Ye Olde Student Life: Closer to ‘carrying capacity,’ more than three decades later

The TSL article circa 1960

The current world population is around 7.3 billion. In 1982, it was 4.6 billion. That year, TSL ran an article on the issue of world population, saying that the world was “approaching carrying capacity.”

Even though we’ve skyrocketed past the population figures of the ’80s, many of the article’s points are still relevant today.

The article from 1982 recaps a talk from a Stanford biologist, Anne Ehrlich, who said pollution and destruction of the world’s environment were leading to an inevitable population crisis. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the amount of domestic waste has grown from around 150 million tons in 1980 to 260 million tons in 2014. Even though the U.S. occupies only 4% of the world population, it continues to produce around 30% of the global waste production.

So, is this surprising? Of course not.

Environmentalism has been around for decades, but the movement is still being hampered by politics. Ever since the 2016 election, the federal government has rolled back environmental initiatives one by one — for example, withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, deregulating of the oil industry and opening up toxic mining in Alaska.

A graphic of a man in a suit carrying the Earth on his back.
Graphic by Catherine Ward

How amusing and tragic that the supposed “leader of the free world” says he will bring back clean coal. The term is clearly an oxymoron, to say the least. In addition, the modern American economy encourages the abuse of natural resources. Our lives are filled with Amazon orders, expensive vacations and the growing needs of family commutes. While many people are trying to consume and produce less for the environment, the overall trend is still upwards.

When Ehrlich’s husband Paul wrote “The Population Bomb” in 1968, he predicted unimaginable consequences in the ensuing decades. We are steadily heading toward 8 billion people today, and that number will likely not stop anytime soon.

At the end of the day, we are all inhabitants of Earth. As this article argued in 1982, we need to do much more to help solve the issues of global warming and environmental degradation, both of which humankind has largely contributed to. Hopefully, in the next 35 years we will take a big step forward, instead of the backward steps we’ve taken since this article was published in the ’80s. Otherwise, I’ll be drinking sparkling water near the beach of Claremont (or even worse) 30 years from now.

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Michael He PO ’22 is TSL’s Ye Olde columnist. He constantly fights his urge to slack off and procrastinate, but once in a while does something productive and nice. Talk to him!

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