09 October 2006

U.S. Population

The population of the United States will hit 300,000,000 between now and election day. It hit 200,000,000 in 1968. It hit 100,000,000 in 1915.

The population of the world is roughly 6,549,310,000.

I've heard people more than once argue that the world is overpopulated. I don't agree. While the world undeniably has starvation, people who lack clean water, and other horrid conditions, the problem is not that there are too many people, but that resources are ill distributed and that society in those areas most affected is often disfunctional.


Anonymous said...

If our aggregate use of resources did not have a significantly environmental impact (global warming and a host of related effects), I suppose you could chalk up ongoing failures to manage our resources (equitably?)as the deciding factor in, for example, water scarcity and famine at local levels. However, that presupposes that all those resources are out there for us (humans) to use and exploit with impunity, irrespective of effects on other species. That attitude has been shown in the last 30 years or so to lead to environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity that makes our current way of life frankly unsustainable. In short, we've been bingeing on nonrenewable energies for over 100 years, which simply won't last another 100 years as population and consumption continue their growth unchecked.

Sotosoroto said...

We've been bingeing on "nonrenewable" energeies for a lot more than 100 years. More than 1,000. Closer to 10,000 years. And there's still more space and energy on this little rockball called home to last quite awhile yet.

At least we're finally climbing out of the Little Ice Age, so more land will be usable...

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

I'd disagree on the time frame of "nonrenewable energy."

Widespread use of coal (initially for steam engines which weren't commercially viable until 1769, although the first working model was built in 1679) dates only to the industrial area (early 1700s). Before then, coal was being used at a rate not much higher than the rate at which new coal (from peat) is produced.

Natural gas had little use other than street lamps (themselves dating to about 1785) prior to the 20th century, and petroleum was used even less (the first commercial well was built in 1858).

Nuclear power dates from the 1951, with the first commercial plant in 1955, the commercial plans now in the U.S. were ordered from 1955-1974.

For about 300 years prior to 1700, coal use was pretty much limited to industrial applications and global warming pretty much tracks the ramping up of that activity.

Before then wood (which is renewable), peat and dung (which is now called biomass), wind (sails and windmills and evaporative cooling), hydro power (grain mills) and muscle power, were it in terms of energy generation. Even lamp oil was larger vegetable or animal based, rather than mineral oil, and hence was also renewable.

For more details see here.

Anonymous said...

I'm more than a bit puzzled how sotosoroto could claim that we've been bingeing on nonrenewable energies for 1,000 or 10,000 years. In either real quantities or per capita, our rate of consumption didn't start spiking until the middle of the 19th century when various fuel sources were commercialized. There is evidence that some Mediterranean cultures (e.g., ancient Romans and Greeks) did clear-cutting that dramatically altered the landscape in a permanent way, but in comparison to today's scale, it was an anomaly.

The point I made that neither response took up seriously is that our current rate of consumption is simply not sustainable. Sure, there mzy be enough resources for another 80-100 years, but that's an eye blink in historical terms. Trusting blindly in technology or market forces to rescue us from the box we've built around ourselves is foolhardy (at least in my view).

Sotosoroto said...

I meant that humankind has been using whatever they can get their hands on, without regard to the consequences, for as long as the species has been around. True, we now have quite a few more people on this planet, but that doesn't change the fact that we are much more consciencious of our energy usage than our ancient ancestors.

Some people believe in God, some people believe in Global Warming, but I believe in Market Forces. We'll stop using the gasoline and natural gas and coal when it becomes inefficient to use it anymore. We're getting close to that point now (see, for example, hybrid cars), but we're not there yet.

Eighty years from now, I believe that the price of fossil fuels will have risen to a level where "alternative" fuels are cost-effective and actually cheaper. I have no doubt that energy will cost more than it does today, but we'll still have some type of fuel to power our cars and lightbulbs.