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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 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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