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Malcolm Russell

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How many people can Planet Earth support?

Poverty comes from an unfair sharing of resources. Bono's naive idea to eliminate poverty to the benefit of mankind flies in the face of the fact that we live on a finite planet. Historically the world has been able to support around 1.5 to 2 billion people, The age of oil changed that 150 years ago and we now have nearly 4 times that. The resources to support 7-9 billion people will have to continue to impact on nature to the detriment and eventual extinction of both.

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    Mar 18 2013: First let me state my bias as a supporter of permaculture. The limitations of soil formation and regeneration have been largely dismissed by the green revolutionists of modern agriculture. Even the "progressives" rarely pay much attention to the fundamental importance of healthy soil. For a while, we have been able to use large and increasing amounts energy to produce an excess amount of food and so can feed/breed more humans, but this a diabolical deal. We are mining soil and will eventually face diminishing productivity. Soil is not an inert physical/chemical medium. As a living system, it is prone to threshold effects, meaning that we can live off the accumulated excess of millennia of soil formative processes and be lulled into a belief that we can do whatever is expedient to us. In many landscapes, we are already seeing the rapidly descending side of the soil depletion curve. On the other hand, it is evident from the permaculture movement and agroecology, that soil regenerative systems of production can be designed. This implies that the long term historical numbers of sustainable human population can be increased somewhat through design that is based on agricultural practices that are regenerative rather than parasitic. My guesstimate is somewhere around double to triple the long term human population levels, representing a real increase in agricultural production of at least 4 times historic averages... Remember that few people today would choose to be as malnourished as even the aristocracy of past centuries. One of the interesting side effects of a more permacultural approach to agriculture is that it is more labour intensive. For those who consider agricultural and food production work to be "menial", this will be seen as negative. Others of us will get on with the pleasure of leading good purposeful lives.

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