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Effects Of Increasing Human Population On the Earth System.


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#1 StringJunky

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Posted 8 August 2011 - 10:16 AM

I already asked a similar question but now realise its scope was too narrow so I've broadened it to encompass the Earth System or 'Gaia' if you understand what that means.

Imagine you are an ET scientist with the same tools, contemporary knowledge and resources but with no emotional affinity/identity* to the human race who has come to study the effects of human population growth on this blue/green rock's bio/physical/chemical mechanisms, resources and it's other inhabitants. What are they?

*Same again here please, no politics or ethics and be prepared to pull out some evidence to support yourself if asked...this is the science section.
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#2 Greg Boyles

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Posted 8 August 2011 - 10:31 AM

Biodiversity loss in favour of more humans is one obvious effect.

Increased social tension and instability is another effect.Please note I did not use the term 'political instability' as an ET would not understand our politics but would probably be able to recognize social tension and instability.

Edited by Greg Boyles, 8 August 2011 - 10:34 AM.

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#3 StringJunky

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Posted 8 August 2011 - 10:40 AM

Biodiversity loss in favour of more humans is one obvious effect.

Increased social tension and instability is another effect.Please note I did not use the term 'political instability' as an ET would not understand our politics but would probably be able to recognize social tension and instability.


That's fine Greg, as long as any effects noted on humans are viewed scientifically like we would on any other species. As long as it's not viewed with any emotional/political/ethical baggage. In this discussive scenario I just want homo sapiens to be viewed like any other earth-bound organism.

Edited by StringJunky, 8 August 2011 - 10:44 AM.

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#4 Dekan

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 02:44 PM

In this discussive scenario I just want homo sapiens to be viewed like any other earth-bound organism.


You got it String! There's nothing special about Homo Sapiens - we're just like any other Earth-bound organism!

So, let's hear from our fellow Earth-bound organisms. They must be busting to engage in this discussive scenario.

How soon will they be posting their views?
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#5 Realitycheck

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 04:02 PM

It looks like we've got some work to do on cultured meat. At a current production cost of 2 million dollars a pound, costs seem to be a bit prohibitive. The fibers must be stretched to develop, you know, like the real thing. Seems like maybe we need to go at it from a different direction, but I still think it has potential, an animal rights dream.

Edited by Realitycheck, 14 August 2011 - 04:04 PM.

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#6 StringJunky

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Posted 14 August 2011 - 09:34 PM

You got it String! There's nothing special about Homo Sapiens - we're just like any other Earth-bound organism!

So, let's hear from our fellow Earth-bound organisms. They must be busting to engage in this discussive scenario.

How soon will they be posting their views?



It's funny isn't it, I've removed the shackles of politics and ethics from this very important looming problem of Homo Sapiens with a high potential for reaching pathological population levels upon this fragile Earth and there's no takers?

Is it possible to have an emotionally detached scientifically-based conversation about the Human Race's collective behaviour as though they were just specimens in a jar?

I intended this thread to be a journey with no specific path or conclusion in mind but just tempered with discipline and evidence when asked.

Edited by StringJunky, 14 August 2011 - 09:39 PM.

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#7 Greg Boyles

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Posted 16 August 2011 - 01:28 PM

It's funny isn't it, I've removed the shackles of politics and ethics from this very important looming problem of Homo Sapiens with a high potential for reaching pathological population levels upon this fragile Earth and there's no takers?

Is it possible to have an emotionally detached scientifically-based conversation about the Human Race's collective behaviour as though they were just specimens in a jar?

I intended this thread to be a journey with no specific path or conclusion in mind but just tempered with discipline and evidence when asked.


I don't think it is possible to have a non-emmotional debate about this subject.


For starters there is a great deal of christain bagage that inevitably comes out in the form of refusal to accept that the biolgical and ecological rules that apply to all other species don't apply to humans.

We are special because we were created in the image of god and given dominion over the earth and that god will protect us, seems to have been replaced by human ingenuity and technology will save humans from ecological catastrophe.

I have just had a debate in the political forum as whether or not drought and reduction in local food production is A cause of famine for example. That smacks to me of the 'miracle of 5 loaves and 2 fish' in the gospel of john.......as in emergency aid which might become a problem with the global food shortage.

Same problem with climate change debate. A lot of emmotive baggage is brought to the debate - economic baggage, religious baggage, personal wealth baggage......

Edited by Greg Boyles, 16 August 2011 - 01:54 PM.

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#8 mooeypoo

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Posted 16 August 2011 - 03:29 PM

I don't think it is possible to have a non-emmotional debate about this subject.


Try. We are a science forum, and this is a mainstream science forum thread. We don't expect people to be robots, but we expect them to argue decently, with civility, and use evidence to support their claims. We expect people to at least attempt being rational rather than emotional when discussing scientific topics.

We also expect our members to not bring up other threads into unrelated threads, that's called "Thread Hijacking", and is especially frowned upon when the hijacking is a political one. Leave politics to the political forum.



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This is a mainstream thread, where science is to be discussed and not politics. That goes for everyone, please. Get back on the topic of the science behind that question.


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#9 Phi for All

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Posted 24 August 2011 - 07:51 PM

As an ET scientist, wouldn't I have to credit the humans with an advancing intelligence that gives them the potential to be similar me in the future? And I mean similar in that they could develop technology that would let them leave the planet. Emotional affinity aside, I think being able to move off-world would make me classify humans as being unique amongst the other inhabitants of Earth.
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#10 StringJunky

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Posted 24 August 2011 - 11:46 PM

As an ET scientist, wouldn't I have to credit the humans with an advancing intelligence that gives them the potential to be similar me in the future? And I mean similar in that they could develop technology that would let them leave the planet. Emotional affinity aside, I think being able to move off-world would make me classify humans as being unique amongst the other inhabitants of Earth.


So, without explicitly saying it but I think imply, Gaia is ultimately screwed and some miniscule sample of us, when technology permits, must drift off like spores into space to populate and probably ultimately devastate some other virgin world? That advancing intelligence would surely be better intensely focussed and used for understanding our nature and surmounting our collective biological programming to limit our numbers, better utilise and recycle our existing resources here that is in concert with the patterns of the Earth System?

What you are saying, I do not disagree with but that migratory action only satisfies the urge to preserve our own species and a few other organisms we choose to take...that leaves the vast bulk of life (including humans) and the Earth System to suffer their fate.

Turning my mind to the Earth itself what are we doing to the global flow, quality and distribution of water...are we disturbing it with our activities? What are or will be the consequences of that? Is there now proportionally more saline water than non-saline water than at some time in the past?
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#11 jeskill

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Posted 25 August 2011 - 12:22 AM

I don't think it is possible to have a non-emmotional debate about this subject.

For starters there is a great deal of christain bagage that inevitably comes out in the form of refusal to accept that the biolgical and ecological rules that apply to all other species don't apply to humans.


Actually, no. The reason that we cannot use simple ecological models to understand how humans interact with ecological systems is NOT because of religion. There are a number of other, logical, materialistic reasons why this is so.
For one, most ecological models are actually too simplistic to accurately model other animal-plant or animal-animal interactions, let alone human interactions. As stated before, this is because most models can't handle the complexity that arises from non-linear dynamics. But also, human systems have added layers of complexity: we have language, complex social structures, and we utilize tools far beyond the ability of other animals. These three factors make modeling human population growth and human-organism or human-abiotic environment interactions much more complex.

An example of this is actually how human populations respond to food shortages and food surpluses.
First, some definitions. "Necessary population" is the number of individuals needed to maintain a given population using a given technology. "Sustainable population" is the number of individuals a given population using a given technology can sustain.

A beaver population below its sustainable level will inevitably increase its numbers. But a human population below its sustainable level may or may not increase, depending on decisions made by the individuals, decisions that are a complex consequence of negotiated perceptions of the environment.

To take an obvious example, consider a small farming community producing agricultural products for its own consumption. Whatever the agricultural technology (irrigation canals, or terraces, for example), its maintenance will require a certain number of people – the necessary population. And with that technology enough food can be produced to sustain a particular population density – the sustainable population. Consider what happens when the existing population is less than the necessary population. By definition, the technological infrastructure cannot be maintained. Suppose at the same time the existing population is less than the sustainable population. That means that more food than necessary will have been produced, again, by definition. The experience of the population will be “we have used a very intensive technology to produce more food than we need!” Why produce more than necessary? Indeed, under such a circumstance the tendency will be to reduce the intensity of the agricultural technology to bring production in line with the population’s requirements.

Consider an alternative situation in which the available technology has produced less than the existing population needs, which is to say the existing population is greater than the sustainable population (for the given level of agricultural technology). The experience of the population will be one of food shortage. Viewing food shortage, the population will almost inevitably try and increase the level of agricultural technology so as to produce more food next year. But what if the population size necessary to increase that technology is greater than the extant population? The experience of a food shortage is almost certainly going to trump the evident fact that there are not enough people to maintain, let alone increase, the agricultural technology. Thus, there will be a tendency to increase agricultural technology, and perhaps even a tendency to look for more people to incorporate into the population (calling on relatives from nearby villages to move in to help with the work, or even, if it is a longer term perception, seeking to have more babies).


Imagine you are an ET scientist with the same tools, contemporary knowledge and resources but with no emotional affinity/identity* to the human race who has come to study the effects of human population growth on this blue/green rock's bio/physical/chemical mechanisms, resources and it's other inhabitants. What are they?


This question pre-supposes that population growth is a main driver of ecological change. What if the ET scientists found evidence that technology is a main driver of ecological change, and a main driver of population growth?

Edited by jeskill, 24 August 2011 - 11:53 PM.

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#12 Phi for All

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Posted 26 August 2011 - 02:05 PM

So, without explicitly saying it but I think imply, Gaia is ultimately screwed and some miniscule sample of us, when technology permits, must drift off like spores into space to populate and probably ultimately devastate some other virgin world?

Why would I assume that? As a non-indigenous species, am I spoiling virgin Earth by my examination? Or do you mean that my examinations so far show that these advancing humans have been "devastators" so they would most likely continue this methodology off-world?

That advancing intelligence would surely be better intensely focussed and used for understanding our nature and surmounting our collective biological programming to limit our numbers, better utilise and recycle our existing resources here that is in concert with the patterns of the Earth System?

For simplicity, I suggest "we" and "our" and "us" should refer to the ET scientists we are pretending to be. "They" and "them" are the Earth humans we are observing. Agreed?

That said, the Earth humans have the ability to mass-produce many "tools" (I'll use this as a broad term to mean anything that is used as a means of accomplishing a task or purpose, so that a house is a tool for shelter, an automobile is a tool for travel, and clothing is a tool for protection), but they do so as a means of commerce rather than out of concern or affection for their species.

What you are saying, I do not disagree with but that migratory action only satisfies the urge to preserve our own species and a few other organisms we choose to take...that leaves the vast bulk of life (including humans) and the Earth System to suffer their fate.

I only meant to use the concept of advancing intelligence leading to technological migration as a means for me, as an ET scientist, to set humans apart from the other Earth species. I think it would be difficult not to draw some similarities between my species of galactic travelers and the potential displayed by the Earth humans in this regard. It's not terribly important for this exercise but I felt it should be mentioned.

Turning my mind to the Earth itself what are we doing to the global flow, quality and distribution of water...are we disturbing it with our activities? What are or will be the consequences of that? Is there now proportionally more saline water than non-saline water than at some time in the past?

"They" seem to lack a global awareness. Though they can travel and communicate globally, their are few global processes that govern how such things as water and air quality are maintained.
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#13 Greg Boyles

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Posted 28 August 2011 - 11:57 PM

This question pre-supposes that population growth is a main driver of ecological change. What if the ET scientists found evidence that technology is a main driver of ecological change, and a main driver of population growth?


This is akin to having an argument over whether the titanic was travelling to fast or wheher the ice berg was in the way.


Yes! Technology, particularly the green revolution, allowed the human population to tripple from about 2 billion to 6 billion.


But it does not change the fact that there are too many of us and that we need to address our collective excess fertility sooner or later.


It does not change the fact that there is an ultimate upper limit to the number of humans that can exists on earth without the global ecosystem, that allows us to live, collapsing killing all of us or most of us.


Complex ecosystem dynamics that make it difficult to calculate precisely how many of us their should be is really rather irrlevant in the grand scheme of things.You can argue about precise numbers all you want. But you can't argue about the basic fact that there is an ecological limit to the human popoulation.


Besides, you argue that technology is the main driver of ecological change. Therefore you are suggesting that perhaps the current number of humans might be ecologically sustainable if we dumped our current technology and lived as simple farmer or what ever. Except that technology is clearly responsible for allowing our population to expand to its current size.
If, for example, we dumped all forms of fossil fuel technology (fertiliser, farm machinery and transport) that is causing global warming and returned to beast of burden power then it is patently clear that we would not be able to produce enough food to feed 7 the current billion humans.

Edited by Greg Boyles, 29 August 2011 - 12:15 AM.

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#14 Realitycheck

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Posted 29 August 2011 - 06:19 AM

www.ciuboda.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/worldgr.gif

Edited by Realitycheck, 29 August 2011 - 06:56 AM.

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#15 Greg Boyles

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Posted 29 August 2011 - 09:04 AM

www.ciuboda.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/worldgr.gif



Irrelevant!
Growth rate may be falling but the population is still growing well in excess of long term ecological carrying capacity.
Posted Image

Edited by Greg Boyles, 29 August 2011 - 09:06 AM.

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#16 CharonY

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Posted 29 August 2011 - 04:00 PM

Not irrelevant as it an important component of population development, obviously.
But regarding the OP I would think that a lot of influence of human actions on changing ecological systems are evident, however a) earth as a whole ecosystem is anything but fragile. If it was it would have not survived the massive changes in its system during its history.
Almost any scenario with the demise of the earth due to human action would be a very anthropocentric viewpoint.
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#17 Realitycheck

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Posted 29 August 2011 - 07:13 PM

Its easy to see how the Industrial Revolution would cause heightened growth rates, yet hardly exponential (all just depends on how you scale your chart). I don't deny that we are at or around our plateau, as is evidenced in the slowed growth rate. It just goes to show how it is all related. Heightened food prices cause families to slow down baby production in excess of capacity, etc., like clockwork. I don't deny that people in some places are not aware. What is your solution. We already provide birth control to lots of underdeveloped, less-than-up-to-speed nations. You need to go knock on the Pope's door and get him off his high horse about birth control.

Of course, he might contend that this might enable Islam to surge ahead. How do you propose to control Islam?

Edited by Realitycheck, 29 August 2011 - 07:08 PM.

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#18 Greg Boyles

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Posted 29 August 2011 - 11:39 PM

Not irrelevant as it an important component of population development, obviously.
But regarding the OP I would think that a lot of influence of human actions on changing ecological systems are evident, however a) earth as a whole ecosystem is anything but fragile. If it was it would have not survived the massive changes in its system during its history.
Almost any scenario with the demise of the earth due to human action would be a very anthropocentric viewpoint.


Perhaps not, but the specific climatic conditions that are ideal for temporarily sustaining a high consumption human population of 7 billion plus IS fragile in the face of our outputs.

Life and the ecosystem will undoubtedly go on, as it has for hundreds of millions of years. But not necessarily human beings and our current civilisation.



And arguing about the precise rate at which the rate of population growth is decreasing is rather like arguing about how fast the titanic was decelerating in the last 5 minutes before it hit the ice berg.

Its easy to see how the Industrial Revolution would cause heightened growth rates, yet hardly exponential (all just depends on how you scale your chart). I don't deny that we are at or around our plateau, as is evidenced in the slowed growth rate. It just goes to show how it is all related. Heightened food prices cause families to slow down baby production in excess of capacity, etc., like clockwork. I don't deny that people in some places are not aware. What is your solution. We already provide birth control to lots of underdeveloped, less-than-up-to-speed nations. You need to go knock on the Pope's door and get him off his high horse about birth control.

Of course, he might contend that this might enable Islam to surge ahead. How do you propose to control Islam?



Exact same sort of arguments employed by climate change deniers.


They would specifically select 10 years of temperature data in the last decade in order to hide the longer term trends.
You would employ the same tactics. Only consider the population data in the last couple of decades and ignore the long term trend.


It wont make the problem disappear reality, merely allow you to sleep better at night.
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#19 JohnB

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Posted 30 August 2011 - 03:40 AM

Exact same sort of arguments employed by climate change deniers.


They would specifically select 10 years of temperature data in the last decade in order to hide the longer term trends.


What a pity that the long term trend is towards cooling, the current warming is just another uptick on the general downward trend. ;)
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#20 Greg Boyles

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Posted 30 August 2011 - 03:44 AM

What a pity that the long term trend is towards cooling, the current warming is just another uptick on the general downward trend. ;)


Well as they say a scientific consensus IS NOT equivalent to a personal opinion.
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