If explorers discovered a vacant continent teeming with vast resources, cleansed by fresh flowing waters, and brimming in rich energy reserves, the migrating settlers may fashion a relaxed immigration policy consistent with available resources. The policy could be modified as population pressures bore on the resource base. Policies and procedures are time dependent.
Settlers expanding into virgin territory could strike equilibrium with resources, waters, and energy reserves. They could also, implicitly or explicitly, choose to breach the carrying capacity. Their relative relationship with life supporting systems offers a rational basis for reaching a responsible balance.
Lindsey Grant has authored
countless essays and several books on the delicate balance between people and
resources. His latest book assesses the prospects for energy reserves to meet
the aspirations of
In three chapters contained
within 74 pages, this is a quick read in plain English. In chapter one, Grant
draws on the wisdom of economist Kenneth Boulding: “Anyone who believes
exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an
economist.” For the remainder of this century, we will draw on oil, coal, tar
sands, nuclear, gas, and hydrogen/biomass. The most salient question is not
when each reserve will be depleted, but rather when the rate of depletion will
peak. Thereafter, on the down side of the depletion curve, incongruities
between supply and demand can be expected to inspire bitter competition (think
Grant unveils a dark secret of our perceived need to grow the economy: Faster rates of depletion will hasten the day of palpable energy shortages.
Chapter two imparts a sustainable
and rational framework to comprehend the extent of remaining energy reserves.
Chapter three analyzes renewable energy alternatives. The fossil fuel era will appear as a brief spike in the history of human affairs. Aggressive rates of depletion began in the 1940s, and we are now already on the threshold of peak oil. Grant addresses the era beyond petroleum, coal, and fossil fuels. He observes that future alternatives may enable us to be more responsible stewards, but only at a lower population level, with less consumptive habits.
Throughout this book, Grant keeps an eye on the multiplier of resource depletion: Human numbers. He often asks the reader to identify an optimum population, amid an elusive host of variables.
In closing, Grant is sensitive to the nation by nation challenge to manage population size and to maximize human well being. The research causes the era of optimism to draw to a close for Grant. When pondering whether the human experiment is prepared to responsibly confront this daunting challenge, Grant states: “I would not bet that the human race can manage this most difficult of transitions—this retreat from overshoot—without turmoil, but we have an opportunity to try.”