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JimD

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Carrying Capacity Issues
« on: March 14, 2015, 04:35:42 PM »
Intertwined with Climate Change are global carrying capacity issues.  We talk about carrying capacity a lot and how it interrelates with all the other problems we face.  If one actually could magically set aside all of the issues of climate change, as some are trying so hard to do, the issues of global carrying capacity would easily replace climate change as the greatest challenge of human history.  So what we face in the combination of carrying capacity and climate change are the two greatest challenges of human history.  Together that makes them what?

So let us try and bring this issue home to those who don't recognize its significance.  This discussion is most closely related to the famous (infamous?) Limits to Growth books (there are 4 of them) the first of which was published circa 1973.  If you read these books you will find them absolutely frighteningly accurate to date.  We are dead on the the BAU projected pathway to collapse detailed in 1973.  That curve train wrecks circa 2050.  It is worth mentioning once again that the Limits to Growth projections did not take into account climate change.

Historically civilizational collapses are due to carrying capacity issues.  We have a lot of knowledge of how this actually happens and its effects on various cultures/civilizations.  This is not climate modeling.  This is history and actual data.  We have a large body of research on this topic that also covers others species and how their populations reach and exceed their ecosystems carrying capacities and then collapse. 

We are well in excess of the Earth's carrying capacity for our species.  How far?  This is where one starts to get many answers and we wrestle over definitions.  For instance the key definition is how we set the limits (does it have limits??) of the word sustainable.

One sees a wild span of definitions of sustainability.  The BAU folks seem to think that all the green technologies are sustainable because they touch some form of renewable energy.  Or they talk about fish farming or hydroponics or some other nonsense.  But what really makes sense when we say sustainable?  To some it means 'forever'.  Which means what?  A million years?  A hundred thousand?  Ten thousand?  50?  Sad to say that many people only seem to mean the span of their lives and f**k anyone else.  What does it mean to you as this is the crux of the argument.  The Sun will expand and fry us all eventually so there is no real forever.  But if you pick 50 years we may as well get the party going as time is wasting..right?  My favorite is 50,000 years...but I will settle for 1000.  How about you?  I note that even picking 1000 years makes solving our problems wickedly hard.

So we are done picking the span of time.  Now what does that mean really?  Does sustainable really mean only for humans or does it include other species?  This is a big issue and, after the duration point above, is the most critical.  These two points drive the vast differences in figures stating how far over the carrying capacity we are today.  One side ends up with numbers which sound not so bad (approximately 1.5 times) and others come up with numbers much scarier (as bad as 5 times).  Pushing these numbers of course is a rapidly rising population along with growing affluence and consumption.  Additionally, since we are already over the ecosystems capacity our continued actions reduce said capacity a little bit every day.  We are currently consuming well beyond sustainable levels across a wide and diverse range of support mechanisms.  The way to understand this for example is that row cropping farm land results in some inevitable loss of top soil and nutrients.  Being sustainable would have to mean that natural top soil generation would have to equal losses from farming and the replacements of nutrients taken out for consumption is required.  Otherwise the soil loses fertility and production drops (starvation).  Any body of good soil can be farmed for some time past these sustainable requirements but eventually its fertility will plunge.  We can offset that for a time with artificial fertilizers of course, but then we seem to have issues there..right?   Collapse dynamics.  Climate change, of course, is now and will in spades later, reduce global carrying capacity significantly.  We are the Red Queen running.

Climate change gets us to collapse.  Exceeding the carrying capacity gets us to collapse.  Together they really get us to collapse.  Thus my insistence on managed collapse - or degrowth if you will.  And once again I repeat my point that NONE of the critical problems we face can be solved unless we dramatically reduce total population levels.  We really and truely do not have the luxury of time.  We must act now and make dramatic change.

So feel free to jump in and chew on this one a bit.  I will post next the article which triggered this new topic.

We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable. Alexander Solzhenitsyn

How is it conceivable that all our technological progress - our very civilization - is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal? Albert Einstein

JimD

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Re: Carrying Capacity Issues
« Reply #1 on: March 14, 2015, 04:52:35 PM »
Water supplies.

As we know the Central Valley of California is one of the most productive agricultural regions of the world and number one in the US.  Approximately 50% of our fruits and vegetables come from this valley.  It is actually a desert and the crops are fed via irrigation systems.  That is not sustainable you say?  A fair point I think, but it is worse than many think.  Especially in light of the long term drought in the region as well as in light  of the projections of what is going to happen here over the next 50 years as climate change kicks in harder. 

Eventually there will be little food grown here.

Quote
California is pumping water that fell to Earth 20,000 years ago

As California farms and cities drill deeper for groundwater in an era of drought and climate change, they no longer are tapping reserves that percolated into the soil over recent centuries. They are pumping water that fell to Earth during a much wetter climatic regime – the ice age.

Such water is not just old. It’s prehistoric. It is older than the earliest pyramids on the Nile, older than the world’s oldest tree, the bristlecone pine. It was swirling down rivers and streams 15,000 to 20,000 years ago when humans were crossing the Bering Strait from Asia....

Groundwater is crucial to California. In an average year, nearly 40 percent of the state’s water comes from underground sources. In the current extended drought, it’s more than half. Eighty percent of California residents rely to some degree on groundwater. Some towns, cities and farming operations depend entirely on it....

But deep in the scientific sediment are nuggets worth sharing with friends – a sentence here, a table there. They show water pumped from some deep public supply wells in the valley is 10,000 to more than 30,000 years old. ...

Pretty fair to say this is not meeting the definition of sustainable.

Quote
...A new article by Konikow in the journal Groundwater estimates that nearly 1,000 cubic kilometers – about twice the volume of Lake Erie – was depleted across the United States from 1900 to 2008. That’s enough to contribute to rising sea levels, along with melting glaciers and polar ice...

This is, of course, a global phenomenom and other critical production areas where they are doing the exact same thing are the Punjab and the North China plain.

The vast majority of food production in the world is not sustainable and there is no such thing as sustainable industrial agriculture (even on as little as a 1000 year definition). 

Reality bites.

http://www.revealnews.org/article/california-is-pumping-water-that-fell-to-earth-20000-years-ago/

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1674356-konikow-2015-groundwater.html
We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable. Alexander Solzhenitsyn

How is it conceivable that all our technological progress - our very civilization - is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal? Albert Einstein