Limits to Growth = human overpopulation, crash and die-off

table of contents

These curves are literally drawn from the "business as usual" scenario on p. 133, Meadows et al., BEYOND THE LIMITS [see ] and from the 1997 Duncan & Youngquist's new World oil production model described in THE WORLD PETROLEUM LIFE-CYCLE: Encircling the Production Peak.  The model may be downloaded at .  To run this model one must download the free Stella Run-Time at .

"Business as usual" scenario from BEYOND THE LIMITS:

"In Scenario 1 the world society proceeds along its historical path as long as possible without major policy change. Technology advances in agriculture, industry, and social services according to established patterns. There is no extraordinary effort to abate pollution or conserve resources. The simulated world tries to bring all people through the demographic transition and into an industrial and then post-industrial economy. This world acquires widespread health care and birth control as the service sector grows; it applies more agricultural inputs and gets higher yields as the agricultural sector grows; it emits more pollutants and demands more nonrenewable resources as the industrial sector grows.

"The global population in Scenario 1 rises from 1.6 billion in the simulated year 1900 to over 5 billion in the simulated year 1990 and over 6 billion in the year 2000. Total industrial output expands by a factor of 20 between 1900 and 1990. Between 1900 and 1990 only 20% of the earth's total stock of nonrenewable resources is used; 80% of these resources remain in 1990. Pollution in that simulated year has just begun to rise noticeably. Average consumer goods per capita in 1990 is at a value of 1968-$260 per person per year—a useful number to remember for comparison in future runs. Life expectancy is increasing, services and goods per capita are increasing, food production is increasing. But major changes are just ahead.

"In this scenario the growth of the economy stops and reverses because of a combination of limits. Just after the simulated year 2000 pollution rises high enough to begin to affect seriously the fertility of the land. (This could happen in the 'real world' through contamination by heavy metals or persistent chemicals, through climate change, or through increased levels of ultraviolet radiation from a diminished ozone layer.) Land fertility has declined a total of only 5% between 1970 and 2000, but it is degrading at 4.5% per year in 2010 and 12% per year in 2040. At the same time land erosion increases. Total food production begins to fall after 2015. That causes the economy to shift more investment into the agriculture sector to maintain output. But agriculture has to compete for investment with a resource sector that is also beginning to sense some limits.

"In 1990 the nonrenewable resources remaining in the ground would have lasted 110 years at the 1990 consumption rates. No serious resource limits were in evidence. But by 2020 the remaining resources constituted only a 30-year supply. Why did this shortage arise so fast? Because exponential growth increases consumption and lowers resources. Between 1990 and 2020 population increases by 50% and industrial output grows by 85%. The nonrenewable resource use rate doubles. During the first two decades of the simulated twenty-first century, the rising population and industrial plant in Scenario 1 use as many nonrenewable resources as the global economy used in the entire century before. So many resources are used that much more capital and energy are required to find, extract, and refine what remains.

"As both food and nonrenewable resources become harder to obtain in this simulated world, capital is diverted to producing more of them. That leaves less output to be invested in basic capital growth.

"Finally investment cannot keep up with depreciation (this is physical investment and depreciation, not monetary). The economy cannot stop putting its capital into the agriculture and resource sectors; if it did the scarcity of food, materials, and fuels would restrict production still more. So the industrial capital plant begins to decline, taking with it the service and agricultural sectors, which have become dependent upon industrial inputs. For a short time the situation is especially serious, because the population keeps rising, due to the lags inherent in the age structure and in the process of social adjustment. Finally population too begins to decrease, as the death rate is driven upward by lack of food and health services." [p.p.132-134, Meadows; See also ]


"The days of the oil shortages are over," said economist William Wilson of Comerica Bank in Detroit, adding that's welcome news for truck owners. "Trucks are here to stay
because Americans like them." — Detroit Free Press, 12/13/97

As Wilson reminds us, oil industry jargon has confused economists for many years. If one persists in thinking of energy in terms of "money price", then one simply can not understand the energy issues. The key to understanding energy issues is look at the "energy price" of energy. Typical quote from oil-economist:

"One thing I have learned over the years is to distrust any projections of economically recoverable reserves."

The critical issue here is NOT "economically recoverable reserves", it is "energetically recoverable resources". In oil industry jargon: "Estimated Ultimately Recoverable" or "EUR" oil. In fact, official estimates of EUR oil have "varied little" over the last 50 years.

"For many years geologists and oil companies have published estimates of the total amount of crude oil that will ultimately be recovered from the earth over all time. Remarkably, these assessments of Estimated Ultimately Recoverable (EUR) oil have varied little over the past half century." [ This is direct quote from a 1996 World Resources Institute paper by James MacKenzie. Take a look: ]


40 years ago, geologist M. King Hubbert developed a method for projecting future oil production and predicted that oil production in the lower-48 states would peak about 1970. This prediction has proved to be remarkably accurate. Both total and peak yields have risen slightly compared to Hubbert's original estimate, but the timing of the peak and the general downward trend of production were correct.

Global oil production will begin to "peak" when approximately half of the "Estimated Ultimately Recoverable" oil has been recovered. The exact date is unknown, but it could be soon as the year 2000:

"Two important conclusions emerge from this discussion. First, if growth in world demand continues at a modest 2 percent per year, production could begin declining as soon as the year 2000. Second, even enormous (and unlikely) increases in EUR oil buy the world little more than another decade (from 2007 to 2018). In short, unless growth in world oil demand is sharply lower than generally projected, world oil production will probably begin its long-term decline soon — and certainly within the next two decades." [Again from WRI, please take a look ]

"It is reluctantly concluded that there is strong evidence that the restricted Hubbert Curve for the world's total EUR of oil may first peak about the year 2000, Fig. 4, after which it may fluctuate along a horizontal production line (restricted by Saudi Arabia/OPEC) before inevitable decline …" [ from WORLD OIL, October 1995, FUTURE WORLD SUPPLIES,
by L. F. Ivanhoe, ]

"At the time of writing in late 1996, there are still three more years to go until the end of the transition." [p. 59, THE COMING OIL CRISIS, by C. J. Campbell; Multi-Science Publishing Company & Petroconsultants, 1997; ISBN 0906522110 ]


Petroconsultants is the world's leading provider of data and analysis for petroleum exploration and production. With headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Petroconsultants maintains offices in London, Houston, Sydney and Singapore, supported by over 250 dedicated multilingual and multinational employees and a worldwide network of correspondents and associates.  ]

"A new report on world oil resources, World Oil Supply 1930-2050 (Campbell and Laherre, Petroconsultants Pty. Ltd., 1995), concludes that the planet's oil supplies will be exhausted much sooner than previously thought.

"The report, written for oil industry insiders and priced at $32,000 per copy, concludes that world oil production and supply probably will peak as soon as the year 2000 and will decline to half the peak level by 2025. Large and permanent increases in oil prices are predicted after the year 2000." [ from EARTH ISLAND JOURNAL, Spring 1997, THE DEATH OF THE OIL ECONOMY, by Ted Trainer ]


"The global price of oil after the supply crunch should follow the simplest economic law of supply and demand: There will be a major increase in crude oil and all other fuels' prices, accompanied by global hyperinflation, rationing, etc. After the associated economic implosion, many of the world's developed societies may look like today's Russia. The United States may be competing with China for every tanker of oil, with the Persian Gulf oil exporters preferring Chinese rockets to American paper dollars for their oil." [ from THE FUTURIST, January/February, 1997, GET READY FOR ANOTHER OIL SHOCK!, by L. F. Ivanhoe ]

According to Hardin (1993): "The pivotal role of energy in determining the quality of human life is now widely recognized. In what follows I will, unless otherwise stated, use the phrase 'quality of life' to refer to the physical quality of life-to the possibility of enjoying such amenities as a pleasant ambient temperature, good food, freedom from pollution of many sorts (including noise pollution), ease of moving from one place to another, and so on. This emphasis does not deny the importance of nonphysical aspects of living—the charms of art, music, nature, animal pets, and human friendship, for example. But the connection of nonmaterial treasures with simple physical wealth is not easily clarified.

"The ease with which useful energy can be captured has a great deal to do with the physical quality of life. Cheap energy means abundant supplies of energy requiring goods; when energy becomes expensive, people start complaining of shortages. In the last three centuries an increasing fraction of our daily energy supply has come from petroleum, gas, and coal. What can we say about human history in the light of the supplies of fossil energy?

"Graphing the rate of use of each fossil energy source yields a bell-shaped curve. Figure 14-1 gives Hubbert's projection of the world's use of petroleum over time. Until the year 1900 the level of world production was too low to show on the scale of this figure. Then it rose exponentially almost until the present. After 1973 the path departed more and more from an exponential curve due to increasingly tighter supplies. At some point (here estimated to be about 1995, but the date is not precise) the curve of petroleum use will bend over and start heading downward. As indicated in the figure, 80 percent of the oil will be used up in a mere fifty-six years, scarcely more than a moment in the history of mankind. All but a small percentage of the extractable oil will be taken from the ground in less than two centuries." [p.p. 139-140]

According to BEYOND OIL (1991): "In any event, world supplies are finite, though large (Figure 2-17). Although demand is now much less than the maximum possible production rate, this gap could close if less developed nations build an industrial base that depends on fossil energy. If developing nations regain the economic momentum of the 1960s and early 1970s, world oil production will probably peak around the year 2000, and demand may catch up to the maximum possible production rate by then." [p. 65]

"Two international experts cited by MacKenzie, Jean Laherrere and Colin Campbell, both of Petroconsultants, Geneva, Switzerland, believe peak oil production will occur even earlier – four years from now in 2000, followed by an annual decline of about 2.7% In turn, this will mean that "world oil prices will rise from their present low levels, though by how much and how fast remains uncertain," MacKenzie said in his testimony. See also THE GLOBAL HUBBERT PEAK at:   and FOSSILGATE:

Dth1.GIF (81433 bytes)And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. —Revelations 6:8


THERE IS NOW GOOD SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE that our life-support systems are dis-integrating under the impacts of our economic system. What follows are three different sources—using three different methods and data sets—that suggest massive human die-off will follow worldwide systems crash sometime around the years 2020 to 2030.

Meadows, et al. project a "business as usual" scenario that see our major systems crashing around year 2030. Remember, these are worldwide systems—there is no place to hide.

[p. 133, Meadows, et al., BEYOND THE LIMITS; Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 1992. ISBN 0-930031-62-8. Phone: 800-639-4099 or 603-448-0317; FAX: 603-448-2576.]

[p. 140, Hardin, LIVING WITHIN LIMITS; Oxford University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-19-507811-x]

BEYOND THE LIMITS is an update to the Club of Rome's 1972 LIMITS TO GROWTH and is endorsed by Jan Tinbergen. Tinbergen shared the first Nobel Prize for Economics in 1969. [For a good history of this issue, see: Neurath, 1994: FROM MALTHUS TO THE CLUB OF ROME AND BACK; M. E. Sharpe, Armonk, NY; ISBN 1-56324-408-X. For a detailed book about the Club of Rome itself, see: Moll: FROM SCARCITY TO SUSTAINABILITY; Peter Lang, 1995.]

It is interesting to note the latest ozone depletion and global warming data was not available to the models. Perhaps the models would now project crash even sooner?

See also: Paul and Anne Ehrlich, THE POPULATION EXPLOSION; Simon and Schuster, 1990; Phone: 212-698-7000. See also: THE MILLENNIUM INSTITUTE.

My second reference is from Worldwatch Institute and concerns that fact that there will simply not be enough food on the planet to feed humanity by year 2030. For example, consider the worldwide collapse of the fisheries:

Fishery Declines of more than 100,000 tons from peak year to 1992
Species Peak

Decline in
Million Tons

Pacific herring 1964




Atlantic herring 1966




Atlantic cod 1968




Southern African pilchard 1968




Haddock 1969




Peruvian anchovy*





Polar cod 1971




Cape hake 1972




Silver hoke 1973




Greater yellow croaker 1974




Atlantic redfish 1976




Cape horse mackerel 1977




Chub mackerel 1978




Blue whiting 1980




South American pilchard 1985




Alaska pollock 1986




North Pacific hake 1987




Japanese pilchard 1988











Source FAO.

* The catch of the Peruvian anchovy hit a low of 94,000 tons in 1994, less than one percent of the 1970 level, before climbing up to the 1992 level.

From NET LOSS, p.p. 14-15, 1994. (Worldwatch Paper # 120) Worldwatch Institute, 1776 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20036, Phone: 202-452-1999; FAX: 202-296-7365, [email protected].


Washington, D.C.—Continuing growth in the world's population and a corresponding rise in demand for fish threaten to push this valuable source of protein out of reach for the nearly one billion people, most of them poor, who rely on fish as a principal source of animal protein, according to a new report by Population Action International (PAI).

According to the new study, "Catching the Limit: Population and the Decline of Fisheries", population growth will especially strain the availability of fish in developing nations, where more than 700 million people already cannot obtain sufficient calories and nutrients to lead healthy and active lives.

"At the moment, population growth is fueling about two-thirds of the current growth in demand for fish," says Robert Engelman, co-author of the study and director of PAI's population and environment program. "As population pressures on this resource grow, fish prices will continue to climb, further reducing consumption among the poor. In the next century, many species of fish will become luxuries only the well-to-do can afford."

Despite the vastness of the planet's coastal waters, where most fish are caught, an unforeseen natural threshold was crossed before scientists even knew it existed. The global fish catch peaked in 1989 at 89 million metric tons and has hovered at around 85 million tons since then. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that nearly 70 percent of the world's conventional fish species-such as cod, hake and haddock-are already fished up to or beyond sustainable limits.

Although aquaculture—the farming of fish in either marine or inland waters—produces more fish each year, it cannot long compensate for the declining availability of fish caught wild, according to the report's authors. Under two of the United Nations' three projections for world population for the year 2050, aquaculture production would have to "exceed" the total wild fish catch in order to maintain current levels of per capita fish consumption-a virtually impossible achievement, according to PAI.

Globally, protein from fish accounts for slightly more than 5 percent—or 1 out of every 18 grams—of the average person's protein intake from animal and vegetable sources. For at least 640 million people in 39 countries, however, fish consumption accounts for an average of more than 10 percent of their total protein intake, and at least 950 million people rely on fish for more than one-third of their animal protein.

Based on U.N. projections for both population growth and fish production, worldwide per capita consumption of fish caught wild in marine and inland waters could fall between 25 and 50 percent, from 10.2 kilograms per person per year in 1993 to somewhere between 5.1 and 7.6 kilograms in 2050, depending on the rate of population growth. In the world's less wealthy countries, however, projections for per capita fish production are significantly less than that average, and likely declines in per capita consumption of fish much steeper.

For example, residents of the coastal African nation of Tanzania currently consume 14.5 kilograms of fish per person per year. If Tanzania were unable to boost domestic production or imports of fish, population projections indicate that per capita fish consumption would fall to around four kilograms by 2050—a decline of some 70 percent. This would force Tanzanians to replace fish protein with less nutritious plant proteins—or to reduce their overall protein intake.

While population growth is the primary factor in the increasing demand for fish, population pressures are also limiting their supply. A substantial proportion of the world's people live within a few dozen miles of a seacoast, and the proportion may grow as people migrate to coastal megacities. The increasing density of human populations in coastal areas, and the resultant destruction of coastal wetlands, mangrove forests, coral reefs and other coastal ecosystems, threatens the habitat of many fish species.

With regard to population, the approach endorsed at last year's International Conference on Population and Development—and reaffirmed at the recently concluded Fourth World Conference on Women—emphasizes human development and individual choice, especially for women, as the guiding principles of population policies. An essential component of this approach is universal access to voluntary, quality family planning and other reproductive health services.

"Stabilizing population alone will not reverse the decline of fisheries," says PAI's Engelman. "But the vulnerability of fisheries—like other natural resources—to population pressures offers a powerful argument for sound population policies and programs. The good news is that the very policies most likely to stabilize population size in the near future are also those most likely to improve the lives of women and their families today."

"As we observe World Food Day this Monday, we need to think about more than what we may or may not have to eat today," says Hugo Hoogenboom, president of Population Action International. "We need to be thinking about how we are going to feed ourselves—all of us—in the future and, in particular, how to safeguard the food sources, such as fisheries, on which the most vulnerable of us rely."

– – –

"Catching the Limit: Population and the Decline of Fisheries" is available for purchase from: Population Action International 1120 19th Street, NW-Suite 550/Washington, DC 20036 Phone: 202-659-1833

Contact: Sally Ethelston 202-659-1833 ext. 133,[email protected]; FAX 202-293-1795

Patricia M. Sears, Deputy Director, Media Relations 202-659-1833 ext. 131, [email protected]; OR [email protected].

Salmon Farming Industry Threatens B.C.’s Wild Fish Stocks


VANCOUVER – Open netcages, unregulated drug use, and imported Atlantic salmon eggs threaten wild fish stocks, according to a David Suzuki Foundation report released today.

"The way it operates today, B.C.’s salmon netcage industry threatens the survival of fragile wild fish stocks, such as the Fraser River salmon, and may even put human health at risk. To manage these hazards we must immediately stop importing Atlantic salmon eggs, monitor drug use, and change the open fish cages, which release sewage and diseases, into closed pens," says the Foundation’s Executive Director Jim Fulton.

The Suzuki Foundation says B.C’s industry stands in sharp contrast to the sound practices followed in 85% of the world’s fish farming, which is carried out on land and closely tied to agriculture. Fish wastes in Asia are used as crop fertilizer, but in B.C. become sewage.

"The unsurpassed wild environment along the B.C. coast supports a multi-billion dollar commercial and sport fishery and tourism business. It is the foundation of Native culture, and it provides a home and recreation for hundreds of thousands of people. We appreciate the jobs salmon farming can bring. But this study tells us we stand to lose far more than we gain. We need to set this industry on a course which helps us, not hurts us," explained Fulton.

The major risk is that wild fish could be decimated by the spread of virulent diseases. The problem starts with the netcage system itself. These cages float in the ocean, and are filled with high densities of farm fish. The jammed and stressful conditions of the netcages mean they can become breeding grounds for disease epidemics. The use of fish grown from imported Atlantic salmon eggs compounds this danger. Atlantic salmon are preferred by the industry because they grow more rapidly, and they are more docile. The trouble is, the imported fish can bring new diseases with them which can spread like wildfire among our native fish. To combat these threats, the industry injects fish with drugs and regularly mixes drugs with the feed.

These measures don’t always work. In Norway the industry uses similar netcage systems to those in B.C. There, eggs imported from Scotland brought epidemics of such diseases as furunculosis, which spread rapidly among wild fish which had little resistance to the new pathogens. In fruitless efforts to control the spread of disease, the Norwegian government spent, in one instance, $100 million of taxpayers’ funds. In an earlier attempt to eradicate an epidemic, the government completely poisoned 20 rivers.

The fundamental problem is that the netcages are open to the ocean environment. Escapes of farm fish are inevitable, leading to genetic and other harmful interactions with wild fish. Sewage from fish feces and other wastes builds up in the areas around the netcages, sewage which contains disease pathogens and drugs. In total the sewage is equivalent to the amount produced by a half million people. This refuse is deposited right into the food chain along the B.C. coast, to be picked up by fish such as black cod, herring and salmon.

Eight disease outbreaks have already occurred, and many scientists report that a large-scale epidemic will eventually happen among both wild and farmed fish. The netcages are typically located in sheltered bays such as Clayoquot Sound, areas with rich marine life. Close to fifty of the cages are found among the islands and bays along Johnstone Strait, right in the path of most Fraser River spawning salmon.

"At least 140 distinct salmon stocks in B.C. are already extinct. To help rebuild salmon stocks, commercial, native and sport fishermen made big sacrifices this year. We need to make sure this sacrifice is not in vain," says Fulton.

The netcage industry’s use of drugs has been targeted by the Foundation because of its possible effects on human health. The repeated use of drugs to hold the fish diseases at bay has already led to diseases fully resistant to three types of antibiotics. This cavalier and largely unregulated overuse of drugs concerns scientists because it reduces the pool of antibiotics available for human medicine.

The drugs also leave residues in the fish and shellfish in the areas around net cages which are used for food by local communities, particularly First Nations. There is no government monitoring of these health effects, or those on fish farm workers who are frequently exposed to antibiotics and other drugs.

The David Suzuki Foundation makes 12 recommendations. They include using:

  • only native salmon,
  • closed containment systems which fully treat sewage and prevent contact with wild fish
  • mandatory industry insurance covering full ecological restoration of catastrophic events
  • government monitoring of drug use and the spread of drug-resistant diseases.

The Foundation is submitting its report to the Salmon Aquaculture Review which is currently being conducted by B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office.

For more information please contact: David Hocking Communications Director, The David Suzuki Foundation (604) 732-4228

Executive Summary

Salmon aquaculture in British Columbia follows an intensive, industrial model, with detrimental effects on the pristine environment in which it is situated. This stands in sharp contrast to the way fish farming is practiced in most of the world. Eighty-five percent of global aquaculture production involves non-carnivorous species produced in land-based ponds for domestic markets. Most ponds are ecologically integrated into the agricultural, industrial, and community fabric; wastes, for instance, become fertilizers rather than pollutants.

The infant B.C. salmon netcage industry is part of a much smaller and more lucrative component of aquaculture, where publicly owned fresh and saltwater environments are used to subsidize intensive private feedlot operations that raise carnivorous species for export.

The industry has been encouraged by governments because it provides new economic opportunities in coastal areas. However, these benefits are more than offset by a wide array of environmental and social costs. The costs include:

  • Risks of disease transfer from netcage fish to wild stocks, such as black cod, herring, and salmon, and in particular to large numbers of migrating Fraser River salmon
  • Risks of introduction of exotic diseases from the continued importation of Atlantic salmon
  • Pollution from fish sewage, similar in magnitude to the sewage from a city of about half a million people, with associated disease risks, contamination of shellfish, and loss of habitat
  • Death, wounding, and harassment of mammal and bird populations due to shootings, net entanglements, and acoustic deterrent devices
  • Loss of access to traditional fisheries for First Nations people, with increased risks to their health from exposure to drug residues from food collected near netcage operations
  • Competition for spawning beds and genetic interaction between wild and escaped salmon in fresh and salt water
  • Lost access to anchorages and pristine scenery for sportfishing, recreation, and tourism
  • Loss of revenue for commercial fishermen due to lower salmon prices, and risks to future revenue for commercial and sportfisheries because of potential declines in wild stocks
  • Potential health problems for fish farm workers from the handling of drugs
  • Losses in quality of access for foreshore users from odours, visual pollution, and danger from gunfire
  • Costs to taxpayers from government regulatory costs and an array of cash subsidies to industry
  • Losses of wild fish, such as herring and juvenile salmon, consumed by netcage fish
  • Endangered human health from the increased use of antibiotics and other drugs, which have already led to the spread of fish diseases that are fully resistant to three types of antibiotics
  • The net loss of food (four pounds of fish protein are consumed for every pound of netcage salmon produced)

The combination of public subsidies, human health issues, pollution, threats to native stocks from disease and habitat damage, and net consumption rather than production of protein demonstrates that the existing salmon netcage industry in B.C. is not sustainable. The David Suzuki Foundation therefore recommends the following policy changes:

  • Replace open cages with closed containment systems.
  • Use native salmon only; prohibit the use of exotic species.
  • Eliminate discharge of fish sewage (zero discharge).
  • Fully monitor drug use and the spread of drug-resistant diseases.
  • Require systematic testing by communities for diseases among farmed and wild fish, to be fully funded by industry.
  • Institute mandatory insurance for operators to cover full ecological restoration costs of disease epidemics, escapes, genetic pollution, and other catastrophic events.
  • Require industry-developed and funded site reclamation plans.
  • Introduce a resource-use rent (royalty) for salmon farmers.
  • Introduce single-window access to public funds, which will be audited and made public.
  • Develop and use a process for gaining the agreement of coastal communities and First Nations regarding the siting of all existing or proposed aquaculture operations.
  • Prohibit the use of firearms and acoustic deterrent devices that harass marine mammals, and require the use of technologies that safely separate local wildlife from salmon farming operations.
  • Eliminate the use of fish that could be used as human food as the primary feed for farmed salmon.

by Lester R Brown & Worldwatch Institute

[The following is a clip from a Worldwatch book review.]

Farmers also often lose in the competition for land. During the five years since 1990, the diversion of cropland to nonfarm uses has offset gains in land productivity, preventing any growth in the grain harvest. When Japan went through the stage of development that China is now entering, cropland losses overrode gains in land productivity, leading to a 32 percent decline in the grain harvest between 1960 and 1994.

"If China is to avoid a similar decline in grain production, it must either do a better job than Japan has done of protecting its cropland," says Brown, "or it must raise land productivity much faster than Japan did. Both will be difficult."

If China is able to somehow outperform Japan and hold the decline in production to, say, only one fifth by 2030, then, assuming no further improvements in diet, population growth alone would push grain imports up to 200 million tons in 2030, an amount roughly equal to this year's world grain exports.

If China continues moving up the food chain, raising its total grain use from just under 300 kilograms per person at present to 400 kilograms in the year 2030, roughly the same as that of Taiwan, or half the 800 kilograms consumed in the United States, it will need to import some 369 million tons of grain in 2030.

Can China afford to import massive quantities of grain?, the author asks. The answer is, "Yes." China's trade surplus with the United States alone of nearly $30 billion in 1994 was sufficient to buy all grain exported by all exporting countries last year.

Brown says the more difficult question is, "Who can supply grain on this scale?" The answer is, "No one." If China's rapid industrialization continues, its import demand will soon overwhelm the export capacity of the United States and other grain-exporting countries. In addition to China, more than 100 countries depend on the United States for grain, including many others whose needs are also rising rapidly.

"With its grain imports climbing, China's rising grain prices are now becoming the world's rising grain prices. As the slack goes out of the world food economy, China's land scarcity will become everyone's land scarcity," says Brown. "As irrigation water losses force it to import more grain, its water scarcity will become the world's water scarcity."

See also: China's Challenge to the United States and to the EarthFULL HOUSE and THE LAST OASIS by Worldwatch Institute. Also see: THE MILLENNIUM INSTITUTE: Food and Land.

DWELLERS IN THE LAND, by Kirkpatrick Sale, 1991, New Society Pub. Phone: 800-253-3605 ISBN 0-86571-225-5

OVERSHOOT by Catton, 1982, University of Illinois Press. Phone: 800-545-4703; FAX: 217-244-8082. ISBN 0-252-00988-6

SAN ANTONIO, Tex., Feb 6, 1996 (Reuter) – A "truly monumental" turnaround in Chinese grain trade caused China to become a net importer of feed grains in 1994 and will push purchases up more than 450 percent to 17.6 million tonnes by 2004, the U.S. Feed Grains Council said in its 10-year Outlook Report.

Three major factors were said to be primarily responsible for China's switch in its export-import balance—a drop in China's grain production in 1994, expanding grain consumption, and a hoarding of grain by individuals and local governments.

Demand in China is strong for both food grains and meat proteins and is increasing rapidly, said the report. Growth in consumption is expected to outpace any increases in yield and production, and population growth will continue to generate "significant new demand," the report said. China's expanding economy wil continue to fuel demand for improved diets and more livestock and dairy products that require additional feed grains to produce. Pork production is seen rising 45 percent in the next ten years, it said.

LONDON, Feb 21, 1996 (Reuter) – Asia will account for 75 percent of growth in global grain imports between 1995 and 2000, of which 50 percent will be in China, a USDA expert said on Monday.

Speaking at the Annual Agra-Europe Conference in London U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Asia researcher William Coyle said a substantial gap between consumption and production was developing in Asia.

He predicted a deficit of over 80 million tonnes by 2005 in China alone – a dramatic shift for a country that in 1992/93 was the world's second biggest exporter of corn.

ASEAN countries, like China, would experience a growing gap in grain consumption and production.

But rice output is seen rising in those countries, because of higher yields and increased production areas, Coyle said.

LONDON, March 12, 1996 (Reuter) – The international grain market was thrown into confusion on Tuesday when discovery of a fungus in Arizona forced the United States to suspend wheat exports to 21 nations.

America is expected to sell about 33.5 million tonnes of wheat or one-third of world trade this year.

It halted many deliveries even as global grain stocks stood at 20-year lows after drought in Australia and North Africa. Prices are already higher than at any time since the late 1970s when Soviet Russia made huge raids on the world market.

But some experts predicted that Tuesday's U.S. action might not be very dramatic if, as reports suggested, only durum seed wheat in Arizona was affected by the karnal bunt fungus.

"It's amber light rather than red," said a top London-based grain expert. U.S. officials said the fungus looked confined to Arizona but other areas were being checked.

European grain traders said that wheat prices would soar across the globe, except in the United States, if the extent of the problem is found to require any prolonged export freeze.

Traders said the fungus damages the wheat. "It makes it stink like fishmeal" one said.


BEYOND OIL forecasts that a major consequence of our oil vulnerability is that between 2007 and 2025 the US will cease to be a food exporter, due primarily to rising domestic demand, topsoil loss, food production inefficiencies, and shortages of costly petroleum used in agriculture—to say nothing of feared climate change problems.

BEYOND OIL, by Gever, et al., 1991, Univ. Press of Colorado, 800-268-6044 or 303-530-5337 ISBN 0-87081-242-4


We have now exceed the carrying capacity of the planet and may have as little as 35 years before the "functional integrity" of our life-support system disintegrates:

"If just the present world population of 5.8 billion people were to live at current North American ecological standards (say 4.5 ha/person), a reasonable first approximation of the total productive land requirement would be 26 billion ha (assuming present technology). However, there are only just over 13 billion ha of land on Earth, of which only 8.8 billion are ecologically productive cropland, pasture, or forest (1.5 ha/person). In short, we would need an additional two planet Earths to accommodate the increased ecological load of people alive today. If the population were to stabilize at between 10 and 11 billion sometime in the next century, five additional Earths would be needed, all else being equal — and this just to maintain the present rate of ecological decline (Rees & Wackernagel, 1994).

"While this may seem to be an astonishing result, empirical evidence suggests that five phantom planets is, in fact, a considerable underestimate (keep in mind that our footprint estimates are conservative). Global and regional-scale ecological change in the form of atmospheric change, ozone depletion, soil loss, ground water depletion, deforestation, fisheries collapse, loss of biodiversity, etc., is accelerating. This is direct evidence that aggregate consumption exceeds natural income in certain critical categories and that the carrying capacity of this one Earth is being steadily eroded. [We should remember Liebigs “Law of the Minimum” in this context. The productivity and ultimately the survival of any complex system dependent on numerous essential inputs or sinks is limited by that single variable in least supply.] In short, the ecological footprint of the present world population/ economy already exceeds the total productive area (or ecological space) available on Earth." [ ]

Furthermore, There is also a well-known relationship between environmental scarcities and violent conflict. . . . World War III?


by Robert Kaplan

"The cities of West Africa at night are some of the unsafest places in the world. Streets are unlit; the police often lack gasoline for their vehicles; armed burglars, carjackers, and muggers proliferate. `The government in Sierra Leone has no writ after dark,' says a foreign resident, shrugging. When I was in the capital, Freetown, last September, eight men armed with AK-47s broke into the house of an American man. They tied him up and stole everything of value. Forget Miami: direct flights between the United States and the Murtala Muhammed Airport, in neighboring Nigeria's largest city, Lagos, have been suspended by order of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation because of ineffective security at the terminal and its environs. A State Department report cited the airport for 'extortion by law-enforcement and immigration officials.' This is one of the few times that the U.S. government has embargoed a foreign airport for reasons that are linked purely to crime. In Abidjan, effectively the capital of the Cote d'Ivoire, or Ivory Coast, restaurants have stick-and-gun-wielding guards who walk you the fifteen feet or so between your car and the entrance, giving you an eerie taste of what American cities might be like in the future. An Italian ambassador was killed by gunfire when robbers invaded an Abidjan restaurant. The family of the Nigerian ambassador was tied up and robbed at gunpoint in the ambassador's residence. After university students in the Ivory Coast caught bandits who had been plaguing their dorms, they executed them by hanging tires around their necks and setting the tires on fire. In one instance Ivorian policemen stood by and watched the 'necklacings,' afraid to intervene. Each time I went to the Abidjan bus terminal, groups of young men with restless, scanning eyes surrounded my taxi, putting their hands all over the windows, demanding 'tips' for carrying my luggage even though I had only a rucksack. In cities in six West African countries I saw similar young men everywhere—hordes of them. They were like loose molecules in a very unstable social fluid, a fluid that was clearly on the verge of igniting."


"West Africa is becoming THE symbol of worldwide demographic, environmental, and societal stress, in which criminal anarchy emerges as the real `strategic' danger. Disease, overpopulation, unprovoked crime, scarcity of resources, refugee migrations, the increasing erosion of nation-states and international borders, and the empowerment of private armies, security firms, and international drug cartels are now most tellingly demonstrated through a West African prism. West Africa provides an appropriate introduction to the issues, often extremely unpleasant to discuss, that will soon confront our civilization. …"

THE COMING ANARCHY, by Robert Kaplan, in the Feb 1994 Atlantic Monthly.   Also see: Thomas Homer-Dixon, Jeffrey Boutwell, and George Rathjens, "Environmental Scarcity and Violent Conflict," Scientific American, February 1993; and from Homer-Dixon, "Environmental Scarcity and Global Security" Headline Series (New York: Foreign Policy Association, 1993). The Project on Environment, Population and Security: Conflict, Sustainable Development Center for Security Studies and Conflict Research The American Association for the Advancement of Science's gopher.

My third reference posits approximately the same time frame "before destroying the functional integrity of the ecosphere". In this case, the underlying studies were scientific analyses of the global carbon cycle. And remember folks, when the ecosphere goes, everything goes.


"There is accumulating evidence that humanity my soon have to confront the real carrying capacity constraints. For example, nearly 40% of terrestrial net primary productivity (photosynthesis) is already being used ("appropriated") by humans, one species among millions, and this fraction is steadily increasing (Vitousek et al. 1986). If we take this percentage as an index of the human carrying capacity of the earth and assume that a growing economy could come to appropriate 80% of photosynthetic production before destroying the functional integrity of the ecosphere, the earth will effectively go from half to completely full within the next doubling period—currently about 35 years (Daly 1991).

"The significance of this unprecedented convergence of economic scale with that of the ecosphere is not generally appreciated in the current debate on sustainable development. Because the human impact on critical functions of the ecosphere is not uniform "effective fullness" may actually occur well before the next doubling of human activity. (Liebig's law reminds us that is takes only a single critical limiting factor to constrain the entire system.) Indeed, data presented in this chapter suggests that long-term human carrying capacity may already have been at less than the present 40% preemption of photosynthesis. If so, even current consumption (throughput) cannot be sustained indefinitely, and further material growth can be purchased only with accelerated depletion of remaining natural capital stocks.

"This conundrum can be illustrated another way by extrapolation from our ecological footprint data. If the entire world population of 5.6 billion were to use productive land at the rate of our Vancouver/Lower Fraser Valley example, the total requirement would be 28.5 billion ha. In fact, the total land area of Earth is only just over 13 billion ha, of which only 8.8 billion ha is productive cropland, pasture, or forest. The immediate implications are two-fold: first, as already stressed, the citizens of wealthy industrial countries unconsciously appropriate far more than their share of global carrying capacity; second, we would require an additional "two Earths," assuming present technology and efficiency levels, to provide for the present world population at Canadian's ecological standard of living. In short, there may simply not be enough natural capital around to satisfy current development assumptions. The difference between the anticipated ecological footprint of the human enterprise and the available land/natural capital base is a measure "sustainability gap" confronting humankind." [p. 383]


"We admittedly make no allowance for potentially large efficiency gains or technological advances. Even at carrying capacity, further economic growth is possible (but not necessarily desirable) if resource consumption and waste production continue to decline per unit GDP (Jacobs 1991). We should not, however, rely exclusively on this conventional rationale. New technologies require decades to achieve the market penetration needed to significantly influence negative ecological trends. Moreover,there is no assurance that savings will not simply be directed into alternative forms of consumption. Efficiency improvements may actually increase rather than decrease resource consumption (Saunders 1992). We are already at the limit in a world of rising material expectations in which the human population is increasing by 94 million people per year. The minimal food-land requirements alone each year for this number of new people is 18,800,000 ha (at 5 people/ha, the current average productivity of world agriculture)—the equivalent of all cropland in France." [p. 386]

published by The International Society for Ecological Economics and Island Press, 1994. Phone: 800-828-1302 or 707-983-6432; FAX: 707-983-6164

EDITED BY: AnnMari Jansson, Monica Hammer, Carl Folke, and Robert Costanza

The quoted text was taken from chapter # 20 which was by: William E. Rees and Mathis Wackernagel from The University of British Columbia School of Community and Regional Planning 6333 Memorial Road Vancouver, BC Canada V6T 1Z2


Daly, H. 1986. Comments on "Population Growth and Economic Development." Population and Development Review 12: 583-585

——- 1990. Sustainable development: from concept and theory towards operational principles. Population and Development Review (special issue 1990) (Also published in Daly, H. 1991. Steady State Economics. 2d, ed. Washington, DC: Island Press)

——–1991. From empty world economics to full world economics: recognizing an historic turning point in economic development. In Environmentally Sustainable Development: Building on Brundtland, eds. R. Goodland, H. Daly, and S. El Serafy. Washington DC: The World Bank

——–1991. Steady State Economics. 2d, ed. Washington, DC: Island Press

Vitousek, P., P. Ehrlich, A. Ehrlich, and P. Matson, 1986. Human appropriation of the products of photosynthesis. BioScience 36: 368-74


[ Posted by Alan McGowen to ECOLOGICAL ECONOMICS ]

Net primary production. It's the photosynthetic production of plants minus what they use for their own life processes—so it's the amount of food left over for everything else. Think of it as the GNP of an ecosystem.

Let's look at some numbers.


NPP (Pg/yr)
(1 Pg = 10^15g)

Total terrestrial NPP [“terrestrial” means “on land” and doesn’t include marine NPP.]


NPP used  
—– Consumed by humans


—– Consumed by domestic animals


—– Wood used by humans



(4% of total)

NPP dominated  
—– Croplands (1)


—– Converted pastures (1)


—– Tree plantations (1)


—– Human-occupied lands (1)


—– Consumed from little-managed ecosystems (2)


—– Land clearing



(31% of total)

NPP lost to human activity  
—– Decreased NPP of cropland vs. natural systems (3)


—– Desertification


—– Human-occupied areas



(together with the
NPP dominated,
39% of total
potential NPP)

(1) This includes the total NPP of wholly human-dominated ecosystems.

(2) This category includes wood harvested and forage consumed by domestic animals on little-managed systems, and anthropogenic fires.

(3) This accounts for a decrease (on average) in the NPP of crop systems compared to the natural systems they replace, due primarily to the substitution of annuals for perennials. If we follow Olson et al. (1983) and assume that cropland NPP is equal to or above that of natural systems, this component of loss dissappears but is replaced by an equivalent amount of cropland NPP dominated by humanity. [From Vitousek et al., 1986, quoted in Vitousek, 1994.]

"NPP dominated" refers to NPP of human-dominated systems. These are areas that function in wholly different ways as a result of human use and human-caused land use change.

Refs. Olson, J. S., J. A. Watts, and A. J. Allison. 1983. Carbon in live vegetation of major world ecosystems. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, USA.

Vitousek, P. M., P. R. Ehrlich, A. H. Ehrlich, and P. A. Matson. 1986. Human appropriation of the products of photosynthesis. BioScience 36:368-373.

Vitousek, P. M. 1994. Beyond global warming: ecology and global change (MacArthur award lecture). Ecology 75(7), pp. 1861-1876.


Rates of infectious disease have risen rapidly in many countries during the past decade, according to a new study released by the Worldwatch Institute. Illness and death from tuberculosis, malaria, dengue fever, and AIDS are up sharply; infectious diseases killed 16.5 million people in 1993, one-third of all deaths worldwide, and slightly more than cancer and heart disease combined.

The resurgence of diseases once thought to have been conquered stems from a deadly mix of exploding populations, rampant poverty, inadequate health care, misuse of antibiotics, and severe environmental degradation, says the new report, Infecting Ourselves: How Environmental and Social Disruptions Trigger Disease. Infectious diseases take their greatest toll in developing countries, where cases of malaria and tuberculosis are soaring, but even in the United States, infectious disease deaths rose 58 percent between 1980 and 1992.

Research Associate Anne Platt, author of the report, says, "Infectious diseases are a basic barometer of the environmental sustainability of human activity. Recent outbreaks result from a sharp imbalance between a human population growing by 88 million each year and a natural resource base that is under increasing stress."

"Water pollution, shrinking forests, and rising temperatures are driving the upward surge in infections in many countries," the report says. "Only by adopting a more sustainable path to economic development can we control them."

"Beyond the number of people who die, the social and economic cost of infectious diseases is hard to overestimate," Platt says. "It can be a crushing burden for families, communities, and governments. Some 400 million people suffer from debilitating malaria, about 200 million have schistosomiasis, and nine million have tuberculosis."

By the year 2000, AIDS will cost Asian countries over $50 billion a year just in lost productivity. "Such suffering and economic loss is doubly tragic," says Platt, "because the cost of these diseases is astronomical, yet preventing them is not only simple, but inexpensive."

The author notes, "The dramatic resurgence of infectious diseases is telling us that we are approaching disease and medicine, as well as economic development, in the wrong way. Governments focus narrowly on individual cures and not on mass prevention; and we fail to understand that lifestyle can promote infectious disease just as it can contribute to heart disease. It is imperative that we bring health considerations into the equation when we plan for international development, global trade, and population increases, to prevent disease from spreading and further undermining economic development."

The report notes that this global resurgence of infectious disease involves old, familiar diseases like tuberculosis and the plague as well as new ones like Ebola and Lyme disease. Yet all show the often tragic consequences of human actions:

Population increases, leading to human crowding, poverty, and the growth of mega-cities, are prompting dramatic increases in dengue fever, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS.

Lack of clean water is spreading diseases like cholera, typhoid, and dysentery. Eighty percent of all disease in developing countries is related to unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation.

Poorly planned development disrupts ecosystems and provides breeding grounds for mosquitoes, rodents, and snails that spread debilitating parasites and disease.

Inadequate vaccinations have led to resurgences in measles and diphtheria.

Misuse of antibiotics has created drug-resistant strains of pneumonia and malaria.

Vastly increased human mobility from air travel can move infectious agents between continents in hours.

The report shows that the methods of preventing and treating most infectious diseases are well known. But the growing pressures of budget cuts and population growth are overwhelming efforts in many countries to control epidemics. As a result, many nations lack the money, personnel, and resources to provide adequate prevention and treatment. Platt agrees with World Health Organization officials who say that poverty is the deadliest disease. It is the main reason that babies are not vaccinated, clean water is not provided, and effective drugs are not available. For example, government-owned water utilities may provide services only to landowners or homeowners, leaving large squatter populations, typical of many Third World cities, outside the scope of the service.

Even the United States often fails in the most obvious ways to prevent infectious diseases. Only 58 percent of Americans are immunized, far below the rates in many developing countries, including India, Mexico, Thailand, and Uganda. An estimated 3 million American children are not immunized against traditional childhood infections. And although water quality has improved in the U.S., waterborne infectious diseases such as giardiasis cost the nation nearly 20 billion dollars each year.

The report recommends a four part plan, to control the spread of infectious diseases.

1. Slow population growth and stabilize the world's climate. The world needs to implement the World Population Plan of Action, as adopted at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, and to allocate more money for family planning and reproductive health programs, as well as the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. Effective implementation of the International Climate Convention is crucial to address the increasing global emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

2. Improve social and environmental conditions. A combination of measures to reduce poverty, prevent pollution, and improve living conditions, particularly in poor urban and rural areas, are needed to address the underlying causes of infectious disease. More than one-fifth of humanity lacks regular access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Environmental protection efforts must be invigorated in developing and developed countries alike to restore air and water quality, and to preserve biological diversity and the integrity of ecosystems, which keep many infectious organisms in check.

3. Expand coverage of basic public health measures, including vaccines, antibiotics, and medicines. Supplies of clean syringes, rubber gloves, and other basic health equipment are sorely needed in developing countries. Funding for ongoing public health programs, including outreach, education, and research should be a top priority at local, national, and international levels of government. Nations also need to expand access to basic health care and medical services, especially for women and children, and to raise public awareness.

4. Establish a global health monitoring system. In 1995, the World Health Organization General Assembly passed a resolution urging member states to strengthen surveillance; improve rapid diagnosis, communication, and response; and conduct routine testing for drug resistance. Policymakers would do well to integrate environmental, climate, population, and land use data and information to detect conditions conducive to disease outbreaks, to provide early warning to health officials, and to create an efficient response network.

Today, disease control is crisis driven, with public health agencies and governments reacting to epidemics, not preventing them; paying larger sums for treatment of disease rather than pennies a day for preventive measures. In the long run, prevention is our most effective weapon against infectious disease: public health measures that improve the health of individuals and populations, as well as sustainable economic and environmental policies that control the emergence and spread of infectious diseases and maintain the natural checks and balances will go a long way toward promoting a healthier world. The price of failing to understand these links is clear: rising health care costs and a world in which, even now, more than half the people live in fear of plagues.

Worldwatch Institute, 1776 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20036, Phone: 202-452-1999; FAX: 202-296-7365, [email protected].