This Sustainable Life

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294: Population: How Much Is Too Much?

Ep. 294

What is Earth's carrying capacity? Why is it important?

Many ask how we will feed 10 billion people. Mathematician way of asking is if we can feed so many and if so how. Maybe we can't.

First, don't want to know. While it depends on many assumptions that aren't hard or measurable numbers, like standard of living, distribution of resources, and technology, we can say it's maximum misery per person.

How do we narrow it down? Could ask resources per person and how much resources Earth can provide. Limits to Growth projects how much planet would sustain from a systems perspective including history and how we live our values.

I prefer a historical perspective I learned from Alan Weisman based on the Haber-Bosch process, which enabled artificial fertilizer. Before artificial fertilizer, limitations on fixing nitrogen to grow food suggest Earth could sustain about 2 billion, enough to create Einstein and Mozart. Want people like Jesus, Buddha, Laozi, and Aristotle? We needed only a few hundred million to create them.

If we're over the planet's carrying capacity, especially by factor of 3 or 4, strategy isn't to ask how to feed 10 billion but if we can lower the population before processes like famine, disease, loss of critical resources, war, and so on do it for us.

I couldn't answer except in ways where the cure was worse than the disease, but the history of Thailand's Mechai Viravaidya's leading a nation-scale cultural shift from 7 babies per woman to 1.5, voluntarily, peacefully, leading to abundance, prosperity, and stability changed everything for me.

Mechai's success makes lowering the population plausible and fun. The limitations of growing food without artificial fertilizer make it necessary to avoid famine and other natural disasters. These two factors clarify our priority, it seems to me.



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646: Noah Gallagher Shannon, part 1: Uruguay is an environmental role model

Ep. 646
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645: Hamilton Souther, part 1: Living Among the Matsés in the Peruvian Amazon

Ep. 645
Suggest to people in our culture that we consider not growing the GDP nonstop and most react with fear at what they see as the inevitability of recession leading to depression leading to the tax base declining, infrastructure crumbling, hospitals closing, mothers dying in childbirth, thirty become old age, and reverting to the Stone Age.Yet there remain many cultures that don't buy into our culture at all. Despite our culture invading their lands, what many of us consider the pinnacle of human culture, they choose theirs, and not out of ignorance. They know our culture.If our culture is so great, with electric vehicles, fruit flown overnight around the world, and iPhones, why do they resist it?If we believe we have so much, why do we keep taking their land?Hamilton lived among the Matsés in the Peruvian Amazon for 4.5 years. He shares how he arrived there, how they took him in and trained him to be a shaman, and what differences and similarities he saw there compared to here. We talked a bit about ayahuasca, but as I see one of our greatest challenges is to learn to live sustainably, and electric vehicles move don't help, I was more interested in what I and we can learn from people who still leave things better than they found them.Hamilton shares about how they live and the interface with a westerner who lived with them not as a tourist. I found his experience and education fascinating and accessible. Expect more episodes with Hamilton to come.
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644: Janet Allacker, part 1.5: Joy first

Ep. 644
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