How many people can the earth take?

(Published in GralsWelt 43/2007).

For some years now, there has been a new branch of ecology that goes by the scientific name of pherology (from Latin "pherein" = to carry) and deals with the carrying capacity of ecosystems. In particular, pherology asks about the number of people who can "carry" our earth, or individual landscapes, in the long term. With such questions, pherologists are venturing into a taboo area of our society.

Accordingly, they are attacked from various sides, and occasionally even accused of inhumanity and racism, including even from conservationists.

What do the pherological questions look like, with which it is possible to arouse displeasure in the most varied of social groups?

Ever since space travel has been providing photographs of the earth from space, it should be apparent to everyone that our planet is spatially limited and that its resources cannot be infinitely large. Inevitably it must "Limits to material growth" give; thus limits for economic growth, food and raw material production, for energy consumption, disposal of waste, and also of "living places" for people.

That brings us to the basic concern of the pherologists. These want to determine how many people seem healthy for our earth under what conditions, provided that our home planet is permanently habitable and its societies are to remain economically and politically stable.

For many decades there have been various estimates or calculations, and depending on the source, the upper limit for the world population can be 10, 20 or even 50 billion (or more) people.

One achieved a certain level of awareness based on the futurologist Herman Kahn (1922-1983) propagated "Society of 20 x 20": According to the optimism of the 70s of the 20th century, 20 billion people could live on our planet with an average per capita income of 20,000 $ per year (according to purchasing power at the time) should have.

When studying such forecasts, one sometimes almost gets the impression that a futurologist only needs to look up the land area of the earth in an atlas. This is then multiplied by the hectare yields of the best agricultural areas, and the result is how much food could be available to mankind in the future.

Objections to obviously overly optimistic prognoses have been or are dismissed with the reference that two thirds of the earth is covered by water and that the possibilities of fish farming, sea farms, underwater settlements etc. have not yet been considered. The overfishing of the oceans and the pollution of the shallow water and continental shelf areas (where a large proportion of the useful fish are caught and most of the juvenile fish grow up) are not talked about.

Even today people need clean water (in many countries long in short supply), houses, streets, kindergartens, schools, hospitals, workplaces, places of worship, theaters, libraries, etc., including the land that goes with them suppressed often enough.

“The Limits to Growth” (5) were not made known to a wider public until 1972. In this work - as far as I know for the first time - it was stated that the inevitable collapse in the event of further, unrestrained growth does not necessarily have to be triggered by a shortage of raw materials, but that disposal will probably collapse first: namely, if we add more waste to the natural cycle and accept pollutants than they can cope with.

This trend-setting publication - “The Limits to Growth” - was the impetus for the beginning of the ecological movement, which since then has often pushed for nature and environmental protection. However, despite all its insight into ecological relationships, it is difficult for even the “Green Movement” to accept pherological demands.

From a pherological point of view, the following goals for mankind are to be striven for:
* The species richness, i.e. the biological diversity of the world, must be preserved. This requires sufficiently large, natural landscapes.
* The earth's resources are to be conserved and secured for the future. the non-renewable Energy sources - above all crude oil and natural gas - should be conserved as much as possible and replaced with renewable energy (e.g. solar energy) as soon as possible. Even those non-renewable raw materials whose stocks are sufficient for a longer period of time (e.g. coal, ores) are to be used sparingly.
The renewable resources demand protection and consideration. Under no circumstances should, for example, fish grounds be exhausted, agricultural areas be destroyed through overexploitation or over-fertilization, or rainforests cut down.
* The scarcity of resources must be avoided because it leads (almost inevitably) to distribution struggles, i.e. wars and political instability.
* The pressure on the earth's eco-systems from waste, exhaust gases and poisons must be reduced to a level that is tolerable for the environment.

From a pherological point of view, these demands cannot be met with a world population of 6 or even 7 billion, and humane, ethically justifiable ways must be sought and found which reduce the population pressure.
The economic growth demanded by politicians and economists of all stripes is also proving to be unreasonable; neither the earth's resources nor the purity of natural cycles are sufficient for this.

The concerns of pherologists can be briefly reduced to two core demands that many groups in our society will find difficult to accept:
* The world population must be reduced by reasonable means to a level that is tolerable for the planet. The upper limit for the population of the earth depends on the standard of living. It is difficult to estimate and is unlikely to be more than two billion.
* The growth mania must end. Quantitative growth can only take place in developing countries.
The further development of mankind can - hopefully not be too distant in the future - be served by qualitative growth that does not require any significant additional energy or raw materials.

Now that today's growth mania has been exposed as a wrong path, people find new goals for which they should use their imagination, creativity and ingenuity to the fullest: musicians can play better and better, singers can sing better and better, actors convey more and more, writers write better and better. Agriculture works close to nature, without pesticides and mineral fertilizers. Factories produce in an environmentally friendly manner. Technical devices are becoming smaller, lighter, more economical, easy to repair, and recyclable. Transport and traffic are limited to what is necessary.

The tax system is being fundamentally redesigned: energy and raw material consumption are taxed, human work remains tax-free. This z. For example, time-consuming repairs are worthwhile and undeclared work is pointless. The economy serves the people. Environmental protection, sustainable use of resources, minimizing environmental pollution are given constitutional status, and wars are to be avoided….

In other words, a broad field of work for economists, ecologists, engineers, biologists, sociologists, politicians, lawyers who define the social conditions to be striven for and who plan, control and carry out the transition from today's growth economy to an ecological balancing economy. The religions are also challenged; for what is less fair to God's will than the destruction of His work - the earth - by us humans?

Problems will not be lacking in this endeavor, which demands the utmost commitment, courage and flexibility from each individual; but it is about the preservation of the habitability of our earth, about a goal that must be close to the heart of every human being and is worth the greatest effort!

Which social group has the courage to recognize the inevitable facts and act? Facts that as many people as possible must become aware of as quickly as possible so that a change in our understanding of the world can occur, as a prerequisite for the necessary restructuring of our economy and our lives. -

Please also read under "Book Reviews" "Too many people?", under "Ecology" the contributions "Why We're Stumbling into the Population Trap," "Everything Used to Be Better." and "How much we overload our earth."

(1) Gruhl, Herbert: “A planet is plundered”, S. Fischer, Frankfurt 1975.
(2) Hagl, Siegfried: "The Apocalypse as Hope": Droemer-Knaur, 1984.
(3) Kahn, Herman: “Before us the good years”, Fritz Molden, Vienna 1976.
(4) Kahn, Herman: “The future of the world”, Firtz Molden, Vienna, 1979.
(5) Meadows, Dennis: “The Limits to Growth”, DVA, Stuttgart, 1972.