Crossing 4 of 9 Planetary Boundaries on the Way to Doom: It’s the People, Stupid

Posted on January 23, 2015


Perversely, our worshipful attitude toward human procreation and human life will end up killing billions and destroying humanity’s best accomplishments.


For climate-change naysayers and others with their heads in the sand: a study published last week indicates that the Earth has already crossed four of nine (44%) “planetary boundaries.” The Washington Post has an excellent article summing it all up, but what it comes down to is this: human beings are suited to live in the environment of the Holocene Epoch, the current geological period which began some 11,700 years ago and has been remarkably stable, as geological periods go. Change the environment too much, and the question arises: can our human civilization survive?

Answer: probably not. Oh, there will always be some hardy bands of people who manage to scrape by in increasingly desperate conditions, at least for a while, but our cities, our agriculture, transportation, manufacturing, medicine, communications…? Nope. The planet will not continue to support our billions, and when the crash comes, it will be catastrophic and destabilizing.

The Washington Post reports that “The authors make clear that their goal is not to offer solutions, but simply to provide information.” Well, here is the only solution: fewer people!!

The science is complex, but the overall accounting of the problems we are facing is simple: fewer people means less pollution, less consumption, less emissions, less destruction of natural habitat. Fewer people means more resources per person.

The problem is, we can’t just haul off and kill a huge percentage of the world’s human population. We can’t ethically just decide we’re not going to try to feed all the people on the planet (although, frankly, at some point that is exactly what will have to happen). We can’t even agree on the need for contraception, or the morality of it.

So long as individuals and groups are allowed to have as many children as they desire, so long as we keep finding ways to make everyone fertile, on saving every life, on extending the human lifespan, and especially, so long as we keep working on feeding the entire  human world, our population will continue to increase — currently that rate is 60 million per year — and this runaway train will continue down the track until it derails.  In the absence of predation, all populations expand so long as there are available calories to sustain them.  For years now, we have been overdrawing natural resources faster than they can be replenished, destroying natural habitats, and using finite resources like petroleum products to artificially and unsustainably boost food production.  When we can no longer sustain that effort — having destroyed much of our environment and other species in the process — our population will crash exactly like an overgrazing deer population in a wildlife management area.

Seeing the FEWER PEOPLE solution isn’t that hard, but implementing any version of that solution will be near-impossible, so fasten your seat belts; it’s going to be a rough ride for the next few generations.

Copyright Stephan Pastis, “Pearls Before Swine,” July 2014