Dear Colleagues - I am forwarding a review of a very important book which makes some very frightening predictions. I learned a lot from the review. You will too. The problem we face is not just that of global warming and climate change but the real challenge of "the limits to growth" as formulated by the Club of Rome study of the same name in 1972. I urge you to read this review and Prof. Smil's book. At the end of the review I have added the 1988 Dagomys Declaration of the Pugwash Movement that I had a hand in formulating. When we formulated that declaration as the cold war was winding down we recognized two threats to human survival namely that of a global nuclear war and that of environmental degradation. I believe that threat to human survival is much greater from the natural limits to growth to our species living in what is after all a finite ecosystem. Thank you for your kind attention,
Robert K. Logan
Chief Scientist - sLab at OCAD
Prof. Emeritus - Physics - U. of Toronto
> "... a population cannot grow forever in a finite ecosystem—a progressive system feedback of starvation, predation, and disease limits uncontrolled growth. The global human population has now nearly tripled since 1950, and economic activity increased tenfold, leading many to suggest that humanity is heading toward a population and consumption overshoot ..."
> Science 339 no. 6125 pp. 1276-1277, 15 March 2013; DOI:10.1126/science.1235886
> BOOKS ET AL.
> Approaching the Limits
> Steven W. Running
> Harvesting the Biosphere What We Have Taken from Nature by Vaclav Smil MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2012. 315 pp. $29, £19.95. ISBN 9780262018562.
> The reviewer is at the Numerical Terradynamic Simulation Group, University of Montana, Missoula MT 59812, USA.
> E-mail: [log in to unmask]
> One of the foundational principles of biology is that a population cannot grow forever in a finite ecosystem—a progressive system feedback of starvation, predation, and disease limits uncontrolled growth. The global human population has now nearly tripled since 1950, and economic activity increased tenfold, leading many to suggest that humanity is heading toward a population and consumption overshoot (resource depletion and correction, as economists would say). In Harvesting the Biosphere, Vaclav Smil traces the historical development of human consumption of biological resources and evaluates whether we could be approaching important global limits. Smil (an economist at the University of Manitoba) has written several books on global energy and other resource issues; here, he focuses on human consumption of the plant and animal life and whether current trends are sustainable.
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> Intensively farmed. Agricultural lands in Minas Gerais, Brazil (10 February 2011).
> CREDIT: ISS026E025373/IMAGE SCIENCE AND ANALYSIS LABORATORY, NASA-JOHNSON SPACE CENTER
> To begin, Smil addresses whether the total plant and animal biomass on Earth can be measured adequately. Of greater value is the annual plant production of new biomass [net primary production (NPP)], which serves as the foundation of all food chains. The introduction of Earth-observing satellites in the 1980s provided the first defensible measure of plant growth at global scales, and Smil illustrates the latest capability with a NASA image of global annual NPP (which should have been reproduced in color). Smil traces the history of global estimates of NPP through to the now commonly accepted range of 53 to 59 Pg carbon per year for land and 50 Pg carbon for oceans, estimates rather well constrained by mass balancing the global carbon cycle with the atmosphere and human emissions.
> Smil next addresses the key question of what fraction of this global NPP humans currently consume. He critiques the methodology of estimates of the human appropriation of NPP (HANPP), beginning with Peter Vitousek et al.'s original (1986) calculation of 32 to 40% (1). Most authors define HANPP rather expansively as all biospheric production used for human benefit, a conceptually satisfying but methodologically challenging interpretation that includes crops, forest plantations, grazing land, and the negative impacts of habitat destruction and environmental degradation. Choosing to estimate HANPP using only agricultural and forestry harvest statistics, Smil arrives at a lower estimate of 17 to 20%, a level that might appear to be sustainable.
> However, one cannot assume that all of global NPP is potentially available for human use. Some regions of the Amazon or Siberia, for example, are too remote for harvest. More important, do we really want to plow and clear the whole world? Most of us want to preserve some natural systems for biodiversity, ecosystem services (such as water and air purification), recreation, or aesthetic beauty. Human settlements and infrastructure, termed impervious surfaces, presently cover only 0.44% of Earth's continental surface, whereas agriculture and grazing lands cover about 40%. Although global NPP currently appears stable, Smil suggests the great potential for pollution, exhaustion of soil nutrients, and irrigation depletion to substantially reduce the future NPP available for humanity. In addition, bioenergy is emerging as a massive new demand on NPP. Should fossil fuels become scarce, expensive, or unwanted, biofuels could, if allowed by policy and economic strategies, consume all remaining available NPP (2).
> The future limits of HANPP become an urgent policy issue when one considers the 40% increase in global population expected over the next three or four decades and the expansion in living standards aspired to by the under-developed world. Smil expects that current policies will lead to a two- to threefold increase in HANPP demand in the next half century, and he rightfully asks if this increase is possible.
> Scholars around the world have been asking roughly this same question since 1972, when the landmark Limits to Growth book appeared (3). More recent analyses—such as the global human footprint, planetary boundaries, and Gaia—address the question from various angles. Each has indicated that another half-century of the current trajectory of human development, consumption, and economic aspirations does not appear possible (4–7).
> Smil's final recommendations echo others: global population must be stabilized at or below 9 billion; agriculture has to become sustainable, no longer relying on fossil-fuel–based fertilizers and mining groundwater for irrigation; meat consumption must be moderated; and food storage and processing must be improved and wastage minimized. Crucially, the rich nations have to share global resources more equitably with emerging countries, as simply growing more does not appear possible.
> Full of recent references and statistics, Harvesting the Biosphere adds to the growing chorus of warnings about the current trajectory of human activity on a finite planet, of which climate change is only one dimension. One can quibble with some assumptions or tweak Smil's calculations, but the bottom line will not change, only the time it may take humanity to reach a crisis point. Systems ecology teaches that the human population and consumption trajectories need a stronger feedback control than currently exists. Either we are smart enough to craft that feedback mechanism ourselves, or the Earth system will ultimately provide it. Unfortunately, the tragedy of the commons suggests that collective international actions to voluntarily reduce consumption are contrary to human nature.
> ↵ P. M. Vitousek, P. R. Ehrlich, A. H. Ehrlich, P. A. Matson , Bioscience 36, 368 (1986). CrossRefWeb of Science
> ↵ W. K. Smith et al ., Bioscience 62, 911 (2012). CrossRefWeb of Science
> ↵ D. H. Meadows et al ., The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome's Project on the Predicament of Mankind (Universe, New York, 1972). Search Google Scholar
> ↵ www.footprintnetwork.org.
> J. Lovelock , The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning (Basic, New York, 2010).Search Google Scholar
> J. Randers , 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years (Chelsea Green, White River Junction, NH,2012). Search Google Scholar
> ↵ A. Wijkman, J. Rockstrom , Bankrupting Nature: Denying Our Planetary Boundaries (Routledge,London, ed. 2, 2012). Search Google Scholar
Dagomys Declaration of the Pugwash Council
Ensuring the Survival of Civilisation
38th Pugwash Conference
Issued 3 September 1988
We live in an interdependent world of increasing risks. Thirty-three years ago, the Russell-Einstein Manifesto warned humanity that our survival is imperilled by the risk of nuclear war. The familiar challenges identified in that Manifesto and the 1982 Warsaw Declaration of Nobel Laureates remain as important as ever. But in the spirit of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, we now call on all scientists to expand our concerns to a broader set of interrelated dangers: destruction of the environment on a global scale and denial of basic needs for a growing majority of humankind. Without reducing our commitment to arms reduction and war prevention, we must recognise that environmental degradation and large-scale impoverishment are already facts and can lead to a massive catastrophe even if nuclear war is avoided.
The present inequitable international economic order confines many countries to the crushing cycle of poverty and induces them to use environmentally destructive industrial and agricultural practices. When coupled with world-wide population growth, and excessive production and profligate consumerism in the industrial nations, this is pushing the planet toward disaster.
Today's pattern of increasing energy use is a key link in a dangerous web of international environmental problems. Among these are global climate change, ozone depletion, acid deposition, and water pollution. These, combined with other potentially catastrophic effects, including deforestation, soil erosion, and mass extinction of species, reduce the earth's ability to support a growing population. The combined effect diminishes ecosystem functions in ways that will damage economies in the North and fatally undermine economies in the South.
These linked environmental problems affect all nations. They exacerbate international tensions and increase the risk of future conflicts through the impacts of sea-level rises, forced migrations, and persistent crop failures.
To survive, we must recognise that environmental degradation weakens the security of all. The challenge is to find ways to promote sustainable development of all regions in the world while reducing both military and ecological threats. Co-operation among nations, and effective organisations at the international, national, regional and local levels, are essential to maintain earth's life-support systems. Intense efforts must be made to foster a feeling of connectedness and co-operation and to correct economic injustices and promote trust.
The steps taken up to the present to halt environmental destruction have proved inadequate. Much stronger measures are required now.
These include the development of alternative high-yield agricultural methods, while recognising the value of some traditional practices, in order to conserve scarce water and topsoil. They will also entail strict regulation of industry and land-use, and massive investment in environmentally sound practices, increased efficiency of resource use, deployment of renewable energy technologies, poverty reduction, and population planning. Education must promote a shift toward lifestyles compatible with the preservation of our life-support systems. Global use of fossil fuels must be reduced. The 1987 Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depletion must be strengthened to eliminate the production and use of chlorofluorocarbons. International support for reforestation must be increased dramatically. In this way, the planet may move toward a new and stable balance in which nature can withstand the impacts of human civilisation.
Dagomys USSR, 3 September 1988
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