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Mitch SMith


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What are our true global economics?

I recently saw an estimate that human population is currently consuming 1.5 times the carrying capacity of the Earth.

This suggests that the resources we use - the plants and animals and energy required to keep us alive are generated by the planet ecology.
It suggests that the system, if left to itself, has a capital represented by sunshine, air, water, plants and animals.

It suggests that the carrying capacity for humans is like the "interest" on the global "capital"
The inference is that we are harvesting more than the interest and are well into the capital - harvesting at an exponential growth rate.
In other words, having eaten everything on the farm, we are now eating the farm. And there will be no more "interest" becasue there will be no more capital.
Like our global bank account is in free-fall.
One dimension of the assertion is that, by mass, the nitrogen in human beings is 1.5 the available nitrogen in the at-rest ecology.

Firstly, is this a valid assertion?
Are Earth resources truly finite as assumed?
Are the available resources measurable? If so - who has a good set of data we can use for modelling?

Secondly, if resources are finite and measured - and we are consuming capital exponentially - what are our options?
What lattitude do we have for increasing carrying capacity?
How far can carrying capacity be pushed?
Can we survive in a no-growth, or contracting economic model?
What are the options for population modification?
How long do we have?

These questions are not formulated to "troll" world views. I am asking questions that a lot of people should have rational answers for.
Please reply in the spirit of the questions. Data would be good, as well as well considered models that can be tested.
Also welcome are weblinks that have rational foundations - no ratbag theory please.


Closing Statement from Mitch SMith


I have digested available metrics and known models.

Like everyone else, I am finding that the non-linear factors render the numbers functionally useless. The modeling methods themselves seem to yield more information - but all models admit to not representing any comprehensive claim.

However, one thing is clear - the window of opportunity for business-as-usual closed sometime mid 1900's, the balance of carrying capacity against draw-down of fossil energy is well under way - capital is definitely being exponentially consumed and has a terminal point at around 2050 - at which point all life on planet earth will cease.

But this assumes business as usual based on what we think we know - as it turns out, we know very little.

So .. in this scenario - ignorance is bliss.

I the analogy of our common understanding, we are screwing the planet and the value it represents. So .. to stay within the things we understand - are we rape/murdering the panet - Or are we mating with it?
This distincion is the critical facto determining if a single human will occupy the universe past 2050.

2050 is a conservative estimate - I would recommend you start answering it now.
It might be too late for you, but you might have children.
If you value hope ..
Remember - hope is not required in the universe outside of your own skull.
What you do is important - to you.
I couldn't care less. _ I've made my choice.

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    Nov 14 2012: I have no expertise in this area, but there are likely a variety of sources of data to tap, each of which may have some of the data you seek.

    One place to start might be Resources for the Future, a think tank focused on resources.

    Here is another: http://gcmd.nasa.gov/KeywordSearch/Home.do?Portal=GCMD&MetadataType=0

    I did an internet search for natural resources database and found pages you may find useful with links to data sets and other resources.
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      Nov 14 2012: Many thanks Fritzie!

      A lot of numbers here! I'll take some time to try to get the main ones into this topic.
      (might have to add a couple weeks to the discussion length!) .

      I think it's important to go through this process as peers.

      It's important because most of our information gets filtered through vested interests - who apply conclusions with the information. We can do better.
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        Nov 15 2012: I agree with you, Mitch, that it is useful to look at data.

        Further, I know there are people and organizations that devote themselves to getting an objective grasp of problems and to gather data in an unbiased way. Too many people do not recognize that and think, rather, that everything is a game of politics, corruption, or purchase.
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          Nov 15 2012: I am getting a thread of the issue already. Of course, it will take some numbers to get any reliable definition of the dynamic.

          This is just a rough outline, but it goes like this:
          Since the Older Dryas stadial of the current ice-age, some very significant things happened to humans.
          1. We started being carnivorous.
          2. We started farming.
          These seem curious from a distance. We can understand the uptake of meat-eating if it is in the context of available foarrage diminishing with the advancing glaciation .. but it seems to occur mostly in the interstadial between the older and younger Dryas .. when forage would be increasing. Why kill?
          Then there is the sudden apearance of farming AFTER the younder Dryas .. when, once again, the availability of forage was increasing, not decreasing.. Why farm?
          Of course, farming is the practice of environmental closure - the first time that humans had any notion of "dominion" and gave rise to artificial concentrations of resources .. and later to the practice of farming humans (slavery).
          I am getting a picture of a basic cellular entity taking up habitat in the environmental niche generated by human community.
          This is perfectly in accord with the dynamics of self-organising phenomena. But what is the seed element around which it organised?
          I'll have a guess - when we turned from brotherhood with the creatures and began eating our brothers .. it would have caused great cultural pain .. like having an arm ripped-off.
          Once the process of separation begen, it was only a small step to start pulling the creatures into our separation through farming.

          Perhaps the seed was the Older Dryas - perhaps when the ice advanced we were left with no alternative but to eat our brothers .. it must have been a sad day. A day that remains with us in our perpetual struggle and grief.
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        Nov 15 2012: Aren't we called omnivores rather than carnivores, and are not a lot of mammals omnivores, making that development somewhat less mysterious?

        Theories related to the beginning of farming and later of settlements in place of nomadic lives are a central aspect of anthropology. I remember my daughter taking a college course focused on that period. So as you work out your theory, there should be numerous others against which to compare it.
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          Nov 15 2012: Yes - we assume we are onmivores because we eat everything. But it might not be what we were evolved to do.
          And yes - it is possible that many studies have been done. Much of this now filters around the internet in forms that have been de-specialised - the inter-disciplinary dynamic of the internet is a new and valuable force - but re-grounding is necessary to stop us all re-quoting Malthus and all those other brilliant pre-acedemia thinkers.

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