separated humans from nature, from God (if there is one) and from themselves, solely for power over others and the planet itself.

    If I were God and returned, I would ask questions. "Who told you, you were separated from me? You weren't. Who told you it was all right to enslave based on color, beliefs, gender, orientation, geography or any other reason? It wasn't. Who told you sex was wrong or immoral? It isn't. Who told you it was all right to destroy the planet 'cause I was coming back and was going to destroy it all anyway? Who told you to create money, inequality, slavery, poverty, greed, crime, war and death?"
    And the answer would be religion. "Let me speak with this religion. Well, it's not one, it's many of them. Well, who are they?"
    "They are the founders, the leaders, the spokespeople and the followers and believers who continue to perpetrate and proselytize the lies."

    So I speak with them and I ask where they got these ideas from? "The Bible," they say. "The Koran," and "the Torah."
    "Well, says I, I know you all agree on one thing then. You know I didn't actually write them."
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    Jul 16 2012: I thnk good old mother earth could use a break. Couldn't we just agree to meet inthe middle? She is our MOM after all and even if is a really bad bargain for her she will probably accept it.
  • Jul 15 2012: I have always looked at Mother Nature like a big rubber band, & when humans have gone against nature, that rubber band starts to stretch. It takes time, but it reaches a point where the rubber band is stretched too far & it snaps back into place. Hello Global Warming! The band is in its snap mode & no telling what the final outcome will be, some of that could be in our hands if we get off are dead butts & try to correct/ slow down some of the events that are now occurring. But wait! We are humans & feel we will survive all of the events.
    You can't correct this issue with only a hand full of people, you need the whole kit & kaboodle.
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    Jul 9 2012: A bit of both might be optimal.
  • Jul 8 2012: A common arguement is that humans will never have the power to bend nature to our will and while I believe that in some ways this is true some things we will be able to control. For example, for this issue if you consider nature to be the entire universe then humans, for the foreseeable future, don't have the power to manipuate it. But if you consider nature on an earthly scale then the only things I think we don't have the ability to control is the weather and natural disasters like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. If you think about it with vertical farming the restraints of area and climate disappear we could be growing corn in the middle of the sahara desert. Also, with desalination the entire oceans are available to us as a water source up unti now we have been getting by with one percent of the worlds water, we will never have water shortages again. We would not be giving up all that is green and natural because we need plants for oxygen, we would simply organize nature. We would set out specific areas for natural habitat to ensure that we have fresh air. What we would be doing is essentially is putting nature on reservations.
    Now I will admit that in some ways we will have to change, we will have to use clean energy, we will have to recycle everything, we will have to make sure that we are not harming what is left that is natural. But I think that it can be done and I think that it should be done. While I agree that it does seem selfish to do this, I think its happening is inevitable, human progress and development will march on till the day we go extinct.
  • Jul 8 2012: Hmm. I agree with your assessment and predictions. I would like to add a slightly different twist to it though. I believe that technology will focus on trying to get as much out the earth as possible. This is including genetically modified agriculture, water treatment, etc. Eventually though, if population continues to grow as rapidly as it is now, we will simply be too populated on the planet. I then believe that the answer would lie within population control. The countries that do practice population control will be much better off than those that don't. I don't think that massive deaths will occur because I think a few smart people in leading countries around the world will initiate these policies.