Carrying Capacity And Overshoot

There once was a time when I was a very active homebrewer, making upwards of 14 batches of beer a year. Things have slowed down on that front quite a bit since having our son (not to mention my increased activity blogging and working on post-growth projects). Nowadays I make mead, wine and the occasional beer. The mead and wine are much easier to make in terms of labor hours, but require much more patience.

I bring this up because recently I have been thinking about the magical thing that drives that hobby of mine: yeast. They are amazing little creatures, and some even consider them to be proof of a higher power (that old Ben Franklin quote “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”) More to the point, I’ve been thinking about how much we seem to have in common with yeast:

  • They consume feverishly, producing wastes that slowly build up in their environment.
  • They produce CO2 in amazing quantity.
  • Their population reaches in the billions, each one is bent on consuming over everything else.
  • Eventually their waste (in the case of yeast, alcohol) spreads so far and wide into their environment it turns an otherwise supporting system into a killing system – they die in their own waste, poisoned by it.

We’ve definitely started to edge into the last one, but we already have hit the first three. Our economy and society, most especially here in the United States, relies and exists solely to consume (and produce things to consume). We’ve released so much CO2 into the atmosphere that we’re altering our beautiful ecosystem’s ability to support life. Our consumption continues to rise, but so does our population – both adding to the problem.

The pity is that we can’t bottle up our waste and toast it over a good meal with friends, like we can with the “waste” yeast cells produce. Maybe instead, we can learn from their experience – if we consume too much, produce too much waste, we will have a massive drop in production capacity and population. We can choose a different path. We can choose to stabilize our consumption, work to remove the CO2 from our system and try to restore a lot of the ecosystem we’ve destroyed so far.

This month is all about the Global Population Speak-Out. I’ve signed up to write some posts, and the GrowthBusters have decided to write a few more on our Post Growth blog. Let’s start talking about population and consumption – they’re getting out of control and we’re starting to look like we have the collective intelligence of single-celled organisms, so let’s start acting like we’ve actually got the intelligence of an evolved,┬ásentient┬áspices, huh?