Population, Resources, Environment: Dimensions of the Human Predicament
It is clear that the future course of history will be determined by the rates at which people breed and die, by the rapidity with which nonrenewable resources are consumed, by the extent and speed with which agricultural production can be improved, by the rate at which the underdeveloped areas can industrialize, by the rapidity with which we are able to develop new resources, as well as by the extent to which we succeed in avoiding future wars. All of these factors are interlocked.
–Harrison Brown, 1954
Providing people with the ingredients of material wellbeing requires physical resources – land, water, energy, and minerals — and the supporting contributions of environmental processes. Technology and social organization are the tools with which society transforms physical resources and human labor into distributed goods and services. These cultural tools are embedded in the fabric of the biological and geophysical environment; they are not independent of it.
As the number of people grows and the amounts of goods and services provided per person increase, the associated demands on resources, technology, social organization, and environmental processes become more intense and more complicated, and the interactions among these factors become increasingly consequential. It is the interactions — technology with employment, energy with environment, environment and energy with agriculture, food and energy with international relations, and so on — that generate many of the most vexing aspects of civilization’s predicament in the last quarter of the twentieth century.
This book is about that predicament: about its physical underpinnings in the structure of the environment and the character of natural resources; about its human dimensions in the size, distribution, and economic condition of the world’s population; about the impact of that population on the ecological systems of Earth and the impact of environmental changes on humanity; about the
technology, economics, politics, and individual behavior that have contributed to the
predicament; and about the changes that might alleviate it.
THE ESSECE OF THE PREDICAMET
In a world inhabited in the mid- 1970s by a rapidly growing population of more than 4 billion people, a massive and widening gap in well-being separates a rich minority from the poor majority. The one-third of the world’s population that lives in the most heavily industrialized nations (commonly termed developed countries — DCs) accounts for 85 percent of the global personal income and a like fraction of the annual use of global resources. The people living in the less industrialized nations (often called less developed countries -LDCs) must apportion the remaining 15 percent of global income and resource use among two-thirds of the world’s population. The result is an unstable prosperity for the majority of people in the DCs and frustrating, crushing poverty for the majority in the LDCs. Millions of the poorest — especially infants and children — have starved to death every year for decades; hundreds of millions have lived constantly, often consciously, almost always helplessly on the brink of famine and epidemic disease, awaiting only some modest quirk of an environment already stretched taut — an earthquake, a flood, a drought — to push them over that edge. The 1970s brought an apparent increase in such quirks — 1972 and 1974 were years of flood, drought, and poor harvests. World food reserves plummeted, and millions more human beings were threatened by famine. Meanwhile, the entire population continued growing at a rate that would double the number of people in the world within 40 years.
The prosperity of the DCs – awesome by comparison with the poverty of the LDCs — has been built on exploitation of the richest soils, the most accessible fossil fuels, and the most concentrated mineral deposits of the entire globe — a one-time windfall. As they now struggle to maintain and even expand their massive consumption from a resource base of declining quality, the DCs by themselves appear to be taxing technology, social organization, and the physical environment beyond what they can long sustain. And the LDCs, as they try to follow the same path to economic development, find the bridges burned ahead of them. There will be no counterpart to the windfall of cheap resources that propelled the DCs into prosperity. A DC-style industrialization of the LDCs, based on the expensive resources that remain, is therefore probably foredoomed by enormous if not insurmountable economic and environmental obstacles.
The problems arising from this situation would be formidable even if the world were characterized by political stability, no population growth, widespread recognition of civilization’s dependence on environmental processes, and a universally shared commitment to the task of closing the prosperity gap. In the real world, characterized by deep ideological divisions and territorial disputes, rapid growth of population and faltering food production, the popular illusion that technology has freed society from dependence on the environment, and the determined adherence of DC governments to a pattern of economic growth that enlarges existing disparities rather than narrowing them, the difficulties are enormously multiplied.
Read more: The 1977 Cult blueprint for mass reduction of the population – Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment by John P. Holdren, Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich. The plan that is happening now and the Gates vaccine is central to it