Hydrogen Climate Scams, Just Ask “Where does the hydrogen come from?”

In the race to stop CO2, there are many scams involving hydrogen, but it not always clear who is being scammed!

Background:

Hydrogen: Facts vs Myths, Blue vs Green, see here for background.

Hydrogen Is Not A Source Of Energy, The Energy Source is either Solar/Wind or Fossil Fuels.

There are basically two ways for us to get hydrogen on Earth:

  1. From water, which is combined hydrogen and oxygen (H2O).
    • Use (hopefully renewable) electricity to separate the water, producing O2 as a biproduct.
  2. From An ‘Alkane’, such as natural gas (CH4), which is combined hydrogen and carbon.
    • Use energy to separate the alkane, producing CO2 as a biproduct.

Our planet does not have enough gravity to hang on to raw ‘unattached’ hydrogen, and it floats off into space, so unlike the Sun, or giant planets like Jupiter, we have far less hydrogen and what we do have is combined with other elements.

Hydrogen is still the 10th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, and you just need energy to separate it from other elements. Then you get some of that energy back, by letting it reattach to oxygen to form water. Just like a battery: put energy in so you can get it back later.

With method 1, if you use renewable energy for the separating, you have ‘green hydrogen’.

With method 2, the production of the CO2 provides the energy, which is just as well as more energy is needed if you start with water, but this process produces the energy needed.

So you always need an energy source to produce hydrogen. Hydrogen isn’t the energy source, it is what you use the energy source to produce. Just like a battery, hydrogen provides energy storage, and you get back a percentage of the energy from the source later.

Again, you need an energy source to start. Ideally you use ‘green electricity’. You can also use coal as the energy source, but 95% of production uses natural gas, because that gives the energy and the hydrogen in one.

Battery Electric Cars Vs Hydrogen Cars: see here.

There is a full page exploring this, but it turns out, as explored below, most proponents of hydrogen cars have ulterior motives and in the end there are no real benefits to offset having more complex and expensive vehicles with 3x the running costs of battery electric.

Alarm Bells: Hydrogen As The New Snake Oil? Always ask “Where is the energy coming from?”.

The moment anyone says ‘hydrogen as an energy source’, run.

Outside of nuclear energy, hydrogen is never an energy source. When it is suggested hydrogen is the energy source, someone is being scammed. Where is the energy really coming from? Often, when you hear words like this, the person speaking has been scammed, and does not think to ask “where is the energy coming from?”.

You always have to start with an actual energy source and convert the actual energy source to hydrogen. For ‘green hydrogen’ you start with ‘green’ electricity, but in the real world so far, for almost all hydrogen ever produced, your start with fossil fuels and produce more CO2 for each joule of energy, than you produce by burning the fossil fuel.

If a green energy company, or someone else who really does have at least genuine plans for green electrical power, talks about green hydrogen, then they may be genuine. The credibility in green energy, and the production of excess wind and solar is what needed for green hydrogen.

But if a mining company, or a company without green energy plans is talking about hydrogen, at some point it is going to be that someone is being scammed.

Outsider green energy companies wanting to store that green energy, it is best to treat any scheme or technology based on hydrogen with significant scepticism.

Apart from nuclear and rocket fuel for space, there is really nothing you can do with hydrogen, that you can’t do directly with fossil fuels. So most projects around hydrogen, are:

  1. Based around plans to ‘greenwash’ fossil fuels
  2. Or distractions to confuse and delay green energy projects.

Scams:

Blue Hydrogen: Disguised Natural Gas Made Worse.

Blue Hydrogen. The greatest fossil fuel scam in history?

Fossil fuel has carbon, that makes CO2 when you burn it, or when you take out the hydrogen. Blue hydrogen is when you pretend you have a way to catch the CO2

In the video to the right, from the channel “just have a think”, suggests “blue hydrogen” is the greatest fossil fuel scam in history.

Note that even people talking up ‘green hydrogen’ can in fact be looking to create markets for fossil-fuel sourced, ‘blue’ or ‘grey’ hydrogen. Unless you have green electrical energy going to waste, ‘green’ hydrogen is just expensive, and fossil fuel companies have an alternative.

Hydrogen Cars And Trucks.

The Big Picture: The Economics Don’t Add Up, Its A Stalling Tactic, or a ‘fossil fuel’ trick.

I have previously explored in detail the pros and cons of battery electric vs hydrogen cars and found 3x running costs, more expensive cars with no real benefits not available using batteries. The bottom line is, for motor vehicles, the economics just don’t add up to use hydrogen in place of batteries.

In more detail:

  • The argument against hydrogen is:
    • If using green hydrogen from electricity, you need 3x more electricity than battery electric cars.
  • The suggested benefits for hydrogen:
    • If you have really really large fuel tanks, you can in theory better range than battery electric cars.
      • In practice, hydrogen cars only better the range of very low price electric vehicles, and there are no low price hydrogen vehicles. In practice, far better range is available from battery electric.
    • Recharging can be faster than the recharging a battery.
      • Battery swapping is faster and safer than rechanging hydrogen, and there are already more battery swap stations than hydrogen stations.

Toyota: The Anti Electric Vehicle Car Company.

So why are some companies still pushing hydrogen cars, including the worlds largest car maker: Toyota?

Because, it turns out that despite being a leader with hybrids, Toyota feels electric vehicles will lead to huge job losses in Japan. It appears their issue is not that hydrogen cars are not the best product, it is that battery electric cars are seen as a threat.

So fixed is Toyota on trying to stop electric vehicles, that the company is facing a consumer backlash and boycotts from environmental groups, over their lobbying and donations to those who vote against electronification.

EPA figures for top automakers: Only Toyota failed to reduce emissions and improve fuel economy.

Toyota gained a positive ‘environmental’ reputation with the introduction of hybrids, starting with the Prius in 1997.

Here was a company introducing new technology that reduced emissions!

For the performance and other specification, the Prius was an expensive car. To make a hybrid, you take a normal car make it more complex by adding a battery and electric drive train, and perhaps the motivation of Toyota was simply to sell more complex cars? To move from a hybrid to an EV, you take things out and make the battery bigger, which makes the car simpler. It seems on making cars simpler, Toyota are not so pleased, and looking at the EPA data, maybe the environment is not really their motive.

The main reasons for backing hydrogen cars, is that doing so could slow or even derail the uptake of battery electric cars, which are a threat to:

  • Some existing automakers who will lose market share and as a result employ less staff.
  • Fossil fuel companies.

Not only are hydrogen cars seen as a way to delay the uptake of electric vehicles, but also as a potential market for ‘blue hydrogen’ for fossil fuel companies, and a way to retain pricing and profit for Toyota and some other car makers not ready for battery electric vehicles.

Hyundai: Did You Know They Also Do Oil and Gas?

I thought of Hyundai primarily as a car company, but on corporate web site, automotive is just 1 of 11 activities, and oil and gas is amongst those activities. I do not know if the activities look as synergies, but Hyundai being the only company I know of that does both automotive and oil and gas, as well as now appearing to be the strongest remaining supporter of hydrogen cars, may not be entirely a coincidence.

‘AsianPetrolHead’, an informative reviewer of cars from Korea, recently attended a Hyundai promotion on their plans for hydrogen, and was provided with the message that hydrogen cars “can act as a generator“, and that even entire buildings could be powered by hydrogen.

Given that ‘green hydrogen’ requires more electrical energy to produce than the electrical energy get back, it is not logical to use the fuel cell to generate electricity if the hydrogen was made from electricity.

This means that for Hyundai, it seems clear what the answer to the question “where does the hydrogen come from” is:

  1. ‘Green Hydrogen”, From water, which is combined hydrogen and oxygen (H2O).
  2. Blue/Grey Hydrogen”, From An ‘Alkane’, such as natural gas (CH4), which is combined hydrogen and carbon .

Is it possible that the car division of Hyundai is announcing a strategy to support the “natural resources” division?

Other Brands.

Honda and BMW have also produced a small number of hydrogen cars, but why is not clear, but there is more information here.

Hydrogen Home Gas: Leaky Pipes Anyone?

Michael Liebreich, the influential energy analyst and founder of BloombergNEF, told Recharge in June: “You’re not going to have hydrogen in your home for safety reasons. It’s just not going to be a thing.”

‘Hydrogen in the home would be four times more dangerous than natural gas‘: government report: Recharge.

One suggestion is that hydrogen could replace methane as the gas used over the ‘gas main’. The appeal is that many homes are already fitted for gas.

However, all those gas pipes and fittings have been tested for leaks of methane. These same pipes are untested with hydrogen, which is a major problem as that hydrogen is a gas of much smaller molecules than methane, and will leak when methane would not leak. The reality is that pipes and fittings of the gas main already leak methane, just within acceptable limits. Upgrading theas system of pipes for hydrogen would be very expensive.

Then, all the ‘burners’ and heaters and appliances the burn the gas would need either replacing or modification to work with hydrogen instead of methane or ‘lpg’.

And what would we be the benefit, if the hydrogen begins life as electricity, and 50% of the energy is lost by converting to hydrogen? We can already distribute electricity to homes, and there are already cooktops and heaters available. Yes, historically natural gas could be less expensive than electricity, so gas was economic. But those economics are from the past if in future the gas is going to be produced using the electricity! Remember, if you convert electricity to hydrogen, there are inefficiencies and you lose a lot of the energy, and solar is now far less expensive than electricity was in the past. Hydrogen at homes would be used only for heating, as converting back to electricity using fuel cells would be just ridiculous, so the losses are less than with electric cars and other situations where you need the efficiency of electricity, but there are still substantial losses. It will simply cost more even to heat and cook using hydrogen than with the more efficient heat pumps and induction cook tops.

Plus, burning hydrogen is not completely pollution free, and some nitrogen from the air inevitably also becomes burnt, producing some nitrous oxides.

Home hydrogen gas would mean higher power bills, so at least utility companies may be happy, but it still requires changing stoves and heaters in homes, and is not pollution free.

Converting ‘green electricity’ to hydrogen to send to homes does not make economic sense. They only way sending hydrogen to homes in place of electricity could make sense, is if the hydrogen does not come from electricity, but from natural gas. The trouble with using hydrogen from natural gas is, that greenhouse gas emission are greater than from using natural gas. So going through a conversion from natural gas to hydrogen from natural gas, that results higher household energy costs, more CO2 and more dangerous homes, only adds up if you are prepared to make great sacrifices to provide profits for oil and gas suppliers.

Hydrogen Exports: Send Power By Boat Instead Of Electrical Wires.

There are real plans to export ‘green hydrogen’ from places such as the Australian Northern territory. This sounds great, there is so much sunshine and free land at the source location, that solar and wind makes perfect sense.

But just one question: why convert the electrical energy into hydrogen to send it to other countries?

The map here is of the submarine cables that connect the internet, but why would it not be possible to also use submarine cables to send electricity?

Is it really more efficient to send ships loaded with hydrogen to move electrical energy from one point to another? If it is, why have we been wasting all these years using electrical cables to move electricity from one point to another!

Consider Japan’s plan for buying hydrogen:

https://gcaptain.com/norway-races-australia-to-fulfill-japans-hydrogen-society-eream/Under the Australian plan, coal would be converted to gas for processing to remove sulphur, mercury and carbon dioxide, leaving hydrogen. The Norwegian system would use renewable power for high-temperature electrolysis to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, which would be released into the atmosphere. In both cases, the hydrogen would be liquefied for shipment to Japan.

Norway Races Australia to Fulfill Japan’s Hydrogen Society Dream

The entire project to supply Japan was developed around the idea of sending fossil fuel sources hydrogen, and the ability to use fossil fuels is a major reason for sending hydrogen, rather than shipping electricity.

Yes, and advantage of shipping hydrogen is that there can be stored energy at the point of import. But given the inefficiency of physically shipping hydrogen, and the loss of 2/3rds of the energy, using cables and a mix of using some of the electricity immediately, and converting some to hydrogen at the destination just has to be more cost effective if all the hydrogen would be ‘green hydrogen’.

Hydrogen Energy Storage: Not A Scam?

I have written previously on how renewables cannot replace fossil fuels with out the addition of storage.

The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind does not always blow. In reality if you have a big enough connected areas, the sun always shines somewhere during daytime, and the is always wind somewhere, but politics usually block having a large enough connected area, and even then there is the day night thing unless the connection is global. Reality is, storages is needed.

The most tried and tested storage in pumped hydro, and there are places that have now proved batteries as storage. I need to check again if anywhere has hydrogen as storage, but in theory if the area is too flat for pumped hydro, then hydrogen should be a good option. Hydrogen for storage need not be a scam, but it is unproven and so far, as soon as hydrogen is mentioned, the natural gas people tend to try and hijack the project.

Who Is Being Scammed?

this section still being updated.

Governments.

It sounds good. A supplier offers you hydrogen, and undertakes to ramp up the percentage over time that is “green hydrogen” or even that magical “blue hydrogen”. If you are buying the hydrogen from another country, is it your problem if there are emissions at the location of the source of the hydrogen?

After all, it still lets you have commit to targets for reducing greenhouse gases within your country!

Do not need wonder why supplier does not suggest sending electricity via submarine cable, given that if it is green hydrogen made from electricity, that would be more efficient than sending hydrogen?

Consumers.

I thing everyone has heard the taglines:

  • The most abundant material in the universe!
  • Pure clean energy that produces only water as a waste product.

The reality is that hydrogen is not readily available everywhere as the tagline suggests, and even ‘green hydrogen’ never quite matches electricity for lack of environmental impact. It can’t because the cleanest way to use the hydrogen is to use the hydrogen to produce electricity anyway, and you always need more energy to start with.

If you listen to the stories, you could easily believe hydrogen is even better than electricity, and the main reason is that there are huge amounts of marketing behind hydrogen.

Investors.

All they hype, it is not just consumers being trapped. The promise of schemes make millions from hydrogen infrastructure is also a real thing. One of the key reasons is that building infrastructure around hydrogen can be a distraction from other projects that genuinely transition away from fossil fuels. The more infrastructure projects in the works, the longer we keep using fossil fuels in the interim. That does not mean that hydrogen projects will actually make economic sense once the required green electrictiy is available.

Conclusion.

Always question: “Where is the hydrogen coming from?”

(page still being updated until 31 October 2021).

Leaving Peak Population: We May Never Return.

(DRAFT)

For the environment, peak population will be a nightmare. This page explores alternatives for the future of population, and the possibility that the current peak population will be the last time there are ever this many humans on Earth.

  • Introduction and Recap.
    • The Fragile Starting Point.
      • Endless Climate Summits: And We Need Them.
      • Don’t Mention Population.
    • Recap: Understanding How We Got To This Many People.
  • The Possible Futures:
    • The UN projection: stability.
    • Futurist Views:
      • The Most Common ‘Sci-Fi’ Future, continued growth, and the elimination of nature.
      • Collapse: The Dystopian Alternative.
    • Descent To The Plateaux: Leaving The Population Peak
  • to be continued….

Introduction and Recap.

The Fragile Starting Point: Should A Climate Summit Mention Population?

Endless Climate Summits: Governments Are Feeling The Need To Respond.

Recent human advances have provided great benefits, but have also come at huge environmental cost.

Huge strides in reducing infant mortality came too quickly for birth rates to compensate, producing a huge population explosion. In parallel, other advances such as plastics, automobiles and refrigeration have compounded the problem by increasing the environmental footprint per person.

There is now worldwide majority consensus, that the environment, under the strains of supporting over 7 billion people living as they do currently, is extremely fragile. Logically, two steps are required:

  1. Change how we live.
  2. Manage population going forward.

It has taken a very long time to get the current level of agreement on step 1: that we need to change how we live. Despite the at time of writing upcoming Glasgow Climate conference being the 26th climate summit (hence ‘Cop26’) , there still not universal agreement on a plan.

But Don’t Mention Population.

Step 2, population, described by many as the elephant in the room, is a topic avoided at current conferences, despite the widespread acknowledgement that population itself poses an existential threat to the environment.

David Attenborough: October 2018.

The naturalist David Attenborough once said the creature he finds “most extraordinary” is a nine-month-old human baby. But now he believes the planet can’t sustain many more.

In an interview for BBC Newsnight, the 92-year-old British broadcaster said: “In the long run, population growth has to come to an end. There are some reasons for thinking that will happen almost inevitably.

“But it is very alarming at the rate we’re going, and although people will say, ‘In the long run, we are going to stabilize’, they’re going to stabilize – as far as I can see – at a rather higher level than the Earth can really accommodate.”

BBC Newsnight, via churchandstate.org.uk.

It is true that action on how we live is more urgent, but what happens with population cannot be ignored.

Recap: Understanding How We Got Here.

I have been on a journey to understand what has been happening with global population since 2013.

I continue to uncover new surprises as I came to grok the pieces of the puzzle. The two most recent, and critical pieces of the puzzle were:

  • “Full planet”: The realisation that there has been a similar total amount of life since life on land began, and therefore increases in one species population always means decrease in the population of other species.
  • “Normal Population”: That most advanced life controls it rate of reproduction to reproduce at the optimum time and optimum number to ensure survival, and not beyond that number.

These follow from the realisation that, given it only takes a few thousand years of exponential population growth for any creature have enough individuals to occupy every millimetre of the surface of the earth, and even humans have been here for hundreds of thousands of years, there has been enough time to grow the population from just two people and carpet the entire earth with humans, or any other organism, time after time after time.

If it was our nature to reproduce until we overpopulate the planet, then this would have happened long ago. The reality is humans, like other advanced animals have managed to maintain a ‘normal population’ that results in a sustainable existence. While reducing infant mortality was worth almost any cost, doing so triggered the recent and abnormal population explosion.

That population explosion is coming to an end, as indicated by a return to ‘peak child‘.

Ending the explosion is only part of the solution, as we are still overpopulated.

On one hand, normally unusual population booms in nature soon end, population return to normal population, and the environment recovers.

But we have never seen a global population boom like this before, and the trigger for the boom remains in place, even though humans seem to be adapting birth rates to match the new normal of almost all children surviving.

The Possible Futures:

The UN projection: stability.

There are many graphs plot population growth as asymptotically approaching zero, as if stable population is the lowest rate of reproduction possible.

With everyone alive today born during a population explosion, and their parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and great great grandparents only ever experiencing a population explosion, it is perhaps understandable that even stable population seems a foreign concept, despite thousands of years of history revealing that stable population is the normal reality.

Perhaps in this context, it makes sense that the UN, with all the politics of member states at play, is reluctant to predict any population reduction. There is a cost to population reduction, for leaders of government, for big business, and for the extremely wealthy. Although these groups are small in number, they make up for it in influence, and do need delicate handling.

The difference between UN projections, and those such as Deutsche Bank who are financially motivated with no real need to watch politics, can be seen in this data.

Note this data, is now 10 years old, and that the journalist felt that, despite the projections for the year now seen as critical, 2050, being almost identical, that the difference between projections was the difference between “out of control” population, and “no problem”. The difference in reality is the size of the problem beyond 2050.

Futurist Views:

The Most Common ‘Sci-Fi’ Future, continued population growth, and the elimination of nature.

With future fiction, a genre of science fiction, when a positive future is envisaged, the future Earth almost always has a population that has continued to increase, potentially well beyond the carrying capacity of the Earth, where the number of inhabitants makes experiencing nature simply not feasible given the number of humans who would want to experience nature at the same time. Imagine your favourite wilderness area. If you visit with your family it is wonderful, but if 1,000 other families want to visit at the same time, it is no longer wilderness.

Yet this future of a crowded Earth filled with humans who never get to experience nature is the most common science fiction view of a positive future.

Examples: Fifth Element, Total Recall,

Population Collapse: The Dystopian Alternative.

From H.G Wells “Time Machine”, through “Planet of the Apes” and “Logan’s Run”, and to “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent”, stories of a future where an inevitable apocalypse that dramatically reduces population in the future is a very common way to picture the future of humanity.

Descent To The Plateaux: Leaving The Population Peak.

Yet there is another possible future. Back in the section on the UN version of the future, I referenced a BBC article with projections and assessments of future population back in 2013.

In just those almost 10 years, “births per woman” numbers have fallen to 1.1 in several countries, which given the required rate for population stability is around 2.3, suggests that, not only have major organisations predicted a future when population moves naturally towards a sustainable number of humans, the predictions are being supported by reality.

Consider the following:

  • Fertility rates and sperm counts are falling worldwide, including in areas not linked to a toxic environment.
  • Family sizes continue to fall globally.
  • There are an increasing number of couples not desiring children at all.

Understanding my perspective on what is happening requires reading “normal population“, but there is significant supporting data.

Conclusion: To be continued….

I will update this page progressively over the coming week. There is quite a lot more to add, including the economic implications….

Normal Population: A rule of nature is broken right now.

This page explores how, despite all other complex organisms on earth reaching a ‘normal population’ level, humanity seems to continue population growth.

Introduction:

Normal Population in a nutshell.

The concept of a ‘Normal’ population is that the entire population of each species follows a similar growth pattern to an individual animal.

The normal growth pattern for an individual is for each individual to experience a growth phase, until reaching an adult size, and then to remain at approximately the same size from that time. Every individual animal is also a ‘colony of cells’, and continues making new cells for its entire life, but the population of cells reaches a point of stability at the end of the growth phase, and while new cells continue to be produced, for most of the individuals life there is a stable population of cells. From maturity the number of cells in the animal remains at a ‘normal’ population: cell population stability. New cells are always being produced, but once mature, this happens only fast enough to continue the stable population. The average cell in a human is around 7 years old, even if the human is 70 years old. The same ‘person’ even though almost all the cells are new. When there is damage, there can be more rapid grown, just as when we lose skin cells, but once the damage is repaired, cancer aside, cell reproduction goes back to just the rate required for population stability.

The population grows to ‘normal population’, and then cell production naturally drops to the level required to achieve population stability, just as cells populations do in an individual adult. If the population is temporality reduced, the population will recover and again stabilize.

The concept of normal population, is that the entire species can also be considered as a living organism that grows the population of individuals until maturity when ‘normal population’ is reached, and then there is population stability.

Real World Example: Humpback Whales.

As an example, consider humpback whales. The population of humpbacks in the south Atlantic ocean fell from an estimated 23,000 to 34,000 in 1830 to 440 by in the late 1950s, and has since recovered to an estimated 99% of their previous population. This is 5.7 doublings of population is less than 70 years, or one doubling every 12 years. Despite their ability to double the population once every 12 years, and having existed in the Earths oceans without any significant predators prior to whaling for well over 1 million years, which is enough time to double in population 83,000 times, their population stopped doubling after within 15 doublings even if there were only 2 whales 1 million years ago. Clearly there is a normal whale population, and as these whales have not decimated their plankton food source and there there an not whales continually dying of starvation, the ‘normal’ population is not a result of deaths of whales or running out of food. Some natural process results in an whales growing in population up to an optimum number, as also happens with elephants, lions, or any other animal.

Despite every animal on Earth having had more than enough time to overpopulation many times over, most animals reach a ‘natural’ population level, at which point they only reproduce at a level that results in a stable population.

The Population: “Missing Puzzle Piece”.

Researching the history of human population uncovers a puzzle, and normal population finally provides a solution to that puzzle.

I have been exploring the state of global population since 2014, as outlined in the my population journey. Initially motived by the passionate sound of alarm by David Suzuki, I soon had my first surprise on learning that rather than follow a path towards annihilation as highlighted by David Suzuki, population growth rates had fallen towards a level of population stability.

I then learnt that the recent population explosion was an aberration, and the human population over time is normally remarkably stable. In the words of the great medical researcher and statistician Hans Rosling:

People in the past never lived in ecological balance with nature, they died in ecological balance with nature. It was utterly tragic!

Hans Rosling (see video, 19m)

The puzzle emerged: how did people manage to be born in appropriated numbers to match deaths for that ecological balance.

Doing the maths, it becomes obvious that for any animal in nature, exponential growth is impossible, because the timescales are too long. Just 63 population doublings in population takes any species from 2 individuals, to 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 individuals, which for anything beyond microscopic life, would fully cover the surface of all land and oceans of the Earth.

On a planet billions of years old, every living thing has had more than enough time for way, way beyond 64 doublings, and no species exists in the numbers that would result from continual doubling in population at even a fraction of the rate that species can double in population. Clearly, exponential growth over any significant time is impossible, and all life has some mechanism for population stability.

Plants, and some other organisms are resource constrained, which makes overpopulation impossible for those organisms. But for a huge range of species, from the bacteria in David Suzuki’s petri dish, through to humanity, population growth beyond a sustainable level is not only possible, but inevitable without some mechanism limit reproduction to exist in “ecological balance with nature”.

The missing puzzle becomes: how is it possible that most organisms can exist in a state of population stability?

Growth Cycles In Nature: The Concept of ‘Normal Population’.

Observations of nature: Did Elephant or other wild animal populations keep growing before humans?

I existed my entire life until recently, assuming that reproduction just blindly produced offspring in some fixed ratio relative to the parents my entire live until stopping and considering the alternative.

If we look at the populations of animals such as elephants in areas where there was not habitat destruction of poaching by humans, all evidence is the populations are stable. This is the same from whales in the ocean pre-whaling, through to polar bears and penguins. Plants and animals have flourished in natural habitats without constant population growth, and give the length of time these organisms have existed, if there was population growth then every habitat would be overrun. The reality is we see that population growth is not ubiquitous in nature, and at least almost all species manage a stable population when the environment is stable. This suggests either all species are resource constrained, or that there are natural mechanisms that control population growth.

The Mechanism for ‘Normal Population’.

Observation suggests that most living things tune their rate of reproduction to produce a stable population level.

The proposal is that evolution has resulted in many living things having evolved the ability to regulated their population at a desired ‘normal’ level.

How could this work? In practice, achieving a stable population would requires a feedback mechanism, so that when the population is below the ‘normal’ level, reproductive rate increases, and when the population exceeds the ‘normal’ level, reproductive rate falls. So for this idea to be reality, there must be examples in nature of mechanisms to control growth rates.

The Human Body As A Model: Growth Stops at Maturity, unless repairs are needed.

Consider how an individual experiences growth. For the first few years, growth is rapid, and then during teenage years, we stop growing, and spend the entire rest of our lives without further growth. It is not as simple as we stop growing, because while it seems possible for brain cells to last our entire lives, even bone cells only last 20 years, many other cells only last days. Our bodies are a population of cells from a series of generations. Cell production is continuous, takes place at varying rates for different cell types, but once we are adults, manages to produce cells at just the right rate for a stable population.

Further, consider what happens with skin cells when the skin is damaged. New skin cells are produced at an accelerated rate. If the accelerated rate continued, there would be excess growth around the wound, but once the wound heals, the growth rate returns to normal.

Mechanisms of Population Control at the Cellular Level: Contact inhibition of proliferation.

Some mechanisms of population control at the cellular level are well known. Contact inhibition of proliferation, a clear and simple example of population control, is where the density of cells in a given region controls the speed at which cells reproduce, with signalling between cells playing a key role. Although we are still learning all the details of ‘contact inhibition’, including having learnt that actual contact is not required, it is clear that population density can directly inhibit population growth at a cellular level.

Just as too many organisms endangers the entire colony, too many cells also endangers the entire organism, and without a mechanism to stop cell reproduction, our bodies would have cancer like growths or actual cancers.

Contact inhibition of proliferation, that is, the phenomenon that cells stop proliferating upon contact formation has been described several decades ago (Fisher and Yeh, 1967), but the underlying mechanisms are only now emerging. Importantly, loss of contact inhibition is a hallmark of cancer.

Science Direct

As discussed in ‘life in the colonies‘, in fact we are all colonies of cells and what happens at a cellular level normally propagates even to the level of societies.

Mechanisms of Population Control in Animals: Kangaroos as an example.

Today in Australia the population of kangaroos is a problem for farmers, however it should be considered that, despite kangaroos in Australia having had 24 million years to grow their populatio , the Europeans did not arrive to a country overrun by kangaroos. While there are now more kangaroos than desired by farmers, that is partly as farmers raise not kangaroos, but sheep and cattle, and they all eat the same food.

In fact, the kangaroo population manages to reduce to a ‘drought normal’ in response to drought, and return to ‘non-drought normal’ when droughts end, without any assistance from humans.

Periods of extreme drought may delay the onset of maturity in female kangaroos and lead to suppression of their fertility cycles. At the same time most fertile females cease to breed. As a drought worsens, fewer and fewer females have joeys either at foot or in their pouches.

After two years of drought a population may include females aged three years or more which have never produced young, while none of the kangaroos in the area would be younger than two, the precise duration of the drought.

Australia’s Amazing Kangaroos and the Birth of Their Young

That droughts last several years in Australia allows kangaroos to provide a clear example of how large mammals can not only maintain a ‘normal’ population, but even adjust to a ‘different normal’, in this case for the duration of a drought, and then return to ‘regular normal’ when the drought ends:

Following rainfall and growth of new herbage, kangaroos come into breeding condition almost immediately. However, it can take as long as eight years for kangaroos, even though prolific breeders, to reach their pre-drought numbers again.

Australia’s Amazing Kangaroos and the Birth of Their Young

Alternatives to ‘Normal Population’: Predation and Resource Constraint.

Resource Constraint.

David Suzuki: Bacteria in a petri dish 2010.

It sounds simple, the number of organisms is limited by available resources. In fact, this simple model does appear to apply for some living organisms.

Recall the original “bacteria in a petri dish” by David Suzuki? This example highlights both that the bacteria do demonstrate resource constraint, and the limitations of relying on resource constraint for population control. Unless the constrained resources can be renewed from zero, like new sunlight each day, population will continue to increase exponentially until the constraint is reached, completely exhausting the resource. Then there will be the catastrophe of maximum population and zero resource. Relying on resource constraint for population control is often going to be a path to extinction.

Consequently, observation reveals most complex organisms have evolved population control that avoids the problems of relying on resource constraint. Even ignoring the fact that relying on resource constraint will completely devastate the critical resource, we simply do not see animals where the population is control mechanism is a significant number of deaths by starvation due to lack of resources. If population control was a result of only resource constraint work, there would always be too many lions in a safari park and a given percentage would always be dying of starvation, and when we went into a national park, we would see a percentage of dying starving animals. Further, the lions would continue to populate unsustainably devouring all their prey.

What we actually see is that, as with the kangaroos, animals seem to manage their reproduction to produce only the number of offspring that the resources will sustainably support.

Constraint by Predation.

One alternative to a species controlling its own population would be external control from predation. Certainly for many animals, a reduction in the number of predators will see population numbers increase, which suggests at least two possible explanations for this observation:

  1. The species is has no population control mechanism other than predation.
  2. The range of reproductive rates of the species has evolved to allow for predation.

The first explanation has three problems. Firstly, it is natural that the species would evolve before predators for their species exist, so they would have nothing to prevent catastrophic population growth prior to predators appearing. Secondly, while predation would slow growth, there is no way it would automatically result in a stable population, as any time the population of the species grows, survival rate from predation would increase, resulting in even more population growth, and a decline in population would result in a higher rate of predation leading to extinction. Thirdly, this mechanism breaks down with apex predators, for whom predation provides no population control, and so apex predators would continue population growth until the wipe out all of their prey.

The second explanation seems far more likely. That species do have another mechanism of population control that when combined with predation produces a stable result, but that other mechanisms may not be sufficient when predator numbers change dramatically.

Population Growth from a human Perspective.

Why Can’t We As Individuals Keep Growing?

Imagine a human growing up without any adults as a reference. Year after year this human gets larger. Why would this person assume that at a certain age they will stop growing? I can imagine it would be disturbing for such an individual, having experienced year after year of increased growth, to observe their growth decrease and eventually stop. In such a situation, would you wonder if you were dying? Or worry if something was wrong with you to stop you growing?

Or perhaps, this lone individual human would notice that it seems normal for other animals to reach a ‘normal’ size at maturity, and then exist at that same size for the rest of their life?

Don’t We Notice “Normal Populations” in Nature?

Or maybe the human wouldn’t learn from what happens with other animals. Humans have habit of assuming we are beyond the rest of nature, and can seem that we have not learnt about population growth from observing other animals. We don’t expect the populations of other living things to just keep growing, and we don’t expect their lack of population growth to be result of significant starvation, yet it is not common to consider what this means for humanity.

When I walk though a national park, I have never even though about the fact that the number of lizards in that park has remained basically the same for millions years, because I assumed that like us humans have lately, all animals must always increase in population. Of course when you think about it, clearly it is impossible for these species to have been increasing in number for millions of year, but I never thought about it.

But I had also not thought about the fact that when I enter a national park, there is no abundance of animals dead from starvation as a consequence animals having too many young. When there are fires or other disasters naturalists all talk of populations recovering, but as humans we don’t think about how these populations reach a ‘normal’ level and then remain at that level.

Somehow, we have animals all around us with ‘normal populations’, without it occurring to us to ask “do we have a normal population?”

Human Population: Continuous Growth, or ‘Normal Population’.

It Can Look like Resource Constrained Continuous Growth: But its not!

There is that David Suzuki model of population growth like bacteria in a petri dish, which looks a lot like t human population growth of 1960, or even 1980. Human population growth has been at 2% per year a rate of doubling every 34 years! Clearly unsustainable, unrestrained growth that will soon result in all resources being decimated!

But then, stepping back, doubling every 34 years would produce 64 doubling in just over 2,000 year, so we would expect at least 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 humans by now, even if there were only two humans just over 2,000 years ago! We should have at least 18,000 humans per square metre of the entire earth!

It turns out, through most of history, population growth was almost non-existent, and then we have a had a recent explosion.

This seems the exact opposite of what is expected. Instead of growth before reaching a ‘normal population’, humanity had a boost of growth long after reaching ‘normal population’.

Full Human Population History: The Reality Of Human Population Growth.

If we consider humans as a species that evolved around 300,000 years ago, we should have been able to reach our ‘normal’ population within at most 10,000 years.

Yet, although normally very gradual, there has been continued population growth. Discounting the recent population explosion since 1801 for the moment, to go from two humans as to around 1 billion humans in 1801 would be an annual growth rate of only 0.007% per annum. That is assuming continuous homogenous growth, which seems unlikely. But there is still a long term trend of very gradual growth, and that can’t happen with every species, or the world would be getting fuller and fuller, and it is not.

An increase in population of one species would normally occur following a step in evolution, and result a decline in the population of other species displaced by the new improved more evolved species. With humans, it is not the species that has continued to evolve, but the societies of people that have evolved.

Looking more closely, human societies have driven population increases due to changes:

  • Increased range due to migration.
  • Improved tools in the progression from Palaeolithic age to Neolithic age.
  • The invention of farming.
  • The rise of civilizations.
  • Continual introduction of of new technology.
  • Propagation of new technology societies.

So to put all of this together, the history of human population is linked to the evolution of not the human species, but instead evolution of human society. The pattern is that human populations:

  • Are completely static for most of human history.
  • Exhibit very slow growth are evolution of society increases range and slowly improves technologies.
  • Has seen bursts of growth following major society evolution such as the introduction of farming.
  • Saw unprecedented growth during the population explosion from around 1800 to year 2000.

Population And The Evolution of Human Societies.

Normal population should see a ‘normal population’ quickly achieved, followed by population stability until evolution results in a new species.

People have not really evolved, but society certainly has evolved. In many ways, rather than the species ‘homo sapiens’ being the organism, the organism is the society. Practices adopted by each society changes both the ability to compete with other species for resources, and ‘normal population’ that can be sustainably supported within a given environment. The entire basis of ‘normal population’ is that the control of population evolved to protect the organism that is the colony. Just as individuals stop growing at maturity, societies stop growing at maturity.

But when a society evolves into a new society, just as when an individual gives birth to offspring, the limitation of growth is reset, and the society grows to a new maturity, just as would an individual baby.

Professor Hans Rosling: Historically, deaths resulted in an ecological balance with births.

As the evolved society grows to a new ‘normal’ people can increase family sizes, lifting population levels. Still, in all the more recent human history where we have statistics, population levels were remarkably stable up until the recent population explosion. In fact, population levels have been so stable, that either it has just been an amazing coincidence, or humans also have some mechanism that has ensured births are in balance with deaths.

Historically, we can see over time the human population has grown at specific times, but the long term stability suggests long periods of population stability. As a ‘colony’ or society, there has been major evolution, sometimes gradually, and sometimes in great leaps. Population ‘normal’ does seem to increase incredibly gradually when society evolves gradually, and move ahead in leaps with breakthroughs to society like the introduction of farming.

Population Explosion: The Breaking of ‘Normal Population’.

An initial assessment could be that the industrial revolution must be an evolution of society that triggered a new, higher ‘normal population’ for human beings, so in response the population expanded. Improved farming techniques able to support a larger population, either reduced deaths from starvation, or triggered people to have more children.

Reality is, deaths from starvation were not reduced during the explosion, and instead, some countries experiencing a population boom, such as China and Bangladesh experienced famines, as a result of increased population. There is a link for the population boom causing starvation, and no link for a reduction in starvation causing a population boom.

Further, analysis of birth rates shows that birth rates declined during the population explosion. An increased ‘normal population’ effect, should trigger increased birth rates. Perhaps there rare locations where birth rates rose somewhat, but if so, this was more than offset by almost all of the world experiencing reduced birth rates.

All evidence is that that main driver for increased population, was the reduction of infant mortality. The goal in almost eliminating infant mortality, is the reduction of suffering, and the resulting population explosion was a side effect, not a motivation. This means that the previous balance of population was broken by improved an improved medical system, and that the population explosion was not humanity adjusting to a new level of ‘normal population’.

The End Of The Population Explosion: ‘Normal Population’ Resumed?

With infant mortality largely eradicated, far less children are required for births to be in balance with deaths. It does seem that birth rates are adjusting downward, to restore ‘normal population’, and generate birth rates that are again produce a population in balance.

What we have seen, is that when families needed 6.0 (six) children to maintain the population due mostly to infant mortality, families had 6.0 (six) children. Now, with infant mortality down to a level where only 2.3 children are required for a stable population, families globally are having only 2.3 children. Is this a new coincidence? Or is this evidence of a mechanism for ‘normal population’ in humans?

The Mechanisms Of Stability and ‘Normal Population’.

Mechanisms In Nature.

Kangaroos do not get together and debate “drought headed this way, we all should agree to hold off having children”. Instead, the reduction in offspring is the result of instincts. Many plants an animals reproduce either only, or predominantly in spring. Their biology could allow them to reproduce throughout the year, but they are ‘triggered’ to reproduce only when there is the greatest chance of survival of their offspring. Reproduction does not just happen all the time as with the bacteria, sophisticated animals and even plants reproduce in response to stimuli. It also logically follows that they reproduce not at the optimum time, but in the optimum number. Any animal that reproduces in numbers that would destroy the environment soon becomes extinct.

Are Humans Beyond Nature?

Are we humans really that much different? Isn’t our desire to have children also driven by instinct? Yes, following those instincts may lead to some of the greatest joys in life, but it still makes sense that these are instincts. Instincts that in just over 100 years have result in our joy being fulfilled by giving birth to far less children than in all of previous history.

I can see three possible factors altering the number of children people have:

  • The number of children people feel the instinct to want to have.
  • Sperm counts in males.
  • Conception rates in females.

What is the reason an increasing number of people choose to be child-free? Is the instinct to have children influenced by environment? Perhaps there is more to the global decline in male sperm rates than some people have considered. The most popular theory is the decline is due to chemicals in the environment, but I am not the first to consider it could at least in part be due to a natural response to being above ‘normal’ population?

When Mechanisms Fail: From ‘Normal Population’ to Plagues and Population Explosions.

Population stability results from a balance between births and deaths. Deaths are mostly determined by environment, with the species in question needing to adjust births to match deaths, over which the species itself normally has no control. Disease, predation, and natural disasters can all impact deaths, and as adjusting births takes time, there can be near extinction events or population explosions and plagues, but over time, populations return to normal, and the environment recovers.

Has the Human Explosion Exceeded ‘Normal Population’?

The Recent Population Explosion in Perspective.

To recap, humanity has just experienced the greatest population ever. The industrial revolution is often given credit for supporting this population explosion, but data clearly shows rather than a rise in birth rates in response to people being motivated to have more children, people had less children during the population explosion.

Perhaps the advances of the industrial revolution caused birth rates to fall more slowly as we adjusted to the ‘new normal’ of almost all children surviving, but the increase in population was all a result of birth rates not falling quickly enough to adjust to the new smaller number of children required. The medical advances were rapid, and resulted in saving lives of children already born that would have perished without these advances. It would be impossible for people to adjust the number of children they had in anticipation of medical advances.

Clearly, even if there was no basis for an increase in population, solving the problem of infant mortality would result in an huge lift in population whether desirable or not, as people adjust to the new ‘normal’ number of children.

Statistics on birth rates show we are again at ‘peak child’ and population stability has returned, but now we have an increased population, that, for the first time, was not increased by human birth rates in response to a readiness for a population increase.

Now we are faced with this hugely increased population, whether society is ready for it or not, and the result is that we are currently not able to exist sustainably. The definition of carrying capacity is the number of a species that can exist sustainably. Clearly, we are currently over carrying capacity, and thus we have overpopulation.

You would never trade sustainability for saving all those infants from death. Solving infant mortality was worth the price of resultant overpopulation. But now we are in a race to change our society so that the current population is sustainable, before the damage to the environment is too great.

The Environment Always Recovers From Plagues In Nature, So No Problem?

The human population explosion is unusual as humans it was largely a result of improvements in medicine, but nature also gets out of balance and can produce population explosions, and populations normalise, and the environment recovers. Every time. Locust plague, mouse plague, whatever, the population normalises, and the environment recovers.

On that basis, the human population should normalise to a level that ends the damage to the environment, and then the environment will recover. But there are two potential problems:

  • Humans are now a global society, so this is global population explosion, and the environmental damage is global.
  • Humanity is not ready to accept solving the problem with through population reduction, and in reality, in this case, population reduction alone is most likely not a viable solution anyway.

The reality is the problem of a global overpopulation of humans is complex, and there is already significant focus on solving some of the most pressing problems. However, further interference with nature to exacerbate the root cause of many environmental problems. overpopulation, is an ongoing risk.

Conclusion, and Where Next?

The evidence for ‘normal population’ is compelling, as is the evidence that humanity had a population explosion that breaks the rules of ‘normal population’.

The planet needs a solution to us having broken with ‘normal population’. We either need to find a way to bring or ‘normal population’ up in number to match the number of people we have, or just manage things hoping ‘normal population’ will see the number of humans naturally return to an appropriate population. Or perhaps, some combination of both.

What we do not need, is economic greed of the few who would benefit, driving a push for further population increases with a total disregard for nature.

Population on a Finite World: No Vacancy.

Every niche on Earth where live is possible is fully populated to maximum capacity, and has been that way since within less than 100,000 years after life was first possible. Since then, ‘moving in’ has meant displacing the current inhabitants, in process Darwin declared “survival of the fittest”.

Is it easy to overlook that environments not fully occupied by “us” are always already fully occupied by “others”.

This is an exploration of how all environments becomes fully populated, how humanity has our current population and what we have needed to displace to get this far, and need to display to continue to displace to continue population growth.

  • Rules of Population Constraints on our finite planet.
    1. 100 doublings of population is beyond the maximum possible on Earth.
    2. If even 60 doublings were possible, even pandas or humans, could from 2 individuals within 3,000 years produce a population that would completely cover the surface of the Earth.
    3. Every living organism has had more than ample time for 100 doublings, and is normally population constrained by the limitations of a finite environment.
    4. Every niche for life, is full to capacity, except following catastrophes or major disruptions.
    5. Population growth of any species, requires environmental changes, or evolution enabling the ‘invasion’ of environment previously populated by of other species .
    6. Continued Population growth is only possible through continued reduction in populations of other species.
    7. Every species must find population stability at some point while limited to one finite planet.
  • What about humans? Are We exempt from the rules?
    • Human Population Growth, how does it continue?
    • Alternating Times of Stability and Times of Population Growth Through Technical Evolution.
    • Ignorant Displacement: Those displaced go unseen.
    • History of human population: growth steps through colonisation.

Rules of Population Constraints on our finite planet

Rule 1: 100 doublings of population is beyond the maximum possible on Earth.

One million is 1,000 times 1,000. Which means that an organism which could double once in population every 1,000 years, can double 1,000 times in a million years. Humans can clearly double in population not only within 1,000 years, but as proven in the 20th century, can double population in significantly less that 100 years. Yet, doubling population even 100 times is more than enough for any species to totally overrun the Earth. So what have humans been doing all this time? How come it took humans so long to reach 1 billion? In fact, why is the Earth not just totally overrun?

Lets rewind and check these numbers.

The ‘wheat and chessboard problem‘ illustrates how large numbers grow by repeated doubling, also known as exponential growth.

The wheat and chessboard considers doubling 63 times, in 63 steps from step 1 to step 64, doubling each step. One grain of wheat on the first square (20=1)as the starting value, leads to 2 grains on the 2nd square (21=2), 4 on the 3rd (22=4), 8 on the 4th (23=8), all the way to 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 on the 64th and last square (263). So a single living organism would result in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 organisms after 63 doublings.

Given the total land and ocean surface area of the Earth 510,064,472 km2, and each square kilometre is 1 million square meters, the 63 steps results in 18,082 organisms per square metre of the entire surface of the Earth, which for those who do not speak metric, is over 180,000 organisms per square foot.

So starting from two humans, 62 doublings would result in 18,000 humans for every square metre of the Earth.

Not very comfortable for humans, but possible for something very small or perhaps microscopic. Allowing the 100 doubling steps would generate 2,485,275,234,437,872 organisms per square metre ( over 25 quadrillion per square foot) or 2,485,275,234 organisms per square millimetre of the entire surface of the Earth.

So 100 doublings would overrun the earth even with microscopic animals:

  • 2.5 billion organisms for every square millimetre of the entire surface of the Earth, as a result of doubling 100 times.
  • …or
  • So 25 quadrillion organisms for every square foot of the entire surface of the Earth, as a result of doubling 100 times.

For larger animals such as humans, even filling the ‘chessboard’ is not required, as just 60 doublings would mean over 1,000 individuals per square metre of the entire land and ocean surface.

Rule 2: 100 doublings need not take very long, even for humans.

Relative to length of time life has existed on Earth, 100 doublings of even slow population grown animals does not add up to very long time, relative to planet over 4 billion years old.

Every organism must have a mechanism to multiply, or they could never have reached their current population level, or recover population level in the event of catastrophe or disruption. Past population growth can be used to calculate a population doubling time. For example, pandas have been shown to be able to increase population 17% in a decade. A 17% increase means 117 pandas for every 100 after 10 years. Since 1.17 to the power 4.5 is greater than 2, then pandas at that rate would double in population in 4.5 decades, which is a similar to the population growth rate to humans between 1923 and 1972.

The population growth rate for humans makes sense. If every couple has 5 children, which is below the historic average prior to the 20th century, and if 4 of those 5 children live to have their own children, then humans would double in population every generation, or a doubling approximately every 30 years. Just one child above replacement rate would result in a doubling every 50 years.

But a but a doubling in population every 50 years would result in 60 doublings in just 3,000 years producing more than 1,000 individuals for every square metre of the earth, which with animals the size of either pandas or homo sapiens, would more than completely cover the surface.

For perspective, humans doubling at this rate, would have resulted in 100 doublings during the time of Ancient Egypt (over 5,000 years with almost 30 centuries as the leading civilization).

The takeaway is that every living organism, even us recently evolved homo sapiens, have had far more than enough time to double in population 100 times, and overrun the earth as a result.

Rule 3: Every living organism has had more than ample time for 100 doublings, and is normally population constrained by the limitations of a finite environment.

Every organism on Earth has had far more than sufficient time for 100 doublings of it population, but no organism has reached the incredible population number that would result if they kept doubling unconstrained.

Since, in a small time relative to how long species survive, exponential population growth can exceed the limits of the size of our finite environment on Earth, for almost the entire existence of any species, the population of the species will be at the limit possible given environmental constraints.

This means every organism has normally reached constraints that limit further population growth.

Rule 4: Excepting for shortly after catastrophes or major disruptions, every environmental niche is fully populated.

The times an organism would experience unconstrained or less constrained population growth are:

  • When a species first evolves, first reaches a new suitable environment, or evolves new traits overcoming prior constraints.
  • Following a major catastrophe or disruption that reduced the population below previous levels.
  • In the event of changes to the environment that alter constraints such as weather or climate events, or disruption of predators or competitors for resources.

As all similar environments are not necessarily connected, an organism can be new to an environment despite having existed for some time in similar environments.

When population changes are observed other a for a new species or species new to the environment, or following catastrophes or other major disruptions, the population change is as a result of changes to the constraints.

Changes to population constraints can be short term, such as weather events, long term such as ice ages and long term climate events, or the result of evolution as observed by Darwin, or evolution of technology such as stone tools, or farming.

Rule 5: Population growth of any species, requires environmental change or evolution enabling the ‘invasion’ of environment previously populated by of other species.

If every environment is fully populated, then the only way to increase population is to outcompete other species, or for the environment to expand.

Outcompeting other species requires some form of evolution, either of genetics or behaviours.

The first land plants and animals appeared about 400 million years ago, when land first became inhabitable due to the atmosphere finally having enough oxygen to block harmful radiation and provide for respiration.

Since that time, the land joined the oceans in seeing a succession of life has replaced previous forms of life, with each species that dominated a niche reaching, and then remaining at the capacity of that niche, before eventually being replaced by an improved species.

Rule 6: Continued Population growth is only possible through continued reduction in populations of other species.

The logical consequent of these rules is that growth beyond original constraints can only continue while a species can continue to partially or fully substitute for other species within their environmental niches.

Rule 7: Every species must find population stability at some point while limited to one finite planet.

Continuing to replace other species has a limit. Eventually there would be only one species.

Some species are automatically resource constrained from overpopulation. I suspect this applies to all plants, as a major resource, sunlight, cannot be ‘overconsumed’. However even a population of butterflies can reach a population level where their caterpillars consume all food in their environment, and as their food needs time to grow, this would leave no food for the next generation.

All organisms need to ensure they live sustainably, and for any organism that relies on existence of sufficient numbers of other organisms for food or coexistence, this means some mechanism to ensure they do not out compete the very organisms they rely upon.

What about humans? Are We exempt from these rules?

Human Population Growth, is it still in unconstrained growth?

It could appear that human population is still growing long after we should have reached our constraints.

With the pat t of humans can appear to have broken these rules. The theory says we humans should have reached a stable population close to 300,000 years ago, at which point population growth would stop unless humans continued to evolved to become ‘fitter’ for existing or new environments.

Yet human population growth still continues as was doubling every generation as recently as between in 1965-1972, and doubling every 50 years for half of the 20th century.

This would seem to suggest humans have never reached their limit, and our population is still growing unconstrained.

But further exploration reveals this recent growth follows pervious periods of population constraints. Homo Sapiens have existed for at least 300,000 years, which is sufficient for 6,000 doublings of population, yet if there were only 2 people 300,000 years ago, the population growth to 8 people billion now represents just 32 doublings in over 300,000 years. That would be a doubling at an average rate of less than once every 9,000 years.

To take 9,000 years to double the population requires an annual growth rate of around 0.008%. A rate so close to zero growth, that is far more likely the growth has mostly effectively zero, with occasional periods of real growth.

This means, most of the time, even the human population has had zero growth as been at a constrained level. But then, sometimes even populations that have reached a previous plateaux, experience additional growth.

In fact, looking at the history of human population growth, as far back as back as we have any data, we have never before seen population growth anywhere near the level that was seen in the 20th century.

But even excluding the recent population explosion, human population growth has extended far longer than the rules suggest, unless their has been an expansion of the environment, or evolution in some form.

Alternating Times of Stability and Times of Population Growth Through Technical Evolution.

Instead of a recent series of steps of biological evolution, humans have experienced technical evolution.

A list of some notable steps includes:

Note that even during periods of population stability, from 10,000BCE to 5,000BCE and from 200 BCE to 1600AD, there was still some population growth as humans managed to colonise more locations.

Ignorant Displacement: As Population Grows, The Displaced Go Unnoticed.

Our current society has evolved the technology to be ‘the fittest’ in almost any niches, that we can maintain a higher human population than ever before. We can also, per unit land, maintain a higher population of crops and livestock to feed us than ever before.

The downside is a history of not even seeing organisms displaced population increases are introduced.

In fact, historically even other humans displaced by humans have been repeatedly overlooked and/or underestimated. Despite that experts now believe between 10 and 16 million people lived above the Rio Grande in North America prior to Europeans arriving:

Few contemporaries agreed with Catlin’s lofty estimate [16 million] of the Indian population before contact with the white man. “Twaddle about imaginary millions,” scoffed one Smithsonian expert, reflecting the prevailing view that Indians were too incompetent to have ever reached large numbers. Alexis de Tocqueville’s cheery assertion that America before Columbus was an “empty continent… awaiting its inhabitants” was endorsed by no less than the U.S. Census Bureau, which in 1894 warned against accepting Indian “legends” as facts. “Investigation shows,” the bureau said, “that the aboriginal population within the present United States at the beginning of the Columbian period could not have exceeded much over 500,000.”

How Many People Were Here Before Columbus?

Even if there were only 500,000 people before Columbus, the nature of exponential population growth tell us, that as people had been in North America for around 30,000 years, the continent would have been populated up to the level of environmental constraints. Any land mass with even 3,000 years occupation will reach the maximum population possible for that society. Yet to people from Europe, America was ‘an empty continent’. Not only did the new arrivals not understand or see that the continent would be fully populated with the current population, they even failed to recognise the size of that population.

The new arrivals failed to recognise that this ‘new world’ continent was fully populated, and that their arrival must displace those living there already. In the 30,000 years since people first arrived in America, culture in free trading European/Middle Eastern/Asian society had managed to evolve 1,000 or perhaps even 2,000 years further in terms of dominating more of the environment, increasing population density and as a result displacing other organisms. The population of many species would need to decline in order to accommodate the influence of European/Middle Eastern/Asian evolution of society.

The spread to new territory and the impact on life before that spread highlights the changes humans had over time to the environment of Europe/Middle East/Asia, displacing other species as advances made humans the most ‘fit’ for ever more niches within the environment.

Delusions Shattered And Questions Raised.

Overview.

Calculating these numbers, has shattered some illusions I had previously been misled by, but has also raised some interesting questions still to be answered.

  • Shattered Delusions:
    • Both North America and Australia were fully populated prior to the arrival of Europeans.
    • I had thought population levels have been growing because the Earth had never been populated to capacity.
      • The reality is, Earth has been populated to capacity for the hundreds of thousands of years. Population increases result from changes to society that allow humans and their food to displace other species of life on Earth.
      • The question that arises is, has the recent unprecedented population explosion stayed within the bounds of the population now supported by our changed society, or has the change to infant mortality created an ‘overshoot’ resulting in overpopulation and the environmental damage that follows.
  • Questions:
    • As already covered, has the population explosion resulted in overshoot?
    • What does natural population constraint look like?

What is the process constraining natural population?

Consider our close relatives in the wild, chimpanzees, bonobos and even gorillas. To our knowledge, none of these animals was experiencing significant population growth prior to recent population decline due to habit loss. What stopped their population expanding, given that, like all species, their birth rates can achieve population growth where the population is lower than the constraint limit? There seems no evidence that starvation is the mechanism of population control, as we do not see a percentage of chimpanzees, bonobos or gorillas starving. If starvation was the mechanism of population control it would be everywhere throughout nature.

This topic to be further explored.

Conclusion: If it isn’t already, one day the ‘farm’ will be overcrowded.

Long before the first human walked the Earth, there was already ‘no vacancy’. For humanity to even exist, we had to outcompete and displace other living things. But is it our mission to replace every living thing possible until it is just us and the food we farm?

If our mission is to perpetually deliver economic growth as opposed to wealth per person, then yes, continual population growth is the simplest path to that mission.

However it may be that at some point, it feels like humanity is being ‘farmed’ to generate wealth for a small subset of people, at some point our farm will start to feel crowded to the point of existing like battery hens, rather than having our free range.

Solar and Wind: Renewables alone not a substitute for fossil fuels.

At least, not alone. Solar and Wind have proven to be successful partial cost effective substitutes for fossil fuels, neither wind nor solar is stored energy. Without adding stored energy, available on demand, it is impossible to reach the goal of removing reliance on fossil fuels.

Consider home solar. With solar panels you can reduce your electricity costs, but to go ‘off grid’, you need a battery or other energy storage for the solar power.

The same applies at state or national levels, to go ‘off grid’ again requires batteries or other storage of the energy. This is an exploration of the barriers that mean the ‘green’ technologies like solar and wind, alone will never allow exiting fossil fuels for power. To replace fossil fuels for power, it needs storage, and we are not there yet.

Continue reading “Solar and Wind: Renewables alone not a substitute for fossil fuels.”

Environmental Damage: The Overpopulation Indicator

In nature, we define overpopulation as when the population is beyond number the environment can sustainable without environmental damage.

Those warning of overpopulation, will often resort to warnings on the eventual starvation that would occur following environmental collapse. However, there are those who profit from overpopulation and are so rich they would not starve anyway, then point out ‘the world is not starving yet, so environmental collapse is fine!’ But can we risk the entire the world really becoming an Easter Island story.

To set things straight: famines are not a useful indicator of overpopulation.

Continue reading “Environmental Damage: The Overpopulation Indicator”

Overpopulation solutions? See it as a ratio, not a number.

As established in the previous exploration: Overpopulation, Starvation is the last symptom, overpopulation is exceeding ‘carrying capacity’.

This page follows from that previous page and looks at solutions to overpopulation, which are not limited to reducing the size of the population, but can also include increasing carrying capacity.

In summary:

  • The degree of overpopulation is the ratio between actual population, and carrying capacity, which is the maximum number the environment can support.
  • The ratio can be brought back below 1.0 either by reducing population, raising carrying capacity, or a mix of both.

Contents in detail:

  • Yes, we are overpopulated, and yes a solution matters.
    • Is ‘Exceeding carrying capacity’ a real problem?
    • The is no unlimited sustainability.
  • Overpopulation is a ratio, with two potential solutions:
    • managing population level: the number.
    • managing carrying capacity
      • ‘Going green’.
      • Climate Change and Global Warming.
      • Limits: Poultry Farms vs Humanity’s Future
      • Uncomfortable Carrying Capacity Increases
      • Comfortable Carrying Capacity Increases
  • Conclusion: There are serious consequences of the myth.
Continue reading “Overpopulation solutions? See it as a ratio, not a number.”

Overpopulation: starvation is the last symptom.

The Myth: Starvation is a good indicator of overpopulation. The Truth: In nature, we define overpopulation as when sustaining the population results in damage to the environment. There is no requirement for starvation, which would only be an outcome if damage to the environment disrupts food supplies. Starvation will be a consequence only when overpopulation has resulted in environmental collapse that will result in a rapid population decline. Starvation is useless as an indicator, by the time there is starvation all environmental food reserves have been consumed, and catastrophe is then unavoidable.

Focus on starvation as a symptom, most benefits those with per capita profits who wish to promote population growth for as long as possible, since focusing on the last problem, allows ignoring the population issue until that last moment. To focus on starvation, is to risk the planet being another Easter Island.

To set things straight: famines are not a useful indicator of overpopulation.

Using final outcomes to detect the problem means the problem remains hidden until it is too late to act. Starvation may be a final outcome, just as death is a final outcome of cancer. Starvation arrives too late to used to detect overpopulation. Declaring ‘the starving billions has not happened so we need not fear overpopulation’ is about as well advised as declaring ‘I am not dying yet, therefore I need take no precautions to prevent cancer’.

Environmental damage is the useful symptom, as control of population is on the right track, if we stay on track we can avoid catastrophe is largely already in place. It is not necessary to bury our heads in the sand.

Continue reading “Overpopulation: starvation is the last symptom.”

Finite World: Finite vs Unlimited.

Contents:

Finite: What does ‘Finite‘ actually mean?

The Key: Not Just Two Possibilities, but three.

Even in a mathematical context, there are three possibilities:

  1. Finite.
  2. Infinite.
  3. Undetermined.

Depending on context, infinite and undetermined can be equivalent, and in both cases, you not aware of any limit. Something only becomes ‘finite’ when you become aware there is a limit.

Dictionary Definition Of Finite: It depends on context.

While ‘finite’ and ‘infinite’ have mathematical definitions, dictionaries reveal that common usage extends beyond the mathematical definition. The dictionary definition of infinite includes “immeasurably or inconceivably great or extensive : INEXHAUSTIBLE” as well as “subject to no limitation”, and for finite we have “completely determinable in theory or in fact by counting, measurement, or thought” .

By example, as a human we can consider the number of times a person in the open can breathe as being infinite, even though the amount of oxygen in the air is finite so there is a theoretical limit, a person can breath ‘an inconceivably large number’ and still have no noticeable impact the level of oxygen.

The Working Definition of Finite for this context.

The meanings of finite and infinite depend on context, as outlined below, so to avoid ambiguity, in the context of these pages, ‘finite’ means:

Finite: ‘known to have a limit that could, in practice, conceivably be reached’.

Me

So yes, words have different meanings depending on context, but it this context, unless explicitly prefixed such as ‘theoretically finite’, ‘finite’ will mean with a known and potentially constraining limit.

Given the principle there are three possibilities, they become:

  1. Finite: known to have a limit that could, in practice be reached.
  2. Infinite: it is known the that limit cannot in practice be reached.
  3. Undetermined: there may be a limit, but if so, the limit has never been reached.

I would suggest that human nature is to assume that when the limit cannot be determined, then it will not in practice be reached, which means infinite and undetermined are seen as equivalent. In this context, the opposite of finite because ‘unlimited’.

Unlimited: Unconstrained by any known limit.

Again, me.

Again, words have different meanings depending on context, but it this context ‘unlimited’ will without any known constraining limit.

Finite World: When the world of humanity progressed from ‘undetermined’ to ‘finite’.

To the first people on Earth, it must have seemed that no resource was finite, virtually nothing had any known limit. It is not that people believing things infinite, it is that numbers seemed unknowable, and undetermined seemed equivalent to without limits.

There were always new lands to be discovered, hunting animals did not noticeably impact their population, nor did gathering fruit and vegetables make an impact. Fishing did not noticeably impact fish populations.

Most things remained finite until around 1650 CE. At that time no individual even knew of all the continents on Earth making even the amount of land seem unlimited. Sustainable was not a concept people needed to contemplate, as it seemed every thing humans did was inherently sustainable.

Fast forward to the 21st century and there has been a population explosion dramatically increasing the number of humans, and an industrial revolution increasing the impact individuals have on the planet. Now, most people see ‘sustainable’ as essential, but in surprisingly many ways, there are still people who do not, deep down accept the Earth is finite, and sustainability is essential.

Finite World and Sustainability: It is all relative.

Nothing is sustainable without constraints. Every ‘sustainable’ practice is only sustainable within limits as to the number of people who can engage in the practice and the length of time it can continue. In practice, ‘sustainable’ means ‘more sustainable’ rather than absolutely sustainable. Even ‘sustainable’ farming has a limit to the scale and thus the number people it can feed, and on a planet with a finite life, cannot exist forever.

A question becomes, to be ‘sustainable’ how many people can be supported and for how long? As an extreme example, even breathing air has a limit to the population size before it become unsustainable. There is always a window.

Some people see perpetual population growth as sustainable, and within a sufficiently small window of time it is sustainable. Others see burning fossil fuels as sustainable for as long as 50 years, and in their eyes that is sustainable, while younger people, of people who care about younger people, may require a longer time to be sustainable.

Then there are others who an in denial. Prior to around 1650 CE, everything seems sustainable, and it worked for so long then the same attitude can work today.

The Potential Scale and Impact of population growth: 7 trillion humans?

overpopulated_earth1

7 trillion looks like a typo, but no, the maths shows that either by continuing the actual global population growth levels typical the 20th century, or achieving 2% per year (or far less than what is currently happening in Nigeria), the maths produce this number in a relatively short time!

Alternatively, consider that if we had peak 20th century population growth rates from 1650 until now, we would already have 1 trillion humans.

While population growth itself is currently not the threat that it once was, we are still overpopulated, as any suggestion that returning to the out of control population growth of the 1960s and 1970s would cause even more long term damage to a world with 8 billion people, than that growth did on a world with 4 billion people.

Continue reading “The Potential Scale and Impact of population growth: 7 trillion humans?”

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