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We are heading for extinction

Population to hit Seven billion

This sounds alarmist and to some an exaggeration. However, when you stop to consider the facts there simply is no other possible outcome. When I was born in 1957 world population was less than 3 billion. Sometime on Monday, Oct. 31, 2011 the world's population is projected to hit 7 billion.

World population has more than doubled within my lifetime. At the same time, as Jeremy Rifkin points out in his new book "The Third Industrial Revolution", we hit the milestone of "global peak oil per capita" back in the 1970s. This milestone is distinct from the milestone of "peak oil", which according to the International Energy Agency occurred in 2006 when we reached seventy million barrels per day.

BP conducted a study on "global peak oil per capita", which has since been confirmed by other research, concluding that the available oil, if equally distributed to every person on the planet, peaked in 1979. So since then we have been increasing our population and at the same time running out of energy to distribute to this ever growing number of people.

In 1994, David Pimentel and Mario Giampietro estimated the output/input ratio of agriculture to be around 1.4. Which means: for every 0.7 Kilogram-Calories (kcal) of fossil energy consumed, U.S. agriculture produced 1 kcal of food. The input figure for this ratio was based on Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN statistics, which consider only fertilizers (without including fertilizer feedstock), irrigation, pesticides (without including pesticide feedstock), and machinery and fuel for field operations. Other agricultural energy inputs not considered were energy and machinery for drying crops, transportation for inputs and outputs to and from the farm, electricity, and construction and maintenance of farm buildings and infrastructures. Adding in estimates for these energy costs brought the input/output energy ratio down to 1. This ratio does not include the energy expense of packaging, delivery to retail outlets, refrigeration or household cooking. So we use more kcals of oil for every kcal of food we produce. And this ratio does not consider that half of all food produced worldwide is wasted.

Given these alarming facts and the lack of work done to break our addiction to oil it seems just a matter of time before human populations will no longer be able to feed themselves. When this milestone is reached we will turn to our most common reaction to stress: war. We have already seen the beginnings of this with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

How do we stop the inevitable? There are only two variables that we can control. The first is population. If we were able, somehow, to control and ultimately reduce world population we would give our species some time. However, given human nature I see no way of us achieving this. The second variable is the development of alternate energy sources. However, given our poor history with this so far it seems unlikely we will be able to break our addiction to oil.

We stand at the end of a great milestone in human history, the end of the age of oil. What we decide to do as a species now will determine our fate. Will we go on or will we fade out of existence as so many other species have before us?


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