The Human Ecology of Overshoot: Why a Major ‘Population Correction’ Is Inevitable

| August 23, 2023 | Leave a Comment

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Publication Info:

Date of Publication: August 11

Year of Publication: 2023

Publication City: Basel, Switzerland

Publisher: MDPI

Author(s): William E. Rees

Journal: World

Volume: 4

Pages: 509–527


Homo sapiens has evolved to reproduce exponentially, expand geographically, and consume all available resources. For most of humanity’s evolutionary history, such expansionist tendencies have been countered by negative feedback. However, the scientific revolution and the use of fossil fuels reduced many forms of negative feedback, enabling us to realize our full potential for exponential growth. This natural capacity is being reinforced by growth-oriented neoliberal economics— nurture complements nature.

Problem: the human enterprise is a ‘dissipative structure’ and sub-system of the ecosphere—it can grow and maintain itself only by consuming and dissipating available energy and resources extracted from its host system, the ecosphere, and discharging waste back into its host. The population increase from one to eight billion, and >100-fold expansion of real GWP in just two centuries on a finite planet, has thus propelled modern techno-industrial society into a state of advanced overshoot. We are consuming and polluting the biophysical basis of our own existence. Climate change is the best-known symptom of overshoot, but mainstream ‘solutions’ will actually accelerate climate disruption and worsen overshoot. Humanity is exhibiting the characteristic dynamics of a one-off population boom–bust cycle. The global economy will inevitably contract and humanity will suffer a major population ‘correction’ in this century.

Keywords: overshoot; exceptionalism; human nature; cognitive obsolescence; exponential growth; ‘K’ strategist; over population; over consumption; climate change; energy transition; dissipative structure; civilizational collapse; population correction

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