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See also Environment in Dynamic Equilbria

"The balance between mouths and food will be maintained in the future, as in the past, by famine, pestilence, and war." Thomas Malthus

"Man, not Earth, makes civilization."
"Total perspective is an optical illusion."
"Nature loves difference as the necessary material of selection and evolution." Will & Ariel Durant

The Durants provide an historical perspective into civilization. Here we examine some physical limits to civilization.

The biosphere we share is some 20 miles thick and spans the girth of the globe. It is not so vast that it cannot be disturbed, or even destroyed. Not since a bolide (Mini asteroid) ended the reign of the dinosaurs, has the biosphere been presented a challenge like that of civilization. That human-made challenge is chemical and biological instead of physical. By burning coal, oil, and gas we release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases which are now driving a global temperature increase. By deforestation and processing chemicals, civilization is driving thousands of species to extinction. By releasing certain chemicals into the atmosphere, civilization has altered the ozone layer that protects life from deadly ultraviolet rays from the sun. By releasing other chemicals into the environment, civilization has introduced disease into numerous pockets all over the world. These, along with the potential for an atomic holocaust, has put the biosphere itself is at risk. Life on earth is now vulnerable.

For example, civilization now removes 20% more resources from the biosphere than is naturally replenished. If every one on earth lived at the level of the average American, the removal rate would be 300% greater than natural replenishment. To be sure technology can change these equations. Just as surely there are physical limits.

Livable space is limited by the fertility of arable lands, greenhouse gases, earth axis precession, and the solar constant. And the quality of life in that livable space is limited their use [and misuse] of resources and by the fertility of people [and control thereof].

Malthus put it this way: population growth always exceeds the growth of means of subsistence. The allegory of the wine bottle is appropriate. First you squeeze the grape juice into a vat; then you add yeast and sugar; microbes multiply exponentially consuming sugar [petroleum for example] and producing alcohol [greenhouse gases] at the same rate. Eventually all microbes drown in their own effluentthey are not smart enough to eat each other. Malthus was not so wrong. The biosphere is not so vast that the wine-bottle allegory could never happen.

Many people will see no connection here with terrorism. We do. Hogging the resources only increases the gaps between the haves and have nots in their competition for resources. The gaps in opportunities are too important to ignore. This is a civilization issue of first magnitude. In one sense, terrorism is an attempt at redress. Our response cannot be endlessly in kind. Rather, ways must be found for all people to share the biosphere equally and in such ways that are sustainable.

With population pressures increasing, it will become increasingly difficult to avoid the humiliation and alienation that go with hunger and over-crowding. The developing nations will produce most of the projected population growth for this century.

The confluence of population growth, terror, and nuclear weapons make this a commanding imperative for all people.


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