If you are in your 40s now, as yours truly is (am?), then by 2050 you and the rest of our cohort will be dead or in our 80s. If we last this long, this will be the age during which we will regularly misplace our glasses. Either way, then, pushing up marigolds (prettier than daisies) or tottering about on our canes, the world will look very different to us than it does now.
This, however, does not appear to be what a group of exceptionally nervous scientists meant when they said Mother Earth will be “Unrecognizable” by 2050. They claim that if we don’t actually see at least one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, then, as the saying goes, we will at least hear the approaching of his hoofbeats.
According to a news report, always a dangerous source upon which to rely, gatherants at the American Association for the Advancement of Science were concerned—deeply concerned—about the frequency of sexual intercourse of non-scientists. Specifically, they think there is too much of it. Breeding, that is, and subsequent births resulting from that oh-so-natural habit.
The guess is that by 2050 there will be 9 billion humans roaming to and fro across the surface of the Earth. Jason Clay, of the World Wildlife Fund, a non-partisan, ideology-free scientific organization estimates that to feed the newcomers, “we will need to produce as much food in the next 40 years as we have in the last 8,000.” His conclusion is thus, “By 2050 we will not have a planet left that is recognizable.”
Food for the next 40 years will feed roughly 320 billion mouth years (summing the population through each year until 2050, figuring in a smooth growth trend). Now last year we fed just under 7 billion, the year before it was just under that, and the year before that it was a little lower and so on.. Progressing back to 1800, when there were only about 1 billion Johns and Janes, and to our present date shows that we have already produced enough food to feed 560 billion mouth years (approximately, of course).
Taking it back 8,000 years, the figure the uninterested Mr Clay provided, gives us about 4,200 billion mouth years of food that we have, as a race, so far provided for ourselves. Mr Clay, whose number is not just wrong, but wildly wrong, is thus either lying, exaggerating, or under the sway of theory. I don’t care to say which. (The fourth possibility is the reporter who questioned him mistranslated Mr Clay’s “8 years” to “8,000 years.”)
Mr Clay and his compatriots also appear to have forgotten a basic fact in biology (and here the possibility of misreporting is larger): we cannot have more humans alive than we can produce food for. That is, if there really will be 9 billion souls in 2050, then, ipso facto, we will have produced enough food to support 9 billion. Unlike our dear and caring governments, we cannot deficit spend in mouth years. If the food is not present, breeding cannot occur.
And if we have produced just enough food so that 9 billion people can live yet some of that food subsequently disappears, then we will soon have fewer than 9 billion people. Some of the living will die earlier than they would have had their stomachs been constantly filled, but a more important variable will be those who are will not be born to replace those who die (it takes more food to sustain a pregnant female than a similarly matched non-pregnant female).
Now it is true that, ceteris paribus, and ignoring the odd act-of-God calamity, if we “use up” a particular resource necessary in the production of food, then we might find ourselves being unable to sustain food production at current levels. This has often happened locally in human history. Land cannot be one of these resources, however, for we have always been stuck with what we have.
But things have never been ceteris paribus, and thus it is rational to suppose that they will not remain so. It was innovation that allowed us to produce more food, and it was this cheap food which led to an increase in the “surplus population” (the WWF and their ilk always write with more than a hint that many are undesirable). If we cease innovating, we slow or stop our increase in food supply, and we thus naturally reduce population. If we continue to innovate, then etc.
Plus we have the empirical fact, not predicted by evolutionary psychology, that as people do better materially the fewer children they produce (the selfish genes of the rich are money mad!). Thus, innovation will not only feed the poor, but it will distract the rich. Missing in the doomsday pronunciations were the demographic forecasts (frequently good) which show a diminishing world population after, say, 2100. The world really be unrecognizable, but probably from a surfeit in hedonism, not population.
Thanks to 49erDweet for today’s tip.