The basic Concepts:
- finite room
- finite environment
- finite resources
- finite population
- why do we care?
For well over a millions years humans existed on a planet that appeared limitless to the humans. As the human population grew, new people could always explore new places to live. There was always a new places to explore.
But by the 18th century, there were reasonable maps of the earth, but still large areas of land unmapped and unexplored. During the 20th century humans reached the point where they could map every point on the entire globe to detailed level.
But in the history of mankind, knowing the entire globe occurred only very very recently.
Today we not only know the entire globe of the Earth, we have basically reached the point where humans have an allocated usage for virtually all land on the globe of the Earth. There are still wilderness areas, but a large proportion of people believe at least almost all of what is referred to as wilderness, should permanently remain as wilderness. This means that to add more people, we now have to fit more into the existing space. Into the spaces we have already declared ‘in use’.
Effectively Finite Room or Really Finite?
Vast areas of land in Australia, Canada, Greenland, Siberia and even North Africa are effectively wasteland. It could be argued that transforming the landscape in these locations could be transformed and perhaps then house an additional perhaps 50% of worlds current population. It could also be argued that the impact on the planet if we tried would be horrific, but in the end even if we did …at the population growth rates of the 20th century doubling global population every 30 years, it would in fact make very little difference.
Either way, we are, from a room perspective, at the point of housing additional population by fitting them into the same space.
In fact not only are we not even trying to transform these new areas, urbanisation seems to now result in fitting more and more people into even smaller spaces.
The earth is huge. At first it can seem the idea that somethings as relatively small as even the largest living organism could change the Earth itself seems unlikely. However, records confirm that collectively living things have actually completely reshaped the environment of billions of years.
Back when there are a few humans, whatever humans did was absorbed by the environment. People could just leave their rubbish, and even homes, and the environment would absorb the impact. Then we created pollution that at least on a local level, the environment was clearly damaged. Now we have invented plastics and inhabit so much of the Earth, that we can clearly see we can have an impact at a global level. Consider ozone depletion and chlorofluorocarbons. A large significant percentage of believe the actions of humans may now be having an impact on climate.
The term Anthropocene has been coined to describe the era during which mankind can have significant impact on the environment.
While plagues previously have impacted local environments, as have humans at least since the beginning of the industrial age, and other organisms have even had global impact, this the first time and organism can actually decide what global impact the organism has.
Humans are rapidly consuming the Earth’s Helium supply. There are several other mineral resources where it has now become tangible that the supply is finite. This limit of supply is an entirely new concept. There may be solutions, but to actually exhaust the worlds supply of anything, in the very foreseeable future, given how long we hope humanity can continue is quite astounding.
The world is headed toward a peak human population. The idea that the population may actually stop growing may sound incredible given the recent period of unprecedented population growth, but is neither without precent nor without considerable evidence that the trend is on track for that outcome. Those concerned about population will still be concerned that the actual population level that will be reached by the time there is stability will still be at frightening levels, but on the other side, there those that feel ending population growth will represent a disaster
Why does it matter?
Many countries are facing the first time in centuries that generations are growing up with the expectation they will have less real wealth than their parents. Unless we desire that trend to continue, it is best to understand why. The world is facing many challenges, environmental, biodiversity, distribution of wealth, terrorism, and simply the ability of humans to continue to be able to enjoy the natural environment.
Understanding, and managing, the impact of ‘finite earth’ is critical to any solution to these challenges.