Pushing The Pedal To The Metal – Agriculture And Unchecked Growth

Imagine you were sitting in a very fast car on a straight road. You can’t see it yet, but there is a wall at the end of it. Would you speed up? As long as the road is empty and straight, maybe you would. After all, you have plenty of fuel, and if pushing it brings you faster to wherever you think the journey is going, why not? But what if you finally see that wall? Would you trust that your vehicle is strong enough to break through? Maybe if you push it a little more? Can you know how strong that wall is? What if it’s not a wall but a rock surface? How do you know? Do you trust that, once you are close enough to tell if its paper, concrete or rock, your car’s brakes will still be able to bring you to a stop before you crash into it?

In ‘How Agriculture Created the first Pyramid’ we established that a culture depending entirely on producing its own food is unable to do so without continuously producing a large surplus. In ‘The Law Of Negative Feedback’ we saw that food surpluses lead to population growth and that population growth leads to a decline in food availability and eventually to population decline.
That is how it works for all species including human hunter-gatherer and hunter-gatherer-agriculture-cultures.
How about a 100% agricultural culture? How does a farmer react to food shortages? Right. He will try to increase production. And not only that. He will try to increase the surplus just to make sure the stores are always full, no matter if all that food actually gets eaten. Remind me again… What happens when there is a surplus of food? Ah right, the population grows, leading to a decrease in food availability leading to farmers increasing the surplus… leading to an even faster population growth… . Do you see the connection? Instead of negative we have created positive feedback. Or so we think. Our wish to control food availability caused us to create a food-economy that can not not grow. And through it a culture that has it’s very base in continuous unchecked population growth. Growth that is not only exponential but is happening at an exponentially growing rate. The very same rate at which forests are vanishing, species of all kind are dying out and lately the same rate at which the Globe is getting warmer and the number of catastrophic weather events is increasing.

Yes, to be honest, lately the annual growth rate is getting smaller. From over 2% in the sixties down to about 1% in 2015, the next doubling being estimated to occur around the year 2200.
But what does this change show? Did we finally wake up and just decided to multiply a little more slowly? Or is it that we have reached the point were we simply can’t squeeze any more food out of the Earth? At least we can’t increase production as fast as we used to… ?
Is it that some of us are starting to realize there might be a wall at the end of the road and that maybe, just maybe, this vehicle called civilisation might not be strong enough to break through that wall?
Or is the engine about to reach it’s limit? After all, we are still going faster and faster, just the relative amount of acceleration is slowly dropping.

If so, is that not a sign for the Law of Negative Feedback being in effect after all? Did we, deciding to take over control of food availability, not become immune to the laws of nature after all?
Did we maybe just increase the amplitude and arc length of the sinus function, the law suggests? Wouldn’t that also mean, that population decline is coming, no matter what? And that, the higher the amplitude rises, the lower it will fall?
Can you imagine a world with an annual population decline of 2,14 percent? That doesn’t seem much to you? 150 million people? And don’t forget, that does not mean just 150 million dying annually, but 150 million more than are born.
So how about.. maybe half a billion human deaths annually.
What exactly is the point in coming up with more and more technologies and social solutions that will only help us to keep pushing the pedal to the metal? How about solutions that act as brakes?
What’s the point of increasing the surplus when the surplus leads us towards catastrophe?

And never forget: in a culture that has the power to wipe out its entire species through Nuclear War, the population-curve simply starting to decline again might just be the best-case-scenario… .

The car would just be running out of gas.

Hopefully before it hits the wall… .


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