Could we colonise another planet to save this one?

27 10 2015

© Auston Habershaw

Let’s do a little thought experiment, shall we? The late, great Douglas Adams wrote about a planet (Golgafrincham) that decided to ship all its undesirables (it was not made clear to them that they were in fact considered ‘undesirable’) to another planet to cut their population by a third. As it turns out, it wasn’t such a great idea.

This idea — shipping people to another planet — is a common theme in the sci-fi genre when there is an impending disaster, such as the planet becoming unsustainable, too many humans over-consuming, or because some great natural calamity is about to occur. Many think Mars is the most likely possible place to get the first sustainable human colony going, but it’s going to be a logistical nightmare to put together even a small colony.

Could moving to a planet like Mars stem the inexorable increase in the human population and save planet Earth? Not likely, and here’s why.

Let’s throw caution to the wind and make some outlandish assumptions just to make this point even stronger.

Read the rest of this entry »





Infinite planet theory

24 05 2011

Rob Dietz over at the Centre for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) just e-mailed me and suggested I reproduce a recent post of theirs on ConservationBytes.com. Rob has produced a cracker – very funny, but ‘reality’ usually is. Many thanks, Rob, for a fine piece of writing.

Few people have read the dense volumes published by the economist Milton Mountebank, but his work has affected you, me and every single person on the planet. Dr. Mountebank has revolutionized economic thought, and now he has been recognized for his singular efforts. Yesterday at a gala reception in Stockholm, Sweden, the chairman of Sveriges Riksbank, Peter Norborg, presented Dr. Mountebank with the Nobel Prize in Economics for his lifetime of work on infinite planet theory.

In his presentation of the award, Mr. Norborg stated, “Dr. Mountebank has demonstrated imagination and inventiveness beyond what the rational mind can comprehend.” Indeed, it is because of his theories that we all do what we do economically. Nations strive for continuous GDP growth and endless expansion of consumption thanks to infinite planet theory. Mr. Norborg went on to say, “All of our banks, including Sveriges Riksbank, owe him a huge debt. We finance economic expansion. Our actions and decisions would be morally suspect if we lived on a finite planet.”

In a light-hearted moment during the presentation, Mr. Norborg asserted that Dr. Mountebank had provided an even greater service to humanity by reducing stress on individuals. “Best of all,” he said, “is that we can extract, consume and digest resources guilt-free. Planetary constraints have been conquered. They have gone the way of the dodo, the Roman Empire and the world’s major fisheries.” Read the rest of this entry »





The other, other global crisis

22 11 2010

Another quick and informative introduction to the problems of over-population and agricultural intensification. Like the nice little video introduction to the importance of biodiversity, if you want to teach someone quickly about why we need to think about over-population, show them this quick video about the other, other global crisis – agriculture.

Highlights:

  • 40 % of the world’s land surface has been cleared for agriculture
  • globally, croplands cover 16 million km2 (area the size of South America
  • humans use 2800 km3 of water to irrigate crops each year
  • fertilizers have more than doubled the P and N in the environment
  • agriculture contributes 30 % of greenhouse gases





Too many mouths to feed

19 03 2009

The venerable Professor John Beddington has some stern warnings about over-population in the next few decades. In essence, we cannot ignore the human over-population problem any longer. There are simply too many people for the finite resources available and the consumption rates that do not appear to be declining (not surprising given our voracious appetite for economic growth – more like long-term economic suicide, really). Australia is certainly no exception – with most of our country essentially uninhabitable, we’ve already exceeded our carrying capacity (but try telling this to the pollies).

In my opinion, human over-population is THE principal driver of biodiversity loss in the modern context. Without some serious global efforts for population planning, expect a lot more conflict in your lifetime, and a lot worse effects of climate change. See also Global Population Speak Out.

This one from the BBC:

Growing world population will cause a “perfect storm” of food, energy and water shortages by 2030, the UK government chief scientist has warned. By 2030 the demand for resources will create a crisis with dire consequences, Prof John Beddington said. Demand for food and energy will jump 50% by 2030 and for fresh water by 30%, as the population tops 8.3 billion, he told a conference in London.

Climate change will exacerbate matters in unpredictable ways, he added. “It’s a perfect storm,” Prof Beddington told the Sustainable Development UK 09 conference.’Perfect storm’ poses global threat, says Professor Beddington. “There’s not going to be a complete collapse, but things will start getting really worrying if we don’t tackle these problems.”

Prof Beddington said the looming crisis would match the current one in the banking sector. “My main concern is what will happen internationally, there will be food and water shortages,” he said.

“We’re relatively fortunate in the UK; there may not be shortages here, but we can expect prices of food and energy to rise.” The United Nations Environment Programme predicts widespread water shortages across Africa, Europe and Asia by 2025. The amount of fresh water available per head of the population is expected to decline sharply in that time. The issue of food and energy security rose high on the political agenda last year during a spike in oil and commodity prices.

Prof Beddington said the concern now – when prices have dropped once again – was that the issues would slip back down the domestic and international agenda. “We can’t afford to be complacent. Just because the high prices have dropped doesn’t mean we can relax,” he said. Improving agricultural productivity globally was one way to tackle the problem, he added. At present, 30-40% of all crops are lost due to pest and disease before they are harvested. Professor Beddington said: “We have to address that. We need more disease-resistant and pest-resistant plants and better practices, better harvesting procedures. “Genetically-modified food could also be part of the solution. We need plants that are resistant to drought and salinity – a mixture of genetic modification and conventional plant breeding. Better water storage and cleaner energy supplies are also essential, he added.

Prof Beddington is chairing a subgroup of a new Cabinet Office task force set up to tackle food security. But he said the problem could not be tackled in isolation. He wants policy-makers in the European Commission to receive the same high level of scientific advice as the new US president, Barack Obama. One solution would be to create a new post of chief science adviser to the European Commission, he suggested.

CJA Bradshaw