Note on peak oil and population

As as follow-up to Jim Lydecker’s essay, My World Without Oil, I wanted to remind readers of an essay by occasional GIM commenter, Paul Chefurka. Titled Peak Oil, Carrying Capacity and Overshoot: Population, the Elephant in the Room, it makes the case that our use of oil dramatically increased the earth’s carrying capacity for humans. Paul argues that therefore, post-peak-oil, we will be in serious overshoot of that carrying capacity: “The decline in oil supply will reduce the planet’s carrying capacity, thus forcing humanity into overshoot with the inevitable consequence of a population decline.”

You may have noticed in Jim’s essay his comment, “But it is not going to be a pretty scene as hydrocarbons are depleted. We are talking social strife, mass migration, starvation, epidemics and worse.” Paul’s essay outlines carefully the population dynamics such a scene could involve.

As Paul says, this “brings a new urgency to the topic of Peak Oil.” I would add, as well, that it brings a new urgency to the topics of population and economic growth, and our ecological crisis as a whole. It concerns me, to say the least, that we have, converging, peak oil and ecological degradation at levels threatening global ecological collapse. (See here for details.) Either has the potential, in itself, to be the gravest threat we’ve ever faced. And they loom as two of their root causes — population growth and corporate economic growth — continue, ignored by the leaders and most of the organizations we would expect to address them. That they are occurring at the same time, each with the potential to compound the other’s effects, should be the headline in every newspaper every day.
Note: I’m back from my break now, and hope soon to finish an article concerning the past decade’s neglect of the population issue and how it has set back both social and environmental causes.

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9 responses to “Note on peak oil and population

  1. The use of oil and gas has certainly temporarily raised the carrying capacity of the earth. Feed for horses used in farming, transport and the army needed about 30% of available cropland. Nitrogen fertiliser made from natural gas now gives us 40% of our grain yield on average, and it would be hard to estimate the total increase from herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. At we also look at the other threats to food supply including water shortages, climate change, collapsing fisheries and loss of land due to desertification and paving over for new cities, roads etc.

  2. other sites to scare yourself at:

  3. John: “That they are occurring at the same time, each with the potential to compound the other’s effects, should be the headline in every newspaper every day.”

    – —

    There is nothing more soothing than a modern newspaper: you get to read a couple of nerve-wrecking stories about the state of the climate, the economy, the wars on crime and terrorism, the sports world, and the world of art and entertainment; then, also, you get to read some serious columninst’s serious opinions on this and that serious problem along the way; you’ll be nodding your head as you turn to the next page, where you’ll find some beautifully wexing advertisement for your next vacation in Maui, Vanuatu or The Maldives, or possible cartoons, or an informative listing on what the television’s got to show for itself, and it’s audience, after the day is over and done with, and the night comes.

    Newspapers are brilliant time-chasing products to be consumed over a cup of coffee and – as I like it – a couple of cigarettes. Killing time, while I nod and sigh. Killing time while my mood keeps swinging from politics to arts, sports, and cartoons. I’m a newspaper consumer of sorts. I don’t mind.

    The problem is: modern newspapers are owned by big business groups whose chief interest is to sell a lot of papers. So the editors need to give the readers what they want. Which is a little bit of everything, and not too much “nonsense” …

    I don’t know. Newspapers do not feed me with too much clarity, that’s all.

  4. Oh my. — 😀

    I’ve got to stop being so very critical of all and most things, including the media world. And the world of art and entertainment. And the world of sports. And television.

  5. The production of ever-expanding demand, the manic consumerism, the exponential growth insanity (on which all news-salesmen depend), and the celebrity cult aside … hm? … it is fair to say that the vast majority of newspapers are not in any way in favour of warfare, either in Israel and Palestine, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, Colombia, or other places. As I feel a Will To Peace is what is needed here, simply in order to become able to do anything about the ecological stress we’re faced with – locally, regionally and globally – I feel it’s okay to take notice of the fact that most media people seem to be quite peaceful, almost by nature.

    We need to nurture this Will to Peace. We’ve got too many ecological problems on our hands. We need to stick together. As a mattor of fact, I feel it’s about time we made all forms of violence an abomination.

    Rant over. 😉

  6. Magne,

    You’re right, I think, that most journalists are peaceful sorts, but you’re also right that newspapers tend to root for growth. It means more readers. If we can just fix that as we nurture the Will to Peace…


    Quote: “[H]uman carbon emissions and climate change are big issues at the top of the news agenda. And rightly so, since they pose a substantial threat. But population growth is almost entirely ignored. Which is odd, since it is at the root of the environmental crisis, and it represents a danger to health and socioeconomic development.”

    – —

    That’s one article. From one newpaper. Read by a few thousand Brits. – And then us.

  8. Ah, I know the article. Ran across it yesterday. 🙂 Worth a read, definitely. It’s by Chris Rapley who heads up the British Antarctic Survey. He’s written and spoken before on the population issue, and I hope he continues.

    But, yeah, there’s not nearly enough attention to it. For what it’s worth, between articles here, I’m currently trying to work up some pieces to peddle around to online magazines and such to try to get a little more coverage and maybe to bring a few more readers here. Once one appears somewhere, I’ll post a link. Uhm, once one does… 😐

  9. John G.,

    A belated thanks for the info. As I mentioned over on Trinifar, I’ll definitely be taking some time to look around on your site.