From this morning’s newspaper, UNM ecologist Jim Brown sketches out dire scenarios:
On one hand, Brown wrote in his 1995 book “Macroecology,” humans are just one of the millions of species that inhabit Earth, “formed by the same processes that produced all other species, and our abundance and distribution are governed by the same natural laws that affect all living things.”
And yet, he wrote, our ability to reshape our environment and impose our dominance on other living things is unprecedented.
When Brown wrote that, there were an estimated 5.5 billion humans on Earth. Today, there are an estimated 6.8 billion. But while our numbers are rising fast, our energy usage is rising even faster.
That is, at the core, what makes humans different from all the other species on Earth: our ability to leverage oil and coal and other sources of energy to go beyond what pristine ecosystems offer. It has resulted in our rich standard of living. Today, the rising energy consumption in part is a reflection of more people in the developing world leveraging the same energy sources to raise their own standards of living.
Now, Brown argues, those trends in growing population and increasing energy use are hurtling headlong toward fundamental global limits. If we do not reduce our population growth and our per capita energy consumption, we’ll burn through the last of our fossil fuels, triggering devastating climate change and, when the fuels run out, societal collapse.