Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 16, No. 1, January 2020
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Third Decade of the Third Millennium CE

"After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route." Matthew 2:9-12 ~ Is it time to take another route toward a better future?
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Inexhaustible Chalice

The Elephant in the Room, by Roger Blanchard

The End of Infinite Growth, by Rex Weyler

Development: A Failed Project, by Julia Schöneberg

Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis, by Erik Assadourian

Platform for the Planet, by George Monbiot

Inside the Battle for Another World, by John Feffer

Solidarity Economy Roads ~ Chapter 7 - The Road of Alternative Development, by Luis Razeto Migliaro

Neither Trumpism Nor Capitalism Is The Real Problem ~ It Is 1% Capitalism that Is the Problem, by Carmine Gorga

Power, the Acceleration of Cultural Evolution, and Our Best Hope for Survival, by Richard Heinberg

It Bears Repeating: Renewables Alone Won't End the Climate Crisis, by Andrew Nikiforuk

Certain Technologies Are an Existential Threat. Is Technology Itself an Existential Threat?, by Randy Hayes

Decision Making in Our Times of Environmental Stress, by Marc A. Cirigliano

Economists and Climate Change: Building Castles in the Sky, by Kurt Cobb

'Everything Is Not Fine': Nobel Economist Calls on Humanity to End Obsession With GDP, by Jon Queally

A Green New Deal Between Whom and For What?, by Nicholas Beuret

Ninety-Nine Unanswerable Questions and the Unintended Consequences of the Future We're Creating, by Thomas Frey

Recession Ahead: An Overview of Our Predicament, by Gail Tverberg

A New Generation Is Rising Up to Resist Neoliberalism Across the Globe, by Nicholas Powers

The Most Urgent Measure Against Climate Change: Stop Growing, by Margarita Mediavilla

Techno-Fix Futures will only Accelerate Climate Chaos ~ Don't Believe the Hype, by Joanna Boehnert and Simon Mair

Calculating the Value of the Environment With New ISO Standard, by Elizabeth Gasiorowski

Greta Thunberg: A Letter to My Non-Western Friends, by Ugo Bardi

Human Trafficking, the Most Evil Enslavement by Shay Cullen

"Original Sin" is the Root Cause of the Patriarchal Culture, by Luis Gutiérrez

The Elephant in the Room

Roger Blanchard

This article was originally published in
Resilience, 3 December 2019
under a Creative Commons License

Discussion about climate disruption and mass extinction rarely mention human population as a significant factor in exacerbating those problems.  In the last ~100 years, the human population has increased dramatically as shown in Figures 1 and 2.  The global human population, as of 2019, was 7.7 billion and climbing.  At this point, experts are estimating a global human population of ~10 billion by 2050.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Not only has the human population increased dramatically over the last 100 years but the average level of human resource consumption and pollution generation has increased dramatically over that time, particularly over the last 30 years due largely to the increased affluence of people in developing countries like China and India.

Human population and the level of resource consumption have a dramatic effect upon both mass extinction and climate disruption.  A larger human population means that more land area has to be devoted to activities such as agriculture and that land must be used more intensively.  That leaves less habitat for wild animals so their populations decrease (See Figure 3).  With a larger human population, water related resources are used more intensively leading to population declines of species in that water environment.

Figure 3

A larger and more affluent human population leads to a higher level of greenhouse gas emissions and higher level of climate disruption.  At this point, no level of technology can make the impact of population and affluence compatible with what is needed to prevent serious climate disruption consequences.

In 1970, the gloal human population was 3.7 billion people while the U.S. population was 203 million. At that time, I thought the global and U.S. populations were above sustainable levels.  The situation has only grown substantially worse.  Those figures are now (2019)  7.7 billion for the global population and 327 million for the U.S. population.

Figure 4 shows the relative impact of various efforts to reduce one’s carbon footprint.  The carbon footprint is a function of both population and affluence.

Figure 4

The human population was able to grow rapidly over the last ~100 years due to five main reasons:

(1) The discovery of nitrogen fixation in the early 1900s, which led to synthetic fertilizer

(2) The discovery of methods to prevent infectious diseases, which lowered death rates, particularly in children

(3) The intensive use of fossil fuels

(4) The development of high yielding grain seeds

(5) The use of fossil water in agriculture to improve yields

We have now essentially run the course on what those five developments can produce.  We’re rapidly depleting fossil fuels and fossil water.  We’re also rapidly building up atmospheric greenhouse gases which will negatively affect agriculture.

If humans don’t desire to control human population, nature will find a way to adjust the human population to fit the available resources.

Credits: (Graphics) J. You/Science; (Data) Seth Wynes and Kimberly A Nicholas, Environmental Research Letters (2017)


Roger Blanchard teaches chemistry at Lake Superior State University and authored the book The Future of Global Oil Production: Facts, Figures, Trends and Projections by Region, McFarland & Company, 2005.


"If you shut the door to all errors,
truth will be shut out."

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)


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