Temporary Food

Modern, corporate-based industrial agriculture has many critics.  They range from scientists to some politicians, from citizens to some farmers.  Their main concern is that the very tenets that make the operation feasible from the agribusiness point-of-view create conditions that undermine its long-term prospects.   These tenets include 1) corporate efficiency (standardization, economy of scale, large cropping units, fewer farmers, more machines, etc.), 2) maximization of production and profit (intensification, fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation, etc.), and 3) corporate control of farm inputs (proprietary seeds, genetically modified crop plants, mandatory customized packages of agrichemical inputs, etc.).

Some of the serious problems that arise from this approach to farming include soil erosion, water pollution, groundwater depletion, freshwater diversions, loss of crop plant diversity, depletion of fossil fuels, loss of local farming knowledge, carbon emissions, loss of natural habitats, and loss of biological diversity.  Please refer to the introduction in my book, Gardening:  An Ecological Approach. (especially page 13).

Humanity faces many challenges.  The “environmental fact sheet” below is offered to provide a sense of perspective about how the current human population of more than seven billion people is seven hundred times the size that could be supported without modern agriculture’s ruthless, profit-driven assault on the planet.

By the late 2050s, about 43 years from now, some demographers estimate a human population of ten billion, more than a thousand times the size that Nature could have sustainably supported. 

What to do:  Learn about the issues. Share what you know. Rethink the ways we grow our food and reform agriculture.  Support small sustainable farms.  Get to know one local grower.  Protect environmental quality.  Restore degraded land.  Conserve critical resources.  Grow a garden.  Share what you grow.


Environmental Science Classroom: The Human Population II

The notebook page shown below depicts the growth, billion-by-billion, of the human population.  From the earliest traces of Homo sapiens in the anthropological record, it took 150,000 to 200,000 years for the population to grow to one billion (in 1800).

The table shows the year that the population added each billion and the number of years it took to do so. The peak growth rate seems to have occurred during the last 35 years.  This is where the slope of the graph is the steepest and where the intervals to add a billion people are the shortest.

Demographers (including the UN) predict the population will grow to 9.6 billion by 2050 and perhaps 10-11 billion by 2100. 

No one, except a few wildlife biologists, are predicting that the population will "level off" in the near future. Wildlife biologists are thinking that in the next 37 years we will add another 2.5 billion people, 35% more than now, but we are not likely to increase the productive surface of the Earth by 35% to provide them with the resources (on a per-capita basis) that the 7.1 billion current residents of the planet have. Wildlife biologists often use a term called "carrying capacity."

The growth of the Earth's human population truly defines our times.

Refer to the blog on Wednesday, February 13, 2013 for "The Human Population I" (Current Size and Growth Rate).

Human Population Billion-by-Billion, © Fred Montague