The Earth can­not con­tinue to sup­port our grow­ing pop­u­la­tion

The Washington Post - - CAPITAL BUSINESS -

David Von Drehle’s Jan. 9 op-ed, “Don’t fall for the dooms­day pre­dic­tions,” sug­gested that the Earth can sup­port 7 bil­lion hu­mans, but he mis­in­ter­preted the his­tory of hu­man­ity’s im­pact on Earth. Thomas Malthus, though wrong about the tim­ing and the pre­cise mech­a­nism, got the big pic­ture cor­rect in his 1798 “An Es­say on the Prin­ci­ple of Pop­u­la­tion”: A re­lent­lessly grow­ing hu­man pop­u­la­tion will con­sume more re­sources than Earth can sup­ply.

With the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion, as Mr. Von Dehle stated, the “hu­man race set off on a long tear of un­prece­dented eco­nomic growth and pros­per­ity.” Our in­ge­nu­ity cre­ated more ef­fi­cient ways of ex­tract­ing and us­ing the nat­u­ral re­sources of Earth. We were so ef­fi­cient that 90 per­cent of the for­est orig­i­nally cov­er­ing the lower 48 was cut down for shel­ter, fuel and agri­cul­tural land. To­day, the pri­mary cause of de­for­esta­tion is agri­cul­ture. We have been clear-cut­ting the planet to feed our­selves for the 221 years since Malthus penned his pre­scient es­say. The im­pact: ris­ing car­bon diox­ide lev­els, cli­mate change, soil ero­sion and de­clin­ing wa­ter qual­ity. The ecol­ogy of Earth moves on a time scale such that the ef­fects of ac­tions re­veal them­selves decades or cen­turies later. Some think the mar­ket will save us from en­vi­ron­men­tal catas­tro­phe as ris­ing prices help “cre­ative peo­ple fig­ure out how to find more . . . or use less.” While in­ge­nu­ity can re­sult in more ef­fi­cient en­ergy use, global car­bon diox­ide emis­sions con­tinue to rise, and only 30 per­cent of the Earth’s land is cov­ered by for­est. We can’t wait for the mar­ket to solve this prob­lem or it will be well past too late.

Ge­orge M. Hoke, Char­lottesville

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