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Will Earth Expire By 2050? 1638

Posted by timothy
from the check-the-due-date-on-the-card dept.
_josh writes: "Will overconsumption force humanity off this planet in less than 50 years? It may sound sci-fi, but according to the WWF in this story at the Observer, it's entirely possible. Maybe now I can convince my brother not to buy that SUV ..." Take with as large a grain of salt as you think appropriate.
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Will Earth Expire By 2050?

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  • WWF (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 07, 2002 @08:24PM (#3838629)
    A planet controlled by wrestlers? The devil, you say!
  • WWF! (Score:3, Funny)

    by clinko (232501) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @08:25PM (#3838635) Homepage Journal
    I always knew that wrestling was a sign of the end of the world. Now the WWF has confirmed it.
    • Re:WWF! (Score:3, Funny)

      by EugeneK (50783)
      WWF has now confirmed : Earth Is Dying

      Yet another crippling bombshell hit the beleaguered Earth community when the WWF confirmed that the Earth will be uninhabitable by 2050. Coming on the heels of a recent National Academy of Sciences report that the average temperature has risen yet again, this news serves to reinforce what we've known all along. The Earth is collapsing in complete disarray, as fittingly exemplified by failing dead last in the recent Galaxy-Wide species diversity test.

      You don't need to be a Kreskin [amdest.com] to predict Earth's future. The hand writing is on the wall: Earth faces a bleak future. In fact there won't be any future at all for Earth because Earth is dying. Things are looking very bad for Earth. As many of us are already aware, Earth continues to lose species. Extinction flows like a river of blood.

      The rainforest habitats are the most endangered of them all, having lost 93% of their area. The sudden and unpleasant departures of long time species black rhino and tiger only serve to underscore the point more clearly. There can no longer be any doubt: Earth is dying.

      Let's keep to the facts and look at the numbers.

      Earth leader Bush states that there are 7000 species left. How many mammals are there? Let's see. The number of mammal versus amphibian posts on Usenet is roughly in ratio of 5 to 1. Therefore there are about 7000/5 = 1400 mammal species. Rainforest reptile posts on Usenet are about half of the volume of amphibian posts. Therefore there are about 700 rainforest reptiles. A recent article put mammals at about 80 percent of the species market. Therefore there are (7000+1400+700)*4 = 36400 mammal species. This is consistent with the number of mammal Usenet posts.

      Due to the troubles of the rainforests, abysmal slash and burn agriculture, the drug war and so on, Columbian rainforests went out of business and was taken over by Brazilian rainforests who sell another troubled rainforests to international logging interests. Now Thai forests are also dead, its corpse turned over to yet another charnel house.

      All major surveys show that Earth has steadily declined in wilderness and species. Earth is very sick and its long term survival prospects are very dim. If Earth is to survive at all it will be among human dilettante dabblers. Earth continues to decay. Nothing short of a miracle could save it at this point in time. For all practical purposes, Earth is dead.
  • cuz i'll take you down in a steEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEL CAGE!
  • Another option? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stirfry714 (410701) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @08:27PM (#3838645)
    From the article:
    The report offers a vivid warning that either people curb their extravagant lifestyles or risk leaving the onus on scientists to locate another planet that can sustain human life. Since this is unlikely to happen, the only option is to cut consumption now.

    Okay, does this strike anyone as leaving out the most likely option? It's highly unlikely we'll massively change our ways. It's also highly unlikely that we'll colonize other planets in the next 50 years.

    What's that leave? Simple! Massive resource wars! Woohoo!

    It just amazes me that the whole article ignores the inevitable outcome... we'll all fight over dwindling resources, thus thinning the population down to sustainable levels.
    • Re:Another option? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Peyna (14792) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @08:30PM (#3838672) Homepage
      Someone figured that out a long time ago actually. Thomas Malthus, back in the early 1800s said that basically the human population is increasing at the same that food supplies are, but at a much greater rate. Thus, there are three inevitable population checks. Famine, War, and Disease. These will take place when we run out of resources. They'll kill off enough people that we can survive just a bit longer to do it all over again, wheee.
      • Re:Another option? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by stirfry714 (410701) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @08:38PM (#3838716)
        Exactly. It seems like we'd have a lot more luck if people would just start figuring out the most humane way to "thin the herd" in advance, instead of pretending you can stop me from buying that nice huge plasma-screen HDTV I saw today. *Drool*

        This reminds me of an econ assignment in high school that I "failed". We were given a set number of resource units, and told to distribute them throughout the town. Most people gave food to everyone, TVs to most everyone, and luxury cars to a few. I gave two or three luxury cars and TVs to a few people, and let something like a third of the town starve to death.

        I defended my homework as a more realistic portrait of the world than any of my neo-socialist classmates, but I still failed since my solution wasn't "nice". So sad...
        • by Inexile2002 (540368) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @08:49PM (#3838775) Homepage Journal
          I disagree with what you did to that town, but you really need to admire your town's commitment to education. I personally wouldn't starve to death for anyone's homework assignment.
        • Re:Another option? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Tackhead (54550) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @10:08PM (#3839160)
          > This reminds me of an econ assignment in high school that I "failed". We were given a set number of resource units, and told to distribute them throughout the town. Most people gave food to everyone, TVs to most everyone, and luxury cars to a few. I gave two or three luxury cars and TVs to a few people, and let something like a third of the town starve to death.

          *evil grin* - well-done! (I'd have tried to set up an auction system within the confines of the game. Them that has, buys. Them that can't buy, starves, leaving more for the rest of us! ;-)

          In History class in high school, we had a teacher who broke us up into groups to play "Diplomacy", two moves a day, for a week. I started out as Britain - good mobility, but horrible logistical problems.

          First move: Tell the French I won't take the English Channel if they don't, because Germany's the real enemy.

          Actual move: Take the Channel, of course.

          France to teacher: "That wasn't fair!"
          Me to teacher: "Hey, Fog of War, these things happen, right?"
          Teacher to class: (Brief explanation of the object lesson - things like this might be accidents, but might not be, and it's up to the players to judge their risks accordingly when they decide whom to trust.)

          Second move: Apologize profusely to France in private and to players I see France hanging around. Blame the Germans for tricking me into thinking he was going to go after the Channel despite our agreement not to. Suggest he take North Africa while I withdraw from the Channel and head towards Denmark.

          Actual move: Figure he's fallen for it again, and invade France. Yup, he fell for it again. Oldest trick in the "Diplomacy" playbook.

          France to teacher: "That's not fair!"
          Me to teacher: "Napoleon said God was on the side with the greatest battalions. Voltaire disagreed and said that God wasn't on the side with the largest battalions, but with the best shots. Thanks to my opponent not listening to his generals or his philosophers, now I have both."
          Teacher to class: "Some of you weren't paying attention last turn. 'Fair' is determined by who can do what, to whom, when, and with how much materiel. [...and with that, he had an easy segue into WW2 history and Barbarossa...]"

          The game got easier from there. By the end of the week, over half of Europe was mine. 2/3 of the class was at war with me and losing badly due to infighting amongst themselves, and the other 1/3 had been eliminated.

          > I defended my homework as a more realistic portrait of the world than any of my neo-socialist classmates, but I still failed since my solution wasn't "nice". So sad...

          Bummer about your econ teacher. I was lucky enough to have a cool enough History teacher that I got an "A" for my treachery :-)

          • by stirfry714 (410701) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @10:44PM (#3839328)
            Yes, I had a cool history teacher who let me get away with things like that, but other teachers were not so great...

            My econ teacher (referenced above) was also my government teacher. We had a Mock Congress. I chose to be a Republican after losing a week-long fight to be a Libertarian ("No, we're only doing the two real parties", she says).

            So I'm the Senate Minority Leader, with 22 Republicans (this is Northern California). I manage to get my friend elected as the Senate President Pro-Temp, primarily by telling all the Democrats I knew that I would *hate* for her to get elected - so they voted for her.

            She then turns around, and to be "fair", gives the Republicans HALF of the committee chairs. Not none, like in real life, or even 20% as a fair ratio, but 50%! As you can imagine, the committee chairs killed every single Democratic bill.

            When we got to the floor, I used every trick in the book to kill bills. I made sure my two whips were the student body leader and the football team captain and suddenly Democrats were defecting left and right. I even pulled off a fillibuster.

            End result: Two bills passed that Senate. And they were both Republican bills. That's with 22 out of 100 members... pretty darn successful.

            And my grade? I got a D. Why? Because, in the words of the teacher, "I wasn't being cooperative and participating in a constructive manner.."

            I was the MINORITY leader!! Since when am I supposed to be cooperative?!?!?!

            Anyways, sorry for the long rant, but some of these teachers... some of them are great, but others just need to learn about the real world before trying to teach it to others.
          • How do you play this game? Could you give me a a link?

            Tim
            • Re:Another option? (Score:4, Insightful)

              by Tackhead (54550) on Monday July 08, 2002 @03:13AM (#3840195)
              The Diplomatic Pouch [diplom.org] is a good starting point.

              If a turn lasts an hour, you'll spend 40-50 minutes talking strategy with your enemies and/or allies. (i.e. doing "diplomacy" in the real-world sense of the word). This is the meaty (and the fun) part of the game.

              Then you write down your orders for your troops, and everyone reveals their orders at once (usually to cries of "you bastards!", "oops!", or both) When the orders are unsealed, it's deterministic - no random elements; things "work" or "don't work" based on whether you've been able to persuade your allies to go along with your plan, or misled your adversaries into traps.

              Real-world example - History of WW2/Europe written as though it were a game of "Diplomacy":

              Game begins in '39. Germany/Italy tells Russia they want Poland, but not to worry, that's as far as they'll go if Russia stays out of it. (Stalin to Hitler: "OK, we'll sign your non-aggression pact. You stay out of Russia, we let you take Poland.")

              Germamy is then able to concentrate on wiping out France in '40, and do serious hurt to Britain without worrying about an attack from the East. (DeGaulle to Hitler: "Oops.")

              Confident that Western Europe is now safely held, Germany goes for global domination (vs. splitting Europe between Germany and Russia) and backstabs Russia in '41. (Stalin to Hitler: "You bastard!")

              As a result, Russia/US/UK form an alliance which wipes out Germany/Italy in '44-45. (Russians take out Germans from Moscow to Germany, US/UK takes out Germans from France to Germany. UK takes over North Africa, and jumps from there to wipe out Italy. Mussolini to Italy: "Oops. *chokeswingswingswing*")

              Germany's toast. With only three players left on the board, US/UK briefly consider backstabbing Russia in '46, but choose stalemate instead of going for global conquest. (Players to each other: "Fuggit. We've had enough. Let's go for beers.")

              Game ends in '45. Europe remains split between NATO and the Warsaw Pact for 50 years.

              Thankfully, all three leaders in '45 were smart enough to realize the difference between bits of wood on a cardboard map and 50 million dead (on all sides) plus another 20-30 million to "finish the game".

              (And also thankfully, when you're playing Diplomacy, it is just bits of wood on a cardboard map, so you can just "go for world domination" with a clean conscience :-)

      • Re:Another option? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by crawling_chaos (23007) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @08:40PM (#3838723) Homepage
        And as someone else noted up-thread, Malthus "proved" it would happen in his lifetime. It didn't. We get this every so often, and I generally file it with the "Christ is coming back and the world is going to end next year, so you better repent now" freaks. Same thing, different words.
        • There was a guy in the '70s named Paul Ehrlich who became quite popular making these sames claims: the Earth would be destroyed by pollution and overconsumption before the next century. Ehrlich relied on the same Malthusian theory: that a population growing at a geometric rate would outstrip its resources growing at an arithmetic rate. The thing Ehrlich (and Malthus) didn't consider was human ingenuity. Ehrlich thought we'd all be starved by now; instead we're all too fat for our own good. Sure environmental problems can be devastating and tricky to solve, but the sky is not falling. Humanity enjoys better material conditions now than ever before.

          The best resource for countering doomsayers is the writings of Julian Simon. People who get a perverse pleasure from proclaiming doom hate him. A good introduction to "doomslaying" is Wired Magazine's interview [wired.com] with Julian Simon.
      • the human population is increasing at the same that food supplies are, but at a much greater rate
        This is the new math?
      • ... Famine, War, and Disease. These will take place when we run out of resources. They'll kill off enough people that we can survive just a bit longer to do it all over again....

        However, the energy we are adding to the troposphere by burning fossil fuel [bovik.org] does not look like it is going to stabilize any time soon. Note the r^2 > 0.98, meaning that over 98% of the variance is predicted by a four-parameter sigmoid (resource consumption) curve.

        The solution to the problem is likely to involve genetic modifications to seaweed [slashdot.org]. Seaweed such as kelp, also known as nori (e.g., sushi nori), is a delicious and nutritious snack, being very rich in magnesium [bovik.org], which, as the relative cardiopulmonary health of the Japanese can attest to, is a good thing [bovik.org].

      • And these predictions have been made since Malthus' time. They've also been wrong every single time.

        When cultists proclaim the End Of The World due to a Companion to a visiting Hale-Bopp Comet they are derrided, scorned and ridiculed (even in death). And rightly so. When psuedo-scientists with social engineering agendas predict the End of the Earth, they get air time. They should also be ridiculed.

        To your comments: you forgot another option, as did Malthus and his ilk in the 60's and 70's: technological progress.

        One clarification from memory: Malthus noted that the population grew geometrically while the food supply increased arithmetically and thus great diseases (like the Black Plague) and wars were necessary for the human race to continue. His theories provided the best response to the accusation that one's Championship Cross Examination debate team's plan would result in nuclear war--you could quote Malthus and claim nuclear war as an overall benefit to humanity to win the point. Sick, I know...

      • Re:Another option? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Fat Casper (260409)
        Is food the resource that we're running out of? Not globally. The third world starves because of distribution. Their retarded ideas of government deny them the chance to have food after bad harvests. Warlords and corrupt governments prevent aid shipments from getting to the people, while at the same time our government spends tens of billions of dollars to prop up small farmers who can't find markets for their food.

        The food is there, and will continue to be there. Oil, coal, wood (fuel & construction) and clean, fresh water are where the shortages will be. There are going to be large problems, especially as poorer and less stable nations become nuclear powers. It's going to be an interesting century- maybe more so than the last.

        • Re:Another option? (Score:5, Informative)

          by Peyna (14792) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @10:10PM (#3839172) Homepage
          while at the same time our government spends tens of billions of dollars to prop up small farmers who can't find markets for their food.

          You better go talk to some small farmers, because they see hardly any of that cash. It actually ends up in the hands of large factory farmers, etc. more than it ends up in the hands of small local farmers. Not enough people know this, and believe what you just said, which is why the folks in DC vote for these subsidies. They win votes, and distribute pork to their already wealthy buddies. They do nothing for small farmers.
    • it is unlikely (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BlueboyX (322884)


      Putting people in space will take alot of resources, and not gain us much. How much fuel would it take to bring back a useful amount of grain from Mars? The article really doesn't give justification for this claim.

      They fail to note that we don't need to only use farms, in the conservative sense. If things really get that bad, there will be a massive switch to hydroponics, which would yield a huge yield per unit land. Want meat? It isn't hard to raise huge numbers of cattle and pigs in stalls that are the same size as the animals. It is considered inhumane (and illegal in the US) now, but if mass starvation is the alternative I think this will change very quick. To say that the surface of the earth cannot support us in 50 years is stupid.

      This reminds me of an article that said that at the current rate of consumption, the plants chocolate comes from will be extinct by (i think) 2008. Well duh. Does that mean that it really will become extinct? No, it means we will make plant more to match the increasing rate of consumption. As I said above, space isn't close to being a limiting factor.

      Another thing; it is alot easier and cheaper to mow down civilians than to set up farms on mars. Do you really doubt places like China would hesitate if they felt it was necessary?

      That said, I don't thing that things like 'resource wars' will come about anytime soon (bigger than the current ones I mean; we already have had wars in the middle east over resources). People will just switch to more costly but higher yield/more efficient alternatives. It is cheaper to do so than to start a war or randomly kill people.
  • predictions... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by copycatjsh (259819)
    so let me think... first they said we'd be gone by 1985, then it was 2000, now its 2050? hrm...

    I love reading about our doom... its so funny.
    • Re:predictions... (Score:3, Informative)

      by letxa2000 (215841)
      so let me think... first they said we'd be gone by 1985, then it was 2000, now its 2050? hrm...

      WWF is another environmentalist group that takes turns with others in releasing "impending disaster" type predictions. This is still somewhat "hip" but I get the feeling that even the media is getting a little tired of the gloom-and-doom-oops-we-were-wrong-again.

      The good news is that, for the most part, no-one really listens to these fools. They see the panda logo, hear their spew, and then say "Oh, that's too bad" and buy an SUV. Good! That's about the level of importance that should be attached to their rhetoric.

  • well yet another argument for the human race to move to machines instead of biological bodies, the tech (at least according to kurzweil if i'm not mistaken) is supposed to be ready by then right? then we'll just be bots mining silicon living in a virtual earth.
  • by unformed (225214) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @08:28PM (#3838662)
    Piece of advice: when writing a topic, any use of acronyms that have a high possibility of being misunderstood (ie: World Wildlife Fund) should be explained, so as to prevent people from being mistaken.

    I, for one, have -never- heard of the World Wildlife Fund before this, and I'm sure there are others like me, who thought why the fsck are we believe the World Wrestling Foundation these days?
    • why the fsck are we believe the World Wrestling Foundation these days?
      A better question is "why the fsck should we believe the World Wildlife Fund"?

      "Forests have dwindled by 12 percent." Yeah, get over it. People cut down trees, and 88% isn't exactly dwindling, especially given that in the past 30 years the human population has doubled. The article makes it seem that forests are the only things that "absorb carbon dioxide emissions". That's a load of crap; algae are responsible for the majority of carbon-dioxide recycling, and it's always been that way.

      Sure, you can hug your trees, but know your facts. (Hug your librarian instead.)
  • This is the same story we heard in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. It comes back over and over. I can only assume that the same story was told in the 17th century. Dumb da dumb dumb... DUMB????

    Let's all throw off our clothes, turn off the lights, and eat the grass in our lawns. That will last about a week and then we'll start eating each other and soon die of all sorts of diseases normally prevented by hygiene, running water and refrigeration (and not eating human meat).
  • by cperciva (102828) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @08:29PM (#3838667) Homepage
    Take with as large a grain of salt as you think appropriate.

    I'd do that, except with the amount of salt which would be appropriate, the world would likely run out of salt long before 2050.
    • by nathanm (12287) <nathanm@@@engineer...com> on Monday July 08, 2002 @01:37AM (#3839914)
      I'd do that, except with the amount of salt which would be appropriate, the world would likely run out of salt long before 2050.
      Bravo! My sentiments exactly, but in a much more clever, witty quote.

      It's a shame that most environmental groups that once were (at least somewhat) legitimate are now a bunch of ideologically driven radicals. WWF did some useful work in the 70s & 80s. Now they're reduced to publishing this kind of tripe. They especially should know better.

      As much of the report's methodology as can be gleaned from the Observer article seems inherently flawed. Comparing wildlife populations from only 1970 to today is disingenuous at best, deliberately misleading at worst. Some animal populations have surely declined, but others have increased. More importantly, due in part to WWF's earlier work, some animal populations were drastically declining, and have since increased or stabilized since 1970.

      People have been predicting the imminent demise of the Earth for as long as there have been people. One of the most famous this century was Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb in 1968. He predicted massive, worldwide food shortages and starvation within 30 years. Unfortunately (for him at least) this obviously didn't happen, but somehow he still has funding and a faithful following, Al Gore among them.

      Anyone who makes such broad, sweeping predictions as Ehrlich, or WWF in this report, either has an ulterior motive, or smokes a lot of dope.
  • this has been predicted by tree-hugging morons every decade for the last god-knows-how-long. get over it. it's not "damning" because it's not true.
    • Experts say that seas will become emptied of fish while forests - which absorb carbon dioxide emissions - are completely destroyed and freshwater supplies become scarce and polluted.

      This, of course, is based on 1960's factory emission averages, and projecting them 50 years down the track. Think about the advances in pollution contorl, recycling etc etc in the last 10 years. Those advances are happening at a steady rate, and aren't going to slow down. This means we will keep getting better at looking after the planet - NOT screwing it up like some want us to believe.

      Look at life in a positive light and we might finally stop bitching and get productive.
      • Look at life in a positive light and we might finally stop bitching and get productive.

        But if everybody did that, the professional-whiner class (environmentalist wackos, so-called civil rights "advocates," Democrats, etc.) would have to go get real jobs since nobody would pay any attention to them. Actually solving the problems they allege would put them out of work, so instead they troll with their tales of doom and gloom.

    • How are you so sure? Smoking companies denied the negative effects of sigarettes for years and years and now they have to pay bigtime for claims. Just think about it. Maybe the 'tree-hugging morons' are wrong, but if they are right, are you willing to take that chanse?

      Taking public transport (or a bike) doesn't hurt me. Neither does using 40W lamps in stead of 60W. Or turning off televisions and monitors in stead of using the stand-by feature.

      I know America (and Russia for that matter) isn't that happy with anti-pollution measures, but together the two nations are good for 50% of the CO2 (and other exhaust) production in the world.

      Please don't say that because I'm from Europe I'm a tree-hugging freak. Europe also produces pollution. I know. But why are companies like Shell, Q8, Esso and Texaco looking for other alternatives and what is wrong with that?

      But think of this before you mod me down: The effect of acid rain isn't local. Forests all over the world have to suffer the effects. Importing oil, wood and other products from the 3rd world leaves THEM with the effects while we have the products.

      And even if, in 50 years the statistics turned out to be wrong, at leas it is good to be aware of the (possible) consequences of our lifestyle.
      • Gee, I usually only see this approach to convincing people in religion. I think that gives you some idea of how reasonable I think it is....
  • Bah... (Score:2, Interesting)

    Let's see...a scientific analysis of resource consumption based on the decline of animal population over the past 100 years, plus a very relevant hectare/person statistic. Sounds like excellent research to me...

    If they really want to be taken seriously, quote the actual usage of arable land per person in each country. Countries like Ethopia and Burundi will be astronomically high, while the US will be very low comparatively. The truth is that those countries are overpopulated based on their own resources and require outside assistance from countries like the US.

    Overall, if worse comes to worse, don't fret for the Earth. Nature is self-regulating and will find a way to keep man's progress in check. More likely, if such a scenario is possible, man will make himself extinct before the effects can jeopardize the world.
    • Re:Bah... (Score:5, Funny)

      by whiteranger99x (235024) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @08:36PM (#3838709) Journal
      This reminds me of what George Carlin said in one of his stand-up shows...

      "It's a self correcting system...The Planet is fine.....The PEOPLE are fucked!"
    • The truth is that those countries are overpopulated based on their own resources and require outside assistance from countries like the US.

      This is completely True, These countries, and many more, are overpopulated, and "Aid from the US" is NOT helping. Sure it may make us feel good to think that we are feeding a starving individual, but in truth we are exacerbating the problem. These people live in a land that CANNOT support them. Yes I know we are working on things like miracle rice, and irrigation, but those are not so1lutions.

      Water will soon come to the forefront as a tradeable limited commodity on the open market, there simply is not enough of it to go around, and irrigation is not a good use for what we have.

      By preserving this individual you are allowing them (and I know this sounds really bad to many of you) to have children, thus continuing the famine for another generation. While it may not seem like a pleasent idea, all species (except humans in western cases) will reach equilibrium with there environment if "nature" is allowed to run it's course.

      We have overextended ourselves as a species, and while technology has done it's best to keep us afloat we are dangerously over our carrying capacity on this planet.
  • The population is growing at a rate much higher than the Earth can sustain. I suppose we can look back to the cynical economist Thomas Malthus to see what will happen. He predicted that, since the population grows exponentially and the food supply only grows linearly, famine and disease will be the ways in which the population is kept in check. This may very well happen, but I don't believe Earth will expire by 2050. I have befriended a number of economists over the years, and they have stated that the food supply has always grown faster than predicted. Interesting topic, though. R.Diltan
  • So the article's saying we've slashdotted the planet, in a manner of words.

    Way to go,people! :P

  • by schnell (163007) <<me> <at> <schnell.net>> on Sunday July 07, 2002 @08:33PM (#3838691) Homepage
    Saving the environment is unquestionably a noble goal, and I applaud the WWF for their work on environmental issues. I am *not* dismissing the potentialy validity of what they're saying here.

    However, when reading this, keep in mind that the WWF subsists on donations from people interested in saving the environment. As such, the WWF's existence is dependent upon people being concerned about the state and future of the planet's environment. If they release a report saying "the environment's future is looking better," then donations will decrease. So of course anything they're going to release publicly will be about how the environment is deteriorating and more donations are needed to help things out.

    I don't think this necessarily invalidates their conclusions, but it certainly is germane to consider the motivations of the issuer when evaluating a report.

  • Do we really want MS colonizing the Moon?

    Stop over consumption now!

    Boycott MS!
  • by plastercast (234558) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @08:34PM (#3838694) Homepage
    The Chicago Trib is running this [chicagotribune.com] story on the shrinking of various glaciers around the world that is also pretty terrifying. Perhaps its time for Bush to reconsider Kyoto?
  • Not to dismiss this study out of hand, but this prediction has been made in the past many times, most famously by the economist Thomas Malthus in 1798 entitled An Essay on the Principle of Population [wwu.edu]. Malthus predicted man would outgrow it's resources within ~50 years if strict population checks were not enforced. However, he did not take into account the pace of technological change and food production far exceeded his estimates for the time frame.

    It is very difficult to predict the future, especially almost 50 years out. As stock brokers are supposed to say "Past performance is no guarantee of future performance." Or something like that.
  • This is more than a little alarmist. There is a problem, however the quote

    "extra planets (the equivalent size of Earth) will be required by the year 2050 as existing resources are exhausted"

    is just irresponsible.
  • by Thomas M Hughes (463951) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @08:35PM (#3838707)
    I quick search (and reference from my sibling) indicates that the World Wildlife Fund brought Suit against the World Wresting Federation in the British House of Lords (a case which the World Wildlife Fund won). Instead of fighting some more, the World Wresting Federation changed its name to World Wresting Entertainment.

    I also believe their new slogan is "Get the 'F' out."
  • by archen (447353) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @08:38PM (#3838715)
    Expire is a pretty strong word. Will the earth exceed critical mass and humanity implode? Maybe. Maybe humans won't survive at all - but believe me, SOMETHING will survive.
    As the lyrics to an In Flames song goes:
    Species come and species go, but the Earth stands forever fast
    • I don't know about the complete implosion of the human population, but we can already see how disease is going to be wiping out a big chunk of the population. Exactly what percentage of African citizens are infected with HIV again?

      If nothing else, plagues of one kind or another will cull the population a bit.
      • I believe the number usually quoted is "1 in 9". I mention South Africa because it's one of the few African countries with a government sufficiently competent to collect reasonably accurate statistics. But even if it was say twice this high, that's not going to be anything we haven't seen before -- in many parts of Europe, for example, the bubonic plague killed 10-20% of the population. Humanity can and has survived population-decimating diseases before. And AIDS is less dangerous to society functioning normally because it's less panic-inducing, since you can't get it from breathing the air near a sick person or corpse.
        • Thanks for the number.

          I really don't think aids will kill off humanity or anything like that. I think that it will just decrease the population somewhat, more or less like the bubonic plage.

          As for panic-inducing, I am afraid people believe whatever the heck they want to believe (safe things that are dangerous, and dangerous things that are safe). We could do with some more logical humans. :P
  • by rbook (409739) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @08:42PM (#3838734)
    These are the same folks who predicted that the world would run out of food by 1980, then predicted we'd run out of oil by 1985.

    And of course Thomas Malthus predicted imminent mass starvation in the early 1800s.

    In the 1970s, they predicted:

    "The world as we know it will likely be ruined before the year 2000
    and the reason for this will be its inhabitants' failure to comprehend
    two facts. These facts are (1) World food production cannot keep pace
    with the galloping growth of population. (2) 'Family planning' cannot
    and will not, in the foreseeable future, check this runaway growth."

    "Agricultural experts state that a tripling of the food
    supply of the world will be necessary in the next 30
    years or so, if the 6 or 7 billion people who may be
    alive in the year 2000 are to be adequately fed.
    Theoretically such an increase might be possible, but it
    is becoming increasingly clear that it is totally
    impossible in practice."

    Except, here we are in 2002 and those 6 or 7 billion people are eating better than any of their ancestors in all of human history, even in the poorest countries.

    For more info, see The Ultimate Resource [juliansimon.org] by Julian Simon [juliansimon.org], and The Skeptical Environmentalist [cambridge.org] by Bjorn Lomborg [lomborg.com].

    • AMEN!! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MtViewGuy (197597) on Monday July 08, 2002 @12:30AM (#3839721)
      I think folks who think we'll run of oil very soon are deluding themselves.

      The problem with the alarmists who think we'll run out of oil are only considering the idea that the last deposits of oil will be in the Persian Gulf.

      How wrong they are! Considering the following factors of the last 12 years:

      1. The oilfields of the former Soviet Union are now being exploited on a very large scale by Western oil companies. There are massive oilfields in Siberia and Kazakhstan have barely been touched, not to mention we haven't even begun to exploit the Caspian Sea oilfields on a large scale.

      2. China has large oilfields in Xinjiang Province that haven't been exploited due to transportation issues.

      3. Afghanistan is potentially sitting on top of a big oilfield.

      4. The Gulf of Mexico--according to British Petroleum engineers--have an amazingly large amount of oil yet to be exploited. The only reason why we haven't gotten more is the high expense of drilling for oil well into the Gulf of Mexico.

      5. Canada has huge tracts of oil tar sands that could yield enough oil to equal all of the Persian Gulf states combined.

      6. The Saudis are only concentrating their oil production on the oilfields near the Persian Gulf, not yet exploiting oilfields in other parts of the country. Tests by ARAMCO engineers have shown there are large oil deposits in the southern part of Saudi Arabia (called the Empty Quarter), but the Saudis have yet to tap these oilfields.

      As for the issue of food production, the very rapid development of farm machinery, agricultural chemicals and better means to store and transport food has increased the amount and variety of food available to everyone on a scale that is mind-boggling. Think about it: compare what is available at your local food market in 1902 versus 2002, and you can eat foodstuffs today from literally all over the world.

      In short, the alarmists don't know what they're talking about--a classic case of junk science.
    • by ClarkEvans (102211) on Monday July 08, 2002 @01:42AM (#3839936) Homepage
      This is the classic Liberal's delimma. The liberal screams and shouts that something is very wrong -- people open there eyes a bit and things get quite a bit better. Then the conservatives come along later and say: "Gee, the liberal was wrong, see we're ok now."

      About 15 years ago I remember the "Skeptical Environmentalists" saying that the temperature of the earth won't even go up one degree by 2050. Well. It appears as if they are wrong. In some parts (the artic regions) we are anywhere from 4 to 7 degrees warmer. As I remember, it may have even been Julian who made these predictions (or who re-quoted them).

      It's clear that we are seeing an acceleration in global warmth which is going to dramatically change our climate (and is doing so as we speak). What are you going to do about it? Close your eyes and say that we humans will adapt? Do you have that much faith in technology... I don't. How can you be sure it doesn't warm even faster?

      I don't know about you, but I'd rather err on the "conservative" side of things and take action now rather than wait till it becomes a crisis. No?
  • Earth's natural resources may run out in 50 years, but there's years left of resources for those willing to "consume" humans themselves ... When it's do or die, immorality is a selective advantage.

    On another note, I do take issue with the concerns for "overpopulation". The 1st world populations are not growing - it's the 3rd world that has the population problems; they are already existing beyond sustainability. The problem the 1st world encounters is consumerism, not overpopulation. One consumer in the 1st world can use more resources than hundreds of human beings in the 3rd need to survive.

    Also, coming from Newfoundland (just off the Grand Banks), the cod fishery was the life-blood of the economy there, which they use as an example of devasted Earth resources. There is now a moratorium on cod fishing, which also devastated that economy. Since the moratorium was instantiated, it is widely believed that the cod stock has partly recovered, and will continue to. So I am not so sure I buy their verdict, given this choice of example with contrary information they conveniently omitted. This is a little salt to their bitter assessment.

    Certainly, though, they are outlining important trends in the environment as a result of human presence.
  • I didn't know we had to register it. Anybody got a crack?

  • There is a lot of psuedo-science and questionable theories on this site, but there is also a lot of hard data - much of it from senate comittees and the petroleum industry itself. The problem is that consumption of oil exceeds discovery; that at some point, there may be lots of oil, but it may take too much energy to extract it; and that it is unlikely there are many alternatives available currently. Alternative energy sources such as solar and wind do not even come to the right order of magnitude to supply a fraction of the energy needs of an industrialized society.

    The one energy source that might, nuclear power, hasn't been fully evaluated and has already been discredited by the green crazies. We should be applying a tax on gasoline and diesel and looking for real alternatives - fusion, whatever.

    You brother won't not by that SUV. China has billions of people who all want cars too, and who are we to say they can't aspire to that?

    I'm a pessimist though.. but the next 30 years are going to be very interesting. Get a SUV while you still can! hehe.

  • No. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by e_n_d_o (150968) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @08:51PM (#3838787)
    The Earth will not expire in 2050. Simple economics will keep it from doing so. When certain resources become scarce, they will become expensive, and people will be forced to stop using them and seek alternatives.

    Interesting they compare the United States' use of resources to that of Burundi. This comparison is truly startling. For those who enjoy startling statistics, allow me to offer a few others:

    The population of Burundi is expanding at three times the rate of the United States. The percentage of people in Burundi infected with HIV/AIDS is 20 times that of the United States. The average lifespan in Burundi is 31 years shorter than that of a person living in the United States. The literacy rate of Burundi is 35%. 1 in 3000 people have Internet access. (Statistics courtesy of CIA World Factbook).

    Are you still interested in reducing your resource consumption by a factor of 24? Personally, I'm not interested in selling my pickup, as I don't think it has any connection to the fact that the number of black rhinos has fallen from 65,000 to 3,100. Considering that my "extravagant lifestyle" doesn't involve poaching, I don't think I can help.

    As an aside, this article brings one more thing to mind: every environmentalist needs to understand that he is not "saving the Earth." He is only saving himself and his descendants. The Earth will recover from every incosiderate act man has done to it in the blink of an eye (relative to its lifetime), and graciously replace us with other species if we destroy our way of life.

    And Timothy, you might want to encourage your brother to go ahead and buy that new SUV. If his current car is more than five years old, that new SUV will be adding less pollution to the atmosphere.
    • Re:No. (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Em Emalb (452530)
      Amen.

      Everyone needs something to believe in. If it worth-while to them, then they are gonna preach to the largest group they can get. The best way is to send tripe like this to a Publisher and let them send it off. I personally believe if we get to the point to where over-consumption is starting to strip earth of it's resources, one of three things will happen (probably the 1st choice is most likely)

      1:War
      2:Famine
      3:technology

      War, because well, if enough people want something, there will be fighting over it. Human nature.

      Famine, such as what we are seeing STILL in Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rowanda, etc. Although I don't believe that is a direct result of not enough resources, it's human greed/power struggle again. The UN tried to help, ended up saying screw it, die if you want to, silly fools.

      Technology:
      An example used in an earlier post was CFCs. Well, they turned out to be bad, so technology allowed us to move past using them into more environment friendly products. You can also thank the 80's hair styles for a lot of that pollution. My god, 1 can of hair spray an evening is too much.

      I would like to see stats on whether or not paper consumption has dropped since the advent of the web and email. No one really brings it up. If anyone can find a link that would be cool if you posted it here.

      This is one case where I hope that the enviro-nuts are completely wrong....but I fear we DID head down the wrong track on a lot of things, luckily it appears we have righted the ship.

      P.S. get that SUV. Nice rides, and useful if you have a boat or actually use it for something other than a UAV. (Urban Assualt Vehicle)
      • Re:No. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Jace of Fuse! (72042) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @09:54PM (#3839094) Homepage
        P.S. get that SUV. Nice rides, and useful if you have a boat or actually use it for something other than a UAV. (Urban Assualt Vehicle)

        I disagree. They REALLY aren't that nice, they handle like a cow, they accelerate like a brick wall, they stop like a falling piano, and they soak up gasoline like a sponge. Does that make them unuseful? No. Not at all. Granted, they're VERY useful if you tow a boat. Most people don't have boats. SOME of them have wonderful offroad capabilities, most don't. Esspecially not the really big luxury variety, which tend to do the worst off of the road. They only win awards for reasons like space for fitting your kids and groceries or number of televisions for the passengers, and not stuff like ground clearance or horsepower at the wheels. They can't be winning awards for those things, because if they WERE then the ones that would be winning you will strangely find are the ones that seem the least luxurious (the ones that have been around the longest).

        You see, you say "GET THE SUV" assuming everyone is going to use it the way you do. Here's a bit of reality that I'm going to stick in your eye like a hot stick sharped to a point. ALMOST NOBODY will use it the way you do. Almost everyone WILL use it as an Urban Assult Vehicle.

        I live in an area where people actually NEED these kinds of vehicles, and they STILL treat them like minivans.

        It makes me sick right up until I see that one with 6 feet of ground clearance, 4 foot tall tires, a ladder to climb into the cabin, and an inch of mud all over the entire thing. Then I can't help but smile.
    • Re:No. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by zerocool^ (112121)
      Essentially, population level fluctuates around a line called the carrying capacity, which is the number of a type of animal an ecosystem can support.

      Populations, however, do not reach the line by steadily growing in number and tapering off, treating the carrying capacity as an asymptote. Think of the line as a horizontal line on a graph, the horizontal axis representing time, the virtical representing population. Population grows with an exponential function until it overshoots the carrying capacity, then it starts to die off until it is below the capacity. The population level oscillates around this level with a logarithmic function, looking somewhat similar to a sine wave, and as time goes to infinity, the oscillations become smaller and closer to the carrying capacity.

      This is a fact of nature. It happens with mice, antelope, fish, bacteria, and apes. Why would people think it wouldn't happen to humans? Sorry, creation scientists, we're animals too, and though we use different resources, we're not immune to laws of nature because of divine providence.

      Some interesting things to note: The carrying capacity is not always constant, it changes, for example, over seasons. More animals die off in winter because of this function.
      Also, animals that take better care of their young grow the population graph somewhat slower - as it takes time to care for and train an offspring, you produce less offspring. Introduce a pair of mice to a situation where they are far below the carrying capacity of the environment, and they will reproduce extremely rapidly, overshooting the line by quite a lot.

      But, anyway, the long and short of this is that one, people have been predicting this for years, since at least the 50's. It hasn't happened yet. And so what if it does? It's a fact of nature. Live goes on, or the cycle of life does. I am unconcerned.

      My girlfriend is an animal science major, pre vet. We have some interesting conversations.

      ~Will
      • Re:No. (Score:3, Informative)

        by lambadomy (160559)
        The theory of carrying capacity as you state it has been around at least since 1798, when Thomas Malthus published his "Essays on the Principle of Population".

        The problem with the theory was, and will remain, the idea that resources really only grow linearly. Human agricultural technology has repeatedly increased the carrying capacity of land well beyond the expected linear growth that would have long ago resulted in us passing the expected carrying capacity of the land. Malthus himself seemed to expect to see us pass the carrying capacity of the land within a few generations of his life - not much different than more recent predictions of the same doom and gloom by people like professor Paul Ehrlich at stanford in his book Population Bomb.

        This is not to say that I don't think the potential for this to happen isn't there, just that the theoretical linear/exponential relationship between resources and population growth is flawed. Looking only at agricultural and population growth, the "first world" nations have extremely low population growth relative to their total agricultural potential. Population growth is only rampant in areas of low development, for a myriad of reasons, such as high infant mortality rates, the need for more family help to farm and insurance against losing one or two children, lack of birth control, etc etc. But it all boils down to cost benefit analysis. When you have to pay to educate your kids, and their usefulness does not outweigh their cost, you stop having them in large amounts. Ok, at this point I'm rambling, but my point is made. Production is not automatically linear, and population growth is not automatically exponential, for human beings. And this was just as wrong in 1798 as it is now.
    • Re:No. (Score:5, Informative)

      by catsidhe (454589) <catsidheNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday July 07, 2002 @10:15PM (#3839194) Homepage
      The Earth will not expire in 2050. Simple economics will keep it from doing so. When certain resources become scarce, they will become expensive, and people will be forced to stop using them and seek alternatives.
      Actually, there are a lot of things which already are scarce, but governmental subsidies and sheer bloody-mindedness are keeping them cheap and available ... right up until they are completely gone.

      Examples? How about fish in Canada. [columbia.edu] Or oil. Or whales. Or clean air. Or clean water.

      Fish stocks in many parts of the North sea are so depleted as to be almost clean. Yet fishing boats are still subsidised to go out and fish what little is left.

      Oil supplies are down to the point where serious proposals are made to mine for shale-oil [chemlink.com.au] -- basically oil-soaked dirt.

      Calling 'But they have cried wolf before!', and ignoring the evidence is madness.
  • Out of time? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nukeade (583009)
    This article seems to believe that we will continue to consume resources at this rate until one day the world just stops, much like a car consuming gas until it runs out.

    I've said it before, and I'll say it again, economics will come into play. Sooner or later, prices will increase as the resources we consume start running low. At that point, we will have no choice but to use alternate, more efficient sources of energy and farming techniques because the efficient energy sources will be cheaper.

    This article? Propaganda. Of course we will not be able to continue eating up resources at this rate forever. We will stop when the resources start running low and become too expensive to be practical. I have no doubt that the creativity and pragmatism that has sustained us so far will continue to keep us alive.

    ~Ben
  • by guttentag (313541) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @08:52PM (#3838792) Journal
    The Russians apparently [slashdot.org] want to go to Mars.

    The Chinese want to go to the Moon [slashdot.org].

    And the U.S., in classic Bush-family fashion, wants to go to Iraq. The casualties on both sides, combined with whatever nearby countries Hussein manages to hit with his chemical/biological weapons should allow us to stay on Earth until at least 2055.

    The rest of the world seems more or less content that we will not be forced off the planet. Those who can't find food won't be able to eat and balance will be maintained.

  • A study by RIAA musicologists suggests that rampant MP3 swapping will bankrupt America's music industry within the next half-decade.

    With no further funds to create such masterpieces as "Lady Marmalade (remake #37)" and "Who Let The Dogs Out?", humanity will either suffer a collective silence until the econom^H^H^Hsystem can mend itself, or radio telescopes will need to comb the sky for new intergalactic hits.

    "You could say that our demise began with dubbed Queen cassettes, decades back. Napster and LimeWire have only served to seal our fate... unless you no-good thieving scum start paying our 500% markup. Do it for the children!"
  • by NaturePhotog (317732) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @08:57PM (#3838813) Homepage
    America's consumption 'footprint' is 12.2 hectares per head of population compared to the UK's 6.29ha while Western Europe as a whole stands at 6.28ha. In Ethiopia the figure is 2ha, falling to just half a hectare for Burundi, the country that consumes least resources.

    Whether it's 50 years or 500, we are currently using resources faster than they are replenished. And the U.S. does consume a disproportionate amount of the resources in the world.

    100% accurate or not, reports like this aren't going to change the way the U.S. lives -- we're too comfortable in our lifestyles to make big changes. It's going to take some catastrophic change that impacts the U.S. directly to get us to wake up. Unfortunately it's developing countries which are going to feel those changes first.

    • by Jerf (17166) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @11:20PM (#3839497) Journal
      This kind of post exemplifies the whole problem with the debate, which is the painful oversimplification of the entire problem, until no opinion is left without overwhelming evidence in its favor.

      Some sample problems:
      • Resources are not constant. Some replenish themselves. The amount of wheat that I consume is a virtually irrelevent point, because that amount of wheat can be grown again. Much the same goes for many other products, such as wood and any chemical that can be produced by a lifeform.
      • Resources are not a constant. Resources can be recycled, re-used, and re-allocated. We may not be doing the best job of this... or are we doing such a horrid job? The true answer is difficult to ascertain and cannot be done with such a limited analysis.
      • Resources are not constant. Improved extraction and refining techniques effectively increase the amount of any given resource that can be extracted from the Earth. Linear analysis can not correctly predict this. Remember how we were supposed to run out of oil by 19x0? Well, we did, we just found more. It may not be reasonable to suppose an infinite supply exists, but again, it's not reasonable to project linearly, either. There may be enough to last us two hundred years, assuming the population growth is slowing as it seems to be in some ways. Or there may not be enough, in which case the economy will throw significant non-linearities into the equation as it raises the price of oil. Linear analysis can not correctly predict this.
      • Resources are not constant. Any space activity in the next few decades completely throws everything off. More realistically, any new refining technique increases resources, any new genetic engineering technique increases resources, any new drilling technique or location technique or recycling technique increases resources. As technology improves, so does efficiency, the moreso if anybody cared. Linear analysis can not correctly predict this.
      • As a consequence of much of the above, resources are created, not found. Oil no longer wells up out of the ground, and all the easy resources are long gone. The US may use a 'disproportionate' share, but by being the technology leader, it also produces a vastly disproportionate share of the world's resources, both directly and indirectly. Better oil-finding technique benefit many people, not just the US, and the agricultural research done in the US benefits Third World countries astoundingly. Arithmetic analysis does not lead to understanding this issue. Linear analysis can not correctly predict the effects of this.
      It's going to take some catastrophic change that impacts the U.S. directly to get us to wake up.

      We have woken up. Personally, I worry more about everybody's use of linear or God help us all, constant projection techniques in understanding these phenomena. We'll stupid ourselves into the cosmic grave yet...
      • by thales (32660) on Monday July 08, 2002 @09:00AM (#3840908) Homepage Journal
        150 years ago the best source of artifical light was Oil Lamps that used Whale oil. At that time the argument could have been made that there is a limited number of Whales (true), that the number of Whales was declining (true), therefore at some date in the not too distant future everyone would be sitting in the dark because of a Whale shortage.

        We aren't sitting in the dark. Alternative sources of light were developed. The distillation of Kerosene from Petroleum turned worthless black goo into a valued resource. The development of Coal gas created a new source of lighting, gas lights that were better than the oil lamps and used a resource that was far more plentiful than Whales. Natural Gas replaced Coal gas, turning a hazzardous substance that was found while looking for oil into a resource. The electric light turned waterfalls into a resource that could be used for lighting.

        Before these developments Petroleum, Natural Gas, and Waterfalls were NOT resources. The first two were natural hazzards that decreased the value of land that they were found on, and the last decreased the value of rivers as transportation sources.

        This is nothing new. In the Stone age Flint was the prefered material to make tools out of. Copper Ore was a worthless rock that didn't have the properity of flaking evenly that was needed to make tools. The discovery of smelting turned those worthless greenish rocks into a resource and averted a tool shortage caused by flint being a finate resource.

        Today having a full landfill on your properity is NOT viewed as a resource. It's a nucance that decreases the value of the land. That landfill may be like having oil on your land in 1850. New technology may transform that worthless land full of garbage into a new resource.

  • by RobertFisher (21116) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @09:00PM (#3838825) Homepage Journal
    While we have to be very cautious with regards to our environment and consumption, I do believe there is a tendency for reports from environmental agencies to be overblown. (And this is coming from a long-standing member of both the Sierra Club and CALPRIG.) I am skeptical with regards to this recent report, because of two facts.

    1) The highest per-capita consumption occurs in the first world. (see below)

    2) The population of the first world is rapidly shrinking, and will amount to a small fraction of the total world population by 2050. (According to the UN. See this link [bbc.co.uk] for details.)

    3) By 2050, even the 3rd world population is expected to reach equilibrium, so that the entire world population will actually begin to decline.

    Taken together, it seems unlikely to me that the conditions stated by the WWF may actually come about, unless the 3rd world population increases its consumption dramatically, or the UN study is substantially incorrect. This is because, even though the world population is expected to increase from 6 billion to 9 billion by 2050, that additional growth will occur almost exclusively outside of Western nations. Significantly, the population of the first world will actually diminish. Now, the report itself states

    "America's consumption 'footprint' is 12.2 hectares per head of population compared to the UK's 6.29ha while Western Europe as a whole stands at 6.28ha. In Ethiopia the figure is 2ha, falling to just half a hectare for Burundi, the country that consumes least resources."

    So if indeed the third world consumes a large factor (an order of magnitude!) less "footprint" than the Western nations, it would seem to me that the world might actually be better off by 2050 : they are, quite simply, more efficient at using existing resources.

    Bob

  • by MavEtJu (241979) <slashdot@@@mavetju...org> on Sunday July 07, 2002 @09:07PM (#3838858) Homepage
    Take with as large a grain of salt as you think appropriate.

    Aaaah, a beautiful example of the 'tragedy of the commons [dieoff.org]'.

    Don't get me wrong, I don't think that globalisation et al are wrong, as long as you take *all* aspects of it, not only the short-term ones like make-money-fast and the-next-generation-will-solve-this. If you go for a certain approach, take everything including the messy parts, not only the easy gains.

  • by UnrefinedLayman (185512) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @09:25PM (#3838957)
    ...but consider the possibilities before you do. I won't get into the validity of the claim, but if we assume that it's true, then take this into account: http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=104918 1 [everything2.com] It is possible to fit 6 billion people into the Isle of Wright with room to spare. In fact, you could fit 27 billion people into a cube one mile by one mile by one mile.

    Only catch is, each person would have 12 cubic feet, or six feet by two feet by one foot. Now imagine that you're at the bottom of the cube.

    What is overlooked time and time again in the "you can fit x people into ____" argument is that just because you can fit a population into an area doesn't mean that area can support it. The most common example is Texas, at least in America. But what about arable land?
    "If you divided the world's 6 billion humans into Texas's 261,914 square miles, each person could claim .028 acres of land. It is obvious, however, that the land in Texas, (or even the land in North America for that matter), would not be able to sustain these people. Resource experts say a minimum of 0.17 acres of arable land is needed to sustain a person on a largely vegetarian diet without the intense use of fertilizers and pest controls.


    An estimated 253 million people currently live in countries with scarce arable land--which have on average no more than 0.17 acres available per person -- and this population is expected to at least triple by 2025 if current trends continue. Only 11 percent of the Earth consists of arable land, and that area is rapidly diminishing due to erosion, salinization and a decline in the practice of fallowing land."

    http://www.zpg.org/Reports_Publications/Reports/re port83.html
    As for space, let's say people will be transplanted to Mars by 2030. The world population will be 8.1 billion by then (http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/worldpop.html). In order to maintain current population levels, we would have to devise methods to transplant 2 billion people within thirty years. At a round trip of two years to get to Mars at the optimal revolution of the planets around the sun, with 50,000 people making the trip each time, you would need to make 40,000 trips before you could transplant 2 billion people, over the course of 80,000 years, at which point you might see H.G. Wells and his time machine where London once was.

    What's my point? Look for answers close to home. Keeping your head in the clouds can be fun, but not always productive. Rather than trying to find solutions to the effects of overpopulation, one should try to find solutions to the causes of overpopulation.

    For those interested, let's say we started sending people now and wanted to make sure we were at 6 billion people in 2030; the number of trips that could be made is 15, at 133 million people per trip. The maximum number of people to send at today's capability per ship is about ten. That's 13 million ships being sent every two years, plus enough food and water to feed people for the ten to twenty years it would take to allow for food to be grown on Mars. Put the cost of sending each ship at 20 billion dollars (http://www.miami.com/mld/miami/news/world/3607347 .htm), not counting the cost of constructing habitats on Mars, and not counting the cost of constantly sending supplies (and even then 20 billion dollars is very modest). That's 260,000,000,000,000,000 dollars (two-hundred sixty quadrillion dollars) every two years, at a total cost of 3,900,000,000,000,000,000 (three-quintillion nine-hundred quadrillion dollars) over the course of thirty years. If every person in the United States (287 million as of this year) were to pay an equal amount towards this, the cost over thirty years would be 13 and a half billion dollars, each. --- You tell me, is it worth ignoring what is obviously well-researched information? Organizations, especially those with a high and well-respected world-wide image like the WWF, don't typically lie outright in papers like this, and anyone who outright disregards what's printed, especially without reading it, is asking for the outcome presented to happen.
    • (* In fact, you could fit 27 billion people into a cube one mile by one mile by one mile. *)

      Borg!

      That's The Answer!

      Just give Bill Gates time. He is getting closer and closer.

      BTW, do Borg have B.O.?

  • by weave (48069) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @09:33PM (#3838995) Journal
    It doesn't matter, the world will come to an end on Tuesday, 19 January 2038 at 03:14:08 GMT
  • Economics (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mc6809e (214243) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @09:47PM (#3839060)
    Many here are pointing out that economic pressures will help limit consumption. The problem is that people often reject the market process as being unfair, immoral, etc and do all they can to substitute something else ala socialism.

    You can bet that once prices start to rise to check consumption, the government will step in "in the name of the people" and fix prices.

    Hell, it happened in the 1970's with Nixon's price controls on gas and gave us long lines at the pump and gas shortages.

    The truth is that, when the market gives people economic information they don't like, they try to use the political process to make it go away instead of making changes in their habits.

    When prices go up, instead of conserving, they'll bitch about those "evil greedy corporations." Hey, just like on Slashdot. The fact is, people don't change unless it hits them in the wallet, and they'll do everything they can to stop that from happening.

    If the market suggests they be paid less for their out-dated skills because of less demand, they'll blame someone else. It happens over and over. People want it all for nothing.

    I think what will happen ultimately is that the democratic process will force us all to drown together.

  • by ProfMoriarty (518631) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @09:52PM (#3839085) Journal
    the "news" is presented this way ... and this statement sums it up pretty good:
    Matthew Spencer, a spokesman for Greenpeace, said: 'There will have to be concessions from the richer nations to the poorer ones or there will be fireworks.'
    AHHHHH ... I see now. It's Greenpeace's way of redistributing the wealth of the United States.

    Instead of helping the "third world" countries with infrastructure, stable government, and ways NOT to pollute, they want to take the "first world" countries and take wealth away from them and give it to the poorer countries (of course, they'll help do the redistribution ... one for you, one for me)

    Go ahead and mod me down for this, because it is a different angle on this type of story.

  • The Population Bomb (Score:3, Informative)

    by Kafir (215091) <qaffir@hotmail.com> on Sunday July 07, 2002 @09:56PM (#3839104)
    The battle to feed humanity is over. In the course of 1970s, the world will experience starvation of tragic proportions, hundreds of millions of people will starve to death.
    -Paul Ehrlich, The Population Bomb, 1968

    There's a long history of vastly misguided prophets of doom by now- starting with Malthus, I guess, but the most revealing example is probably Paul Ehrlich, who's been writing books since the sixties (The Population Bomb, The Population Explosion, etc.) about how the world will be swamped by an exploding population and run out of resources, all in the (ever-postponed) near future. In the sixties he thought that we'd be starving in the seventies, and that Great Britain would no longer exist by the nineties. I don't know what he thinks now, but he's still writing along the same lines.

    Ehrlich also famously made a bet with economist Julian Simon, in 1980, that five raw materials picked by Ehrlich would be more expensive (because they would be rarer, per capita) ten years later. In 1990 Ehrlich was wrong on every pick.

    An awful lot of science fiction has been written along those lines, as well: Disch's 334, Harrison's Make Room, Make Room (filmed as Soylent Green). But in the real world, I'm not too worried. We may kill off all the black rhinos, white rhinos, sumatran rhinos.... And that would be unfortunate, but it would not constitute a threat to human survival.

    Also, incidentally, shipping people to other planets is not likely to be an effective way of dealing with excess population. Can you imagine the amount of chemical fuel involved in lifting just the quarter-million people born every day away from the earth?
  • by SysKoll (48967) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @10:11PM (#3839175)

    Extrapolating a trend to 50 years is plain dumb when you are targeting an industrialized society. Frist, we aren't insect. If we start drowning in our own refuse, we'll adapt.

    Second, God only knows what technologies will appear in the next half-century. Some of them could even be (gasp, argh!) beneficial to the environment.

    As a reminder of past extrapolations gone all wrong, here is an excerpt from "The history of Taxicabs" [covent-garden.co.uk] -- note the reference to the next fifty years.

    In 1900 there were 11,000 registered cabs in London and well over double that now (that's not counting minicabs) Motorised taxis appeared in London in 1904 and got the name 'taxi' from the taxometer that standardised the fares from counting revolutions of their wheels. A statistician about ten years before that had seriously predicted that, at the 'current' rate of expansion and increase of population, horse manure would cover every street in London from wall to wall, even covering windows, within fifty years. Thank you Henry Ford.

    -- SysKoll
  • by joshv (13017) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @10:41PM (#3839308)
    The fact of the matter is not that we will somehow 'run out' of resources - the stuff we have used is all still here, simply in a degraded form. Where's the carbon in those fossil fuels? In the atmosphere as CO2. Where's all that plastic? Landfills.

    Certainly, the easy to use resources will run out. Things like petroleum, fresh water, timber and such - but with enough energy we can replace those things. Sure, it's costly to such CO2 out of the atmosphere and use it to make petrochemicals, but with enough energy it certainly can be done. Sure it's hellaciously expensive to run a de-salination plant instead of diverting another river - but with cheap enough energy it becomes cost effective. Sure, we may eventually run out of easy to exploit copper mines, but all the copper we have ever mined is still out there - it might be hard to find and convert, but again, with enough energy it's doable.

    It's all a problem of energy. If we have enough of it we can keep recylcing the natural resource that are already here, indefinitely. Instead of shipping our idiot progeny off to space, we should be sending up orbital power stations. If they captured just a minute fraction of the solar energy that passes between the earth and the moon's orbit we'd have absolutely no resource problems and the only waste product we'd have to worry about in the long run is heat.

    -josh
    • by davecl (233127) on Sunday July 07, 2002 @11:40PM (#3839557)
      Yes - if you have access to an infinite supply of energy you can sort a lot of these problems out. Solar power stations are a way to do that.

      But hold on, how are you going to build them if all the energy you need for the launch vehicles has been used up already?

      This is a bootstrapping problem. You have to invest energy to get more. If you don't have the initial amount of energy to invest, then you're stuck.

      If we burn all our fossil fuels in SUVs etc., and not in building the solar power stations, that's it, game over.

      We live in a unique period in history. We can either invest the energy we have easily available at the moment to ensure a large future supply - and perhaps have some generations of hardship while that's happening - or we can go on using up the local resources living a good life, and sealing the fate of future generations. This takes conscious planning, and is not something that a blind 'market solution' is capable of, because that always works on a much shorter timescale.

      I don't see anyone taking this long view and doing something about it, so by 2050, we may be stuck on this planet forever.

      Now that's a believable solution to the Fermi Paradox.
  • by crulx (3223) on Monday July 08, 2002 @02:33AM (#3840106)
    Many of the slashdotter's responses scare me. We have strange arguments about carrying capacity that don't understand that you can OVERSHOOT the carrying capacity by a long shot, through environmental destruction. We have arguments about simply needing more energy, as if we do not require the other life forms on the planet to maintain our oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, water, and a million other biosystems that keep us alive. We have discussions on the first worlds slowing population with assurances that everything will just work itself out when the third world "grows up" which ignore basic scientific law on the subject of population growth.

    I will list what I know of population dynamics, in order to show you my point of view.

    1. Humans beings belong to the animal family. We obey laws of population dynamics like all other animals. That we can effect the situation to take better advantage of biological laws doe not make us immune to their effects.
    2. All animals have a population size that food supply appears as a principal functor. Any "win" on the amount of food produces a "win" in the population size. "You are what you eat" does not only have meaning as a cliché. It speaks a truth about animal populations. The more we have to eat, the more of us we can make.
    3. Through our agricultural processes, we have embarked a journey of converting all biomass into human and food for humans. We did this by denying our competition any food. Chickens must live so foxes must die. Cows must live so wolves must die. Corn must live so bugs must die. We currently consume about 200 species a day to make room for humans and food for humans.
    4. Each year, on average, we produce more food. Each year, on average, we had more children. Our outlook on Nature as an infinite resource meant for human taming covered up the dynamic nature that species depend on each other.
    5. We require several biosystems to survive. We need oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen to form our atmosphere and grease the wheels of us and other life forms we depend on for food. We need dense plant cover to prevent erosion and facilitate temperate climates. We require fungus and bacterial systems to dispose of waste. Without these systems, we will not survive.
    6. The only variable of the food/population cycle that we have the strongest control over seems like the food side. Extra food always brings a win on the population side, if not where the food grew then where that food got shipped.
    7. Thus to reduce the human population in order to stop the consumption of our life support biosystems, we must produce less food.

    Even if a 50-year limit seems like an alarmist position, many conservative scientists agree that 100 years looks like the maximum timeframe. Change must happen quickly for us to save a habitat that humanity can live in.

    Some possible research materials for you:

    http://www.ku.edu/~hazards/foodpop.pdf [ku.edu]
    [sciencedaily.com]
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/10/011 02 6074943.htm

    [ishmael.com]
    http://www.ishmael.com/Education/Science/

    ---
    Jt
    crulx@iaxs.net

  • Science Fiction (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ONOIML8 (23262) on Monday July 08, 2002 @07:37AM (#3840649) Homepage
    Why is this being posted as science when it's actually science fiction? Anyone who's really in that part of the science business knows that it would take a minimum of 100 years before we could leave earth for new in any signifigant numbers. Even then those numbers wouldn't be large enough to make an impact......

    If you believe that enviromentalist wacko crap.

    No, here again we see "enviromentalists" pulling at peoples emotions. If they were really concerned about the enviroment they would use some actual science and come up with some real answers.

    Sorry but camping in trees, jumping nude in front of logging trucks, or posting sci-fi stories on the internet doesn't make anyone appear knowlegable. It certainly doesn't do anything towards presenting a solution to whatever you think the problem is.

  • by praedor (218403) on Monday July 08, 2002 @10:14AM (#3841392) Homepage

    The earth isn't going to go anywhere (to die), WE are.

    The earth will not "expire", though many invaluable species will die, invaluable habit will be destroyed, and so forth. What WILL happen is the human population will crash in a very ugly way. The 3rd World would be less affected by a collapse as they are already close to rock bottom. It is the developed nations, with the US at the pinnacle, that are going to have a very nasty crash.

    It is unacceptable to waste/consume/waste resources at the rate we in the US do and it will lead to irreparable harm on the overall world ecosystem BUT the ultimate, and much deserved, outcome will be collapse of human "civilization". The human population will drop precipitously (maybe not by 2050 but it is absolute certainty that without substantially change in practices it WILL happen in the not distant future), below preindustrial levels, because the environmental damage and depletion will support much less and it will take a long time for earth to recover...perhaps longer than the human species lifetime because evolution will act to reproduce a new biodiversity without regards to what is best for us. Empty niches, depleted and descimated by human overconsumption and greed, will be filled - that is what evolution and life does, it fills available niches. It will take a long time and I believe that humans will not recover to anything remotely like today's tech levels before it all comes to a end (there are two articles out there - can't presently find the refs - dealing with the "useful" lifetime of earth. One gives life 1 billion more years before the oceans are fully subsumed into the earth's mantle based on the current rate of ocean water loss due to subduction. Complex life like horses and dogs and humans will be dead LONG before the last oceanic water is lost to the mantle. Another study gives the earth 2 billion years tops based on the changing sun - it gets hotter and hotter all the time and LONG before it goes Red Giant stage, the earth will be rendered dead).

    This may be why we detect no radio signals from advanced tech alien lifeforms in the galaxy. By the time they are approaching the means to be able to do this, they have totally screwed up their own nest (like us) and drive themselves into ignomie instead.

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