"Sometimes considered a taboo subject, the issue of population runs as an undercurrent in virtually all discussions of modern challenges. Naturally, resource use, environmental pressures, climate change, food and water supply, and the health of the world’s fish and wildlife populations would all be non-issues if Earth enjoyed a human population of 100 million or less ... For many thousands of years following the end of the last Ice Age, human population rose steadily and slowly, at a rate of about 0.032% per year—translating into a leisurely doubling time of some 2000 years. About 3000 years ago, spreading agricultural practices led to a modest boost in growth rates ... Why did we leap into 1% growth and a 70 year doubling time in recent centuries? ... For most of this period, we saw a modest 0.12% growth rate, amounting to a 600 year doubling time. Around 1700, the rate stepped up to 0.41%, doubling every 170 years. The next break happens around 1870, jumping to 0.82% and 85 years to double. Then around 1950, we see another factor-of-two rate jump to 1.7% and an impressively short 40 year doubling time ... This leads to a rather simple thesis: the surplus energy presented to us by fossil fuels allowed us to feed people more easily the world over. The bounty of fossil-fuel-turned-food encouraged an explosion in birth rates, as happens for virtually all organisms given similar circumstances ... Surplus energy grows babies ... We are in the midst of an unplanned experiment of unprecedented scale. We have 7 billion people on the planet, growing at almost three new (net) people per second. It’s an uncontrolled mad dash into the future ... We know that fossil fuels have far-and-away dominated the scale of our energy use, and that these are finite resources ... To the extent that surplus energy is responsible for the population boom, does the symmetry of the fossil fuel curve carry predictive power for population as well? These curves have been historically tied together ... When the historical record is riddled with examples of civilizations peaking, overreaching, and collapsing, it becomes rather difficult to subscribe to the notion that this time is different, when faced with so many monumental and simultaneous challenges. Population, as a reflection of human nature, may well be the mother of all challenges. Tightly bound to resource demands, the problem isn’t going to go away by ignoring our own personal roles and instead focusing attention on poor nations half-a-world away ... And nature doesn’t care if we don’t understand."

Zum Artikel von Prof. Tom Murphy, erschienen auf Do The Math (3. September 2013) »

Zur Bilderreihe von Thomas Cole "The Course of Empire" auf Explore Thomas Cole »

Thomas Cole // Public Domain