Carrying Capacity : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

There was an earlier post concerning the formal concept of "carrying capacity" within biological systems. In its simplest terms, carrying capacity can be understood as the minimum amount of food, water, waste disposal and energy requirements to sustain a given population. Our technologies have given us great efficiencies in these areas and thus increased our maximum allowable population. As an example, many people intuitively understand that relatively few people actually produce the food for all the rest of us. Very few know the actual numbers. I perused the available online census data and came up with some interesting data. In 1900, there were 76 million people in the United States. Of those, 45 million lived in "rural" areas. I take this to mean that those 45 million were mostly sustained by what they grew/shot/caught AND they had enough surplus to trade/sell to keep the 31 million in the cities alive. I realize there were some people who were not farmers, (a few doctors, lawyers, teachers, barkeeps etc). However, as far as I can tell, about 90% of that 45 million (40.5M or 53% of total pop) were farmers on some scale. Contrast that with the data from 1990-1995. 250 million people in the US with 61 million as "rural" inhabitants. The difference is that by 1995 only 3.6 million are identified as farmers (thats 1.44% of the population). The transportation and data 'pipelines' that connect that 1.44% to the rest of us is one of the principal reasons Y2K is so dangerous - so few support so many!! Of course, this ignores discussion of clean water and other factors within a given carrying capacity. TEOTWAWKI is looking ever more realistic if a large scale and continuous failure of the grids and telecom occur. Get your non-hybrid seeds NOW and plant a "practice" garden next summer. Its cheap insurance.

-- R. D..Herring (, October 24, 1998


While R.D. is exactly correct, his focus on agriculture may be misleading. The real issue of carrying capacity refers to the extreme division of labor that computerization permits.

As R.D. points out, it used to be that one farmer could feed two people; now one farmer feeds 20, a 10-1 increase. This pattern stares you in the face wherever you look. Railroads before they computerized employed 10 times as many as they do now, and moved only half as much freight. The WalMart Supercenter employs only a tenth as many people as the old 'corner store' per sales dollar. Most of manufacturing shows the same pattern.

Most of us today have very narrow specialties, and if what we do even existed 50 years ago, far fewer are still engaged in doing it. Computers have leveraged our skills dramatically. Think of what you do for a living. Even if you don't need computers to do it, how far would your efforts project without communication, or transportation, or the financial system and the global economy?

-- Flint (, October 25, 1998.

Carrying capacity. This brings to mind the prospect (sometimes mentioned) that American society may regress to the level of (say) 1860. I don't think this is a viable possibility. The functioning infrastructure of 1860 doesn't exist any more. The implements and tools used then aren't available now. It would take several years to rebuild the population of draft horses (used in commerce and agriculture) to the 1860 level. The truck gardens that surrounded the cities then are gone. The lag time involved in getting back up to speed would mean a serious reduction in "carrying capacity."

-- Tom Carey (, October 26, 1998.

When the US and Australia were founded about 200 years ago, people came across the sea in primative wooden sailing ships and navagated by the sun and stars using compass, sextant and simple chronometers. In those days they had tradesmen who could create a finished product using the most basic of tools. Often they could even make their own tools. Carpenters, blacksmiths, coopers (barrel makers), glass bottle blowers, tailors (who sewed by hand with needle and thread), weavers (with home looms), potters, farriers (horse doctors), millers, fishermen, hunters, trappers etc. Almost all of these skills are gone now. Reverting back 200 years overnight would be a luxury compared to what is more likely to happen: I fear a new dark age!

-- David Harvey (, October 28, 1998.

>Reverting back 200 years overnight would be a luxury compared to what is more likely to happen: I fear a new dark age!<

... and you can't shed fat, build muscles and callouses overnight. (had to check dictionary, for spelling of callasses)

-- x (x@x.x), October 28, 1998.

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