Friday, May 14, 2010

Six Billion People and Counting

At the time of this posting, there are an estimated 6,820,920,273 people in the world. I am sad to report that most of these people do not read my blog. :) Nonetheless, we are of the same species, we live on the same planet, and we share the same basic needs.
I talk about exponential human population growth in my biology classes. This chart, with its distinctive J-curve, scares the mess out of me. I have seen this same growth curve with examples of other living things that experienced a similar spike in numbers, only to be abruptly knocked back down by natural controls like starvation and disease.
What is the carrying capacity of our planet? At what point will resources become scarce enough to cause true human suffering, outbreaks of physical violence, and the inevitable population crash?
Well, I think some of that has already started. In some parts of the world, humans have truly been suffering for a very long time. What percentage of people in the world today get enough to eat on a regular basis? Why have some countries been able to successfully manage their resources and effectively govern their people, while others have failed miserably?
This is obviously one reason why the U.S. is preoccupied with the Middle East. We are not largely concerned about the living conditions and quality of life for the natives. We could never justify the high cost of our expensive warfare if it did not have some sort of payback for our citizens. We are fighting for our resources. We need that black gold, because without it our entire civilization would come to a grinding halt.
How would YOUR life change if you suddenly had no access to oil or fossil fuel products?
A co-worker of mine converted his old Mercedes to run off biodiesel made from the leftover cooking oil at our university's cafeteria. He is a chemistry professor with access to an organic lab, and it only cost him "a few pennies" to collect the waste oil and clean it up enough to power his car. He bragged about driving to work free every day.
Eventually, the cafeteria people (or maybe our administration?) figured out they could sell the used oil instead of just giving it away, and so my co-worker lost his free supply of fuel. "The golden age of fossil fuels is coming to a close," he warned me. I believe him.
I bought a new car a couple of years ago, and while I was shopping around, I contemplated buying a hybrid electric car. My friends the Hoovers asked, "Why? When you plug your car in, you're still pulling energy from the grid," they said. Electric cars are NOT solving the problem of the looming energy crisis. "We need a new technology," said Dr. Hoover (my personal hero.)

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