Saturday, November 03, 2007


If you don't read The Oil Drum blog, you might consider doing so. It is commentary on oil and energy issues, as we approach peak oil. Unless we have passed it. Some people say it happened in 2006.

There was an essay in The Oil Drum on how many people the planet could support, without the green revolution, which is very heavily dependent on petroleum. The gentleman writing the essay, who lives in Karachi, ended by saying without a lot of petroleum inputs, we need an acre of arable land per person, and this means the carrying capacity of the planet is 3 billion people. We need to lose more than three billion people, he wrote. How this might happen is still uncertain.

There is one country on Earth which is considered to have a sustainable economy: Cuba.

I checked the population of Cuba and the arable land (thank you, Google). Cuba has 1.3 acres of arable land per person. 60% of the land is not devoted to agriculture. While the Cubans can't be called rich; the average income is $2,000 a year; they have a society which in terms of life expectancy, health care and education equals the rich industrial west.

This was achieved in the so-called special period, after the collapse of the USSR, which had been Cuba's main trading partner and the source of its petroleum. The special period was hard. Caloric intake went down. But the Cubans survived without social chaos and rebuilt their society on a new basis.

Remember that Cuba is a poor, third world country, without the astounding resources of the first world. If the wealth now devoted to the Goddess knows what -- consumer stuff and financial bubbles -- could be devoted to changing the world, who knows what we could do?

In any case, we can feed people without petroleum, if we have 1.3 acres of arable land per person. Based on the Pakistani gentleman's figures, this would mean a world population of 2.3 billion people, which means losing 4 billion people.

Or figuring out how to feed them, which is going to require quite amazing biotechnology, and the elimination (I think) of raising animals for food in most parts of the world. We can raise bison on the great plains, because that is not farm land. In fact, we might need to go to getting meat from wild animals, prudently harvested by market hunters.

I'm thinking about the sequel to Ring of Swords, and what my future earth needs to be like. I am locked into a population of 9 billion, per the first novel. So I have to figure out how to feed them.


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