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What Is The US Carrying Capacity?

Human population carrying capacity is a term that roughly means the maximum number of individuals that can survive at a specified level of consumption on a specified area of land for a long, if not indefinite, period of time. For decades the United States carrying capacity was considered to be about 200 million humans.1Of course as we are approaching 340 million humans that was concerning.

However the 200 million figure has largely been replaced with estimates from 400 million to 800 million2 on a sliding scale of life span, diet, and consumption. Some ecological scientists say that if we could ration goods necessary for survival, alter our diets, and centrally control the use of raw materials to a more sustainable level and more efficient usage we could soar to the higher part of that range. Some economists say that even without an imposed master plan we will still ration goods necessary for human survival by the invisible hand of commerce. In other words scarcity will impact prices which will impact consumption and efficiency will be increased by individual desire to increase supply.

Naturally scientific advancement will impact production although in most scientific advancement there is a likelihood that there are yet unknown losses to the common good that may take generations to reveal themselves. Those unseen drawbacks to seemingly scientific magic may manifest themselves in things such as biomagnification of produced toxins or genetic alterations, changes in other non human lifecycles that will adversely effect human life etc.

The 200 million figure for the United States was based on the prevailing scientific knowledge and average scientific advancement rate of the 1970s as well as the consumption, standard of life expectations of the 1970s. Those factors are changing and are likely to change more drastically. An even lower figure of 100 million people, based on the energy security and the greenhouse effect is often bandied about.

In the last ten years we have noticed a drastic change in the price of necessary goods such as food and shelter. There are numerous reasons for these changes including accrued debt over the decades, and increased competition for resources both foreign and domestic. The standard of living as defined as ready availability of spacious abodes and inexpensive food is declining. This may well be part of the unplanned adjustment of carrying capacity factors in the face of a growing population.

In the US we have also seen a slowing of life expectancy rises and in a few years when pandemics prevailed a stagnation and slight drop. The US has dropped drastically in comparative life expectancy with much of the industrialized world. Many of those societies and economies had already undergone carrying capacity adjustments in the past so their life expectancy rates are perhaps free to continue to increase to a new plateau.

The rise in global population and necessary increased interdependence will likely create ever more vectors for the spread of diseases and intolerances, both physical AND mental. By mental I mean irrational, fear driven behaviors such as xenophobia, and tribalism, and personal and crippling psychological weaknesses.

My point is that there is a limit to self sufficient population numbers even in a country as vast as the US. That limit may be raised or lowered based on consumption and efficiency but there is still a limit. The laws of the natural world will at some point intervene and lower our numbers. The intervention by nature may be so severe as to erase most of us or it may be gentle. Maybe it is best if we take action before the natural world has to take action?

Maybe we need to decrease consumption, decrease dependencies, increase flexibility and increase competence? Maybe we need to back down from the rapidly approaching zenith of population.



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