March 14, 2015 | By:
Man Swarm, overpopulation

Why It’s Time to Redefine Carrying Capacity

Man Swarm, overpopulation

Mule deer bucks

What is “carrying capacity”? Here is an excerpt from the new edition of Man Swarm that not only defines but lays out why it’s time to redefine it:

From Man Swarm:

Think of an animal—let’s say the mule deer. Determining its carrying capacity means knowing how many an area can “carry” without harm to the ecosystem or starvation of those deer. Biologists know what it means for Earthlings other than us. But what about the carrying capacity for Man? Professor Eileen Crist at Virginia Tech wisely writes, “In most of the literature I’ve read raising the question of ‘what human carrying capacity is’ seems to be a veiled way of asking: How many people can sustainably use, exploit, degrade, or destroy (portions of) the biosphere without risking collapse for human beings or human civilization?”

All too often, carrying capacity is weighed narrowly and focuses on whether Earth can give mankind what it needs. And all too often, it overlooks the needs of all other Earthlings; wild things do not play into this reckoning. Beyond its impact on the flow of raw goods in our industrial web, it is past time for carrying capacity to include its impact on wild things and on evolutionary processes.

…The true yardstick of our carrying capacity should go beyond how ecosystems serve us to what we do to wild things—the health and soundness of other Earthlings and where they live. A landscape without big wilderness and without room for wild animals and native wildlife is one in which humans have overshot carrying capacity. Defining carrying capacity in this way means humans overshot it in much of the world long ago.

What “sustainability” means has also been seen through the lens of Man’s needs. A society is not truly sustainable if it brings on extinction of other Earthlings or if it tames its lands and waters. It is unlikely that any tribe has been sustainable for long even for its own needs alone. Truly defining sustainability and figuring out what we must do to gain it is the great challenge of all time for Man.

Read more about carrying capacity as it relates to the overpopulation crisis in Man Swarm!



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9 years ago

William Catton’s 1980 book “Overshoot” dealt with the concept of carrying capacity quite thoroughly.

Catton maintained that humans created a carrying capacity deficit when we began importing food from outside our bioregion and when we began using fossil fuels. It’s been an increasing slippery slope since then. This, of course, includes the effects of human consumption on other species, since humans cannot live in the absence of a healthy web of life.

And it’s temporary. Things that can’t go on forever, don’t.

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