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How can the Earth sustain 11 billion people?

  • 1.  How can the Earth sustain 11 billion people?

    Posted 04-13-2018 07:47
    In Fall 2018 I am teaching a Grand Challenge course 'How can the Earth sustain 11 billion people?' I am looking for novel paradigms that can be used to sustain large populations. Limiting or decreasing population is not an option. Some of the options I can think of are: vertical habitats (high rise buildings), artificial green photosynthetic leaves, genetically engineered animals, etc. Can you suggest ways by which population can be managed sustainability?
    Ashok K Singh

    Ashok Singh

  • 2.  RE: How can the Earth sustain 11 billion people?

    Posted 04-13-2018 17:31
    I wish I had better news.  Maybe the best hope is that what follows is simply wrong.
    Nevertheless, in my considered judgement, the presenting issue of "how can the Earth sustain 11 billion people?" as this question is now heard and understood tends to lead to STEM type "solutions."  Look again at your own initial probes.  This still common response assumes that one way or another we can fix things and make our present cultures sustainable without having to cope with nature and limits of the form of civilization that now dominates our planet.  The deep and still largely unfaced issue of your "Grand Challenge" is the fact that we now know that we live in a complex, living human cultural systems world in which all 11 billion of us will have been born into cultures that while ongoing, are increasingly fractured, fragmented, eroded, and strained by all of the other "Grand Challenges."
    In short, we face two meta-issues:  The first is that it is an illusion to try to think through our condition "one issue at a time," when we now know better.  ((The fact we still deal with things in siloed ways one issue at a time does not make us insightful and wise, only frightened and lacking courage and a truly courageous and encouraging community.)  The second issue is that in 2018 we have virtually no developed capacity to think things through in whole systems terms that face and cope with the facts of our humanity as persons who are immersed in cultures and history, we well as the planet.  Even our dynamic systems methods, including complexity theory, still, at root, reflect our Modern consciousness and its habits of heart and mind.  This does NOT imply that we are necessarily hooped.  However, it does seem to imply, that we may well need to move beyond the habits of heart and mind of the 1st Enlightenment and get at the truly hard work of the 21st Century -- learning the limits and limitations of our 1st enlightenment ways of knowing, being and living and then feeling our way beyond them as we come to terms with the need for a 2nd Enlightenment and a civilizational trajectory change.  Even if your students learn no more than this, they will have learned more than those who still share the deep illusion of our culture that we can "fix" without coming to terms with the deep limitations of the form of civilization that now dominates the planet and the many ways it distorts both persons and planet.
    Maybe you should ask, "What forms of consciousness, culture and civilization are required in order to sustain 11 billion persons and their planet in the emerging  conditions of the 21st Century?"  Yes, this question can lead to despair.  And despair can open the door nor only to death, but to a post-despair basis for hope.

    Ruben Nelson
    Foresight Canada

  • 3.  RE: How can the Earth sustain 11 billion people?

    Posted 04-13-2018 17:43
    Hello Ashok,
    I want to recommend to you, a fantastic organization I've worked with, their main focus is our World's population, and finding ways to address the elephant in the room:
    Population Education - Population Education Resources for Teachers
    Population Education remove preview
    Population Education - Population Education Resources for Teachers
    Finding activities and readings for your students is easy. Whether you need a lesson plan covering a specific topic or a set of activities for Earth Day, we've got you covered. Browse Resources Workshops for teachers are held nationwide at public and private schools, educator conferences, nonformal education sites and on university campuses.
    View this on Population Education >

    And Population Connection - America's Voice for Population Stabilization

    PopConnect remove preview
    Population Connection - America's Voice for Population Stabilization
    Population Connection Magazine: Reproductive Justice Since 1968, Population Connection ( formerly Zero Population Growth or ZPG) has been America's voice for population stabilization. We are the largest grassroots population organization in the United States-we have over 500,000 members, supporters, and participating educators!
    View this on PopConnect >

    Powering The Future part 3: Striking a Balance HD

    YouTube remove preview
    Powering The Future part 3: Striking a Balance HD
    We are bombarded daily with conflicting messages about energy from sources with vastly different agendas and motives. This episode filters out politics and special interests by looking at numbers: How many people will be on the planet by 2050 and how much energy will we need?
    View this on YouTube >

    Also may be of assistance to watch a couple of the episodes of a series we worked on called: "Powering the Future".

    Powering The Future part 3: Striking a Balance HD

    YouTube remove preview
    Powering The Future part 3: Striking a Balance HD
    We are bombarded daily with conflicting messages about energy from sources with vastly different agendas and motives. This episode filters out politics and special interests by looking at numbers: How many people will be on the planet by 2050 and how much energy will we need?
    View this on YouTube >

      Powering The Future - The Energy Revolution

    YouTube remove preview
    Powering The Future - The Energy Revolution
    discovery channel copyrights
    View this on YouTube >

    Best of luck on all your endeavors!


    Elizabeth Andrade
    EVP & Executive Producer
    v:301.656.0050 m:301.661.5450 f:301.576.8405 w:

  • 4.  RE: How can the Earth sustain 11 billion people?

    Posted 04-16-2018 07:22
    The only way to sustain human existence on this planet, is by humans living a sustainable lifestyle. What does that mean? There are manyfold answers. but part of it:
    • mostly plant-based, organic, regional, seasonal Diet
    • reduction of consumption of convenience foods
    • reduction, if possible elimination, of plastic consumption
    • reduction of conventional detergents and cleaning agents
    • reduction, if possible elimination, of consumerism that aims at filling an emotional void
    • connecting with nature
    • birth control 
    • support of local economy
    • fair salaries and labor conditions
    • access to education (for everyone)
    • social security systems
    • etc... 

    In any case solutions are only solutions if they are not creating new problems. The example of plastic pollution vividly illustrates that humans have a very limited ability to anticipate the consequences of their actions and "ingenious" inventions. Thus, a precautionary approach is pivotal. Moreover, solutions should be easily applicable, low cost, rendering possible high access, rather than increasing profits of multinational companies.

    And the first step is to practice what we preach. For examples and guides on how to live a sustainable life, check out youtube ;)

    Katharina Biely


  • 5.  RE: How can the Earth sustain 11 billion people?

    Posted 04-24-2018 11:52

    One issue with human population growth is that homo sapiens are also a social-cultural species.  Human culture is transmitted via narratives and social interactions, and this shapes much of human individual and collective behavior.  So imagine you have a dominant narrative that shapes human societies---homo economicus-which encourages ever-increasing frivolous (non-essential) consumption, and competition to increase status via frivolous material wealth (hyper-wealth).  In combination with increased reproduction rates (which may also tend to increase in conflictive and excessively harsh, competitive environments), and complete disregard for the long-term sustainability of natural resources and ecosystem services, this is especially devastating. 


    Imagine, however, if environmental education and cultural education were successful in transforming the dominant social narratives into one that encourages simple, sustainable living, sufficient (only essential) consumption, and cooperative behaviors (think activation of the human egalitarian/altruistic/cooperative gene that used sustainability measures to bestow social status.  Assume that part of that new narrative was a radical belief and commitment to ecological restoration and protection, along with sustainable use of natural resources.  And then also imagine that the new narrative (and corresponding beliefs, attitudes, identity, social norms, behaviors, and social institutions) were transmitted through social circles (new data does not change people; groups of persuasive people change people).  When this New Human becomes the dominant cultural species, this one heals, shares, restores, renews, protects, and sustainably uses the earth's resources.  There are already pockets of these groups of humans working together to do this all around the world.  They are working at odds with the other dominant social narrative. 






    Ríobart É. (Rob) Breen, Ph.D.


  • 6.  RE: How can the Earth sustain 11 billion people?

    Posted 04-24-2018 19:57
    Great thread! How can we sustain 11 billion people? We can't, but there's a doable path back to more sustainable populations.

    I recommend going beyond conventional business-as-usual models to promote neighbourhood and community organizing principles that prioritize common principles and practices of Indigenous societies AND the latest innovations in recycling and zero emission energy, technology, materials and transportation AND global promotion of an ethic (with incentives?) to have only 0 or 1 child per couple (we could reduce global population significantly in several generations). As we are all aware, humanity needs a paradigm shift towards earth-centred and egalitarian respect for the contributions of diverse species, individuals and environments.

    Assessment of Indigenous systems, from a cultural continuity perspective suggests there's something about Indigenous knowledge systems that creates resilience, cohesion & sustainability despite disasters, ice ages, migrations, predators or invasions. For example, while suicide is rising globally (~800,000 annually), Indigenous elders who retain Indigenous principles have the lowest suicide rates among all nationalities, even while Indigenous populations in general have the highest suicide rates. A NASA funded study has analyzed the rise and fall of societies in Earth history and discovered that the most enduring societies were the more egalitarian and environmentally protective (i.e. most Indigenous societies), while more stratified societies fell, with some taking hundreds of years to recuperate.

    The idea is that within complex and diverse Indigenous knowledge systems, there are common principles and practices, honed over tens of thousands of years, that created dynamic-homeostatic matrices of resilient individuals within cohesive and sustainable communities (aka survival of the most environmentally and community response-able). The mechanism for developing these old (and new) systems is direct individual experiences of the local environments, shared within social settings, which provided continuous feedback and resulted in traditional behaviours that were the most beneficial for maintaining the health of the community, and the health of the environments upon which they depended (aka interconnectedness and respectful relationships). I believe that these principles and practices (the active ingredients beneath the cultural stories) are still relevant today and can be promoted within sustainable development or climate adaptation plans, or within grassroots organizations, to instigate transitions to more self-regulating eco-social systems, within existing country systems. The more these practices are integrated within communities, the more self-regulating, resilient and sustainable they'll become, despite the conditions of surrounding neighbourhoods and communities. These transformations can start within families, neighbourhoods or communities and don't require permission, only collective efforts; government approvals and contributions could speed up the process. Rather than material gain, the prize is living a good life according to one's aptitudes, being a good person and contributing to the wellbeing of the community, with constant recognition, status & rewards for those behaviours. I realize this seems impossible, and even horrible to the more materialistic, but we already have examples of social, environmental, green tech and governance initiatives around the globe, including eco or intentional communities (e.g., devolved or revitalized governance systems (e.g. North West Territories or Iceland), countries with 100% renewable communities (e.g. Germany), social enterprises (e.g. Elon Musk's initiatives), intact Indigenous communities (e.g. South America), hydro, aero or aquaponics, and high tech community analogues (space, underwater, remote).

    Some of the common practices identified are as follows:

    1. communally organized, hunted, fished, gathered, grown, harvested, processed, shared, traded and stored food and water, which guarantees member survival, reduces dependence upon external economic systems, and maintains local environmental integrity 2. systems of inclusive and egalitarian communication, problem solving and decision-making (eg community councils) that enable input of every person's local knowledge, experience and recommendations, 3. situational and task-limited selection of best candidate community leads, and representatives by aptitude & experience, 4. early recognition and nurturing of aptitudes, 5. early training in survival skills and self-awareness of strengths and limitations, which increases the value of community, 6. early nurturing of inviolable free will and self-determination, with the exception to do no harm, with natural or logical consequences, 7. local apprenticeships and free access to skill development and higher learning, 8. early training in respectful relationships with people, other species and environment (e.g. permission to touch, healthy boundaries, gratitude, self-discipline), 9. restorative justice practices with communal problem solving, supervision, reparation agreements and expulsion if necessary, 10. individual access to local resources and interest-free, trade and barter of goods and services with local and neighbouring communities, 11. communal feasts for celebration and acknowledgement of rites of passage and important accomplishments, 12. public events for developing spiritual relationships with the environment and each other, 13. public conceptual education about the interconnectedness of life, 14. public experiential education about stewardship relationships with the local environments (e.g. local food, water, waste, energy systems, species identification, roles & protection), and 15. periodic gatherings with neighbouring communities with feasts, intermarriage, trade, dispute resolution and revised agreements about shared use of lands and resources.

    For more info and references on these ideas:

    Dawn Marsden