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    Overshoot: Growth Beyond Carrying Capacity

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    Overshoot: Growth Beyond Carrying Capacity

    Post by Ren's View on Thu Sep 29, 2016 2:55 pm

    Overshoot is an ecological term.  It means growth beyond an area's carrying capacity.  In an ecological area, overshoot leads to species die-off, which means a population crash, or collapse.


    In 1950, very early in my life, the world human population was a little over 2.5 billion. That was about five years after the end of a major global human slaughter known as WWII. Before the slaughter it was around 2.3 billion. About a hundred fifty years before that, 1800, the global population was somewhere around 800 million to 1.1 billion. By 1990 we were at around 5.2 billion, and now we're over 7.4 billion. (sources: Population Estimates, World Population Clock


    In relation to overshoot, I want to talk a little bit about the concept of sustainability. Just a little, there's way too much to say to try to cover it all.


    I remember reading Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in 1963 while our family farm was on its last legs, driven into bankruptcy by the high production methods of the Green Revolution that we also call industrial farming.  In case "Green Revolution" is unfamiliar, here's an explanation:






    The Green Revolution refers to a set of research and development of technology transfer initiatives occurring between the 1930s and the late 1960s (with prequels in the work of the agrarian geneticist Nazareno Strampelli in the 1920s and 1930s), that increased agricultural production worldwide, particularly in the developing world, beginning most markedly in the late 1960s.[1] The initiatives resulted in the adoption of new technologies...





    Green Revolution definition:



    noun: green revolution


    1. a large increase in crop production in developing countries achieved by the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and high-yield crop varieties.



    In 1963 our family was doggedly practicing what my father honored as the Rodale methods of agriculture. We were not competing well with the high production of those rapidly spreading Green Revolution industrial methods, nor were we receiving the government subsidies that helped those who were farming industrially to get their corporate farms up and running.

    J. I. Rodale, who founded Rodale Inc, first published Organic Farming and Gardening magazine in 1942. With that magazine, he attempted to share his methods for growing better food without using chemicals to enhance production, which would, meanwhile, destroy the natural fertility of the soil.



    Some might see Rodale's methods as a Luddite response to a technology that would dramatically change the entire culture of family farming in the world, not just here in the U.S. My father and his family, who'd survived the Great Depression on a 20 acre farm on the outskirts of Detroit, were among its foundational readers and eventual practitioners. Rodale was an important inspirational figure for what later became the rise of organic farming, and what would become a recognized branding (organics) as part of the industrial conception for distributing food and gaining public trust, and thus a market.  This was incorporated into the vast new distribution network in some lines of food as the public itself responded to the Rachel Carson wake up call, and helped invoke the creation of the EPA, and participated in the rise of an environmental movement in the late sixties and early seventies. 


    But that public consciousness came nearly a decade after we, and many like us, went bankrupt trying to compete with industrial agriculture methods, a bit too late for us to save our farm by actually having a way into the corporate distribution methods for our type of food products. Nevertheless, that aside, I trace my own personal history as an environmentalist to that Rachel Carson reading in 1963.


    All that is simply a prelude to where things have gone for me since then, to where I see things have come to now for humans as a species on this planet, a kind of invasive species, and especially where they may be going for humans in the so-called “developed” sectors of the world.  Nations like the U.S., Canada, Europe, Japan, and increasingly other rapidly industrializing sectors like China. 


    I watched an environmental movement grow and spread as an idea and (very importantly) as a public attitude during the 1970s. For a brief time there was the potential for a broad paradigm shift across the public sector that could have begun to seed itself in many different institutional forms.


    Then I watched while corporations began to develop a kind of institutional pesticide against this new seeding.  With it they took back “their” country (as prescribed by the now famous Powell Memo), and, as part of the process, used their corporate-owned media and thus a propaganda system for Manufacturing Consent, to make a joke of environmentalists like me.  During the seeding of this environmental attitude a President was elected on a new paradigmatic platform -- that of the Carter Presidency.  It began with a promise of transformational change and ended with its tail between its legs, and a wimper. 


    I then watched helplessly as the rise of corporate power through the eighties brought our now inverted totalitarian corporatocracy, under the banner of Reaganism, into fruition with an eventual corporate coup d'etat -- as the Canadian intellectual John Ralston Saul pithily identified it in his 1992 tome Voltaire's Bastards.


    What I consider myself doing now is what I've been calling on a web site I recently created: Watching Apocalypse. Pretty much everything I'm seeing was understood to be coming about when I was studying anthropology and ecology at Michigan State University, which, ironically, is also one of the primary ag-education institutions to develop, with the help of government and corporate funding, the methods of the Green Revolution. 


    I still recall one of the well know food scientists from that institution, Georg Borgström, walking into one of my ecology classes as a guest lecturer, slamming down his latest book on the desk, which got our attention, then announcing loudly in his Swedish accent, “The Green Revolution is dead!” Georg was, by then, rapidly becoming the world's conscience on the division between the rich and the poor, and the ruthless exploitation of nature with the forthcoming risks to both the environment and the eventual capacity of the modern way of life to support a rapidly growing population.


    Recently I was reminded of a book I read back in 1980, just before Reagan was elected. Here's the title: Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change by William R. Catton. 


    The revolution -- with an as yet naively alive, though already waning, hope for that revolutionary change -- that he speaks of was what had taken place in the attitudes that brought about the environmental movement in the 70s. The revolution is a paradigm shift.  And he refers to Kuhn and his important work: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in that regard.  But he was writing on the cusp of that brief revolution that was already in the process of being crushed.  It was becoming yet another cycling of the 10,000 year rising and falling of societies that have marked what we collectively call civilization.  


    The re-civilization cycle had already begun, bringing us back to an anti-ecological, human-centered focus once again. I remember it being called the Reagan revolution. 


    Catton's work is now considered by many in the field to be a classic. I think it pretty well sumarizes everything I was aware of at that time, plus presciently says what we are watching emerge now. Thus what was said then is completely relevant now, if not more so. It's one of those books I loaned out years ago and never got back, so I recently bought another one, plus a Kindle edition.



    I mention it because on occasion I've tried to explain the idea of sustainability to various people. Usually without much success. I realize as I try that it takes a great deal of ecological context to get to the idea itself. Ecological thinking is not widely taught in our system of education because it is founded on the principles of systems thinking, which, because they are so intertwined and thus very complex, requiring patience and some solitude to absorb, do not tweet very well, nor sound bite well on the evening news. The first two paragraphs in his first chapter, "Our Need for a New Perspective," however, summarizes the attitude of sustainability, even if a complete context of ecology is not so easily brought to light when trying to discuss it:



    William R. Catton wrote:



    On the banks of the Volga in 1921 a refugee community was visited by an American newspaper correspondent who had come to write about the Russian famine. 1 Almost half the people in this community were already dead of starvation. The death rate was rising. Those still surviving had no real prospect of prolonged longevity. In an adjacent field, a lone soldier was guarding a huge mound of sacks full of grain. The American newsman asked the white-bearded leader of the community why his people did not overpower this one guard, take over the grain, and relieve their hunger. The dignified old Russian explained that the sacks contained seed to be planted for the next growing season. “We do not steal from the future,” he said.

    Today mankind is locked into stealing ravenously from the future. That is what this book is about. It is not just a book about famine or hunger. Famine in the modern world must be read as one of several symptoms reflecting a deeper malady in the human condition— namely, diachronic competition, a relationship whereby contemporary well-being is achieved at the expense of our descendants. By our sheer numbers, by the state of our technological development, and by being oblivious to differences between a method that achieved lasting increments of human carrying capacity and one that achieves only temporary supplements, we have made satisfaction of today's human aspirations dependent upon massive deprivation for posterity.





    Catton, William R. (2015-04-10). Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change (Kindle Locations 228-238). University of Illinois Press. Kindle Edition.


    Every day I get writings in my email from various science-oriented publications about the evolving state of our world.  Here's a recent one, published yesterday: The Oceans Can’t Protect Us Anymore—Here’s Why

    These topics recur as if someone's supposed to do something about an issue if only it becomes public knowledge.  But public knowledge is easily absorbed by the culture of corporate institutionalism if know one is speaking the language of ecology in those institutions.  And they are not.



    My teacher, Georg Borgstrom, from the ecology program at Michigan State back in the 70s, had already written about what we, the human species, were doing to the oceans in a series of books about Fish as Food in the sixties, which included a detailed examination of the Japanese efforts to feed themselves -- off the Ocean commons -- in an increasingly eco-destructive way: Japan's World Success in Fishing (1964). 


    There are so many of these topics. They are introduced in disconnected parts, over and over, often mixed in with all sorts of other news, and then often lost in the shuffle. Only someone with an ecological consciousness and an ongoing narrative of their own is likely to notice. And then what?  Where do we take part in a public discussion about these issues?  Are they part of a presidential election process?  Maybe somewhere on the peripheries.


    A second work, published in 1988 tells the other part of the story that goes with Overshoot. I consider it and Overshoot all anyone needs to read to get acquainted with our current predicament. Title: The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter.


    Here's a pretty clear youtube presentation by Tainter that describes the theory he presents in that work: Collapse of Complex Societies by Dr. Joseph Tainter


    Once you understand that theory of collapse, which is a kind of detailed aspect of the whole idea of overshoot, you can begin to create your own narrative about what's going on. You can even begin to do your own private viewing of apocalypse unfolding.
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    Re: Overshoot: Growth Beyond Carrying Capacity

    Post by Ren's View on Fri Oct 07, 2016 6:44 pm

    The book that inspired this thread was hidden in the mass of words in the first post, so I'd like to pull it out and highlight it here.


    Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change


    That link is to a review of the book.  The first publication of that book is dated 1980.  That's when I read it.  I remember well, the Presidency was on the line, and the ecological consciousness of the nation was being replaced through very successful propaganda measures.  So my memory has context, and that's what I need to recall a time frame.  The above linked review was written in 2009.  The author of the review thinks the book came out in 1982, but that was when the paperback was first published.  I read the hardbacked version two years before.  Nevertheless, 27 years or 29 years later is hardly the point, the point is what he says about it.  Here's a taste:

    Harold B. Weiss wrote:

    Despite its maturity, Overshoot remains a vividly fresh and visionary work of brilliance and foresight. The ecological foundations of Catton's thinking are strong and enduring due to his careful research and interpretive power. His treatise explains much about the human condition that we find ourselves in now, early in the 21st century. In a breathtaking yet concise sweep of history and biology through the eyes of a human ecologist, Catton reveals how we got here and where we are in all probability headed. He summarizes this view as follows:

    Today mankind is locked into stealing ravenously from the future [by way of] diachronic competition, a relationship whereby contemporary well-being is achieved at the expense of our descendants. By our sheer numbers, by the state of our technological development, and by being oblivious to differences between a method that achieved lasting increments of human carrying capacity [agriculture] and one that achieves only temporary supplements [reliance on fossil fuels and other mined substances], we have made satisfaction of today's human aspirations dependent upon massive deprivation for posterity.

    In a series of essay-like chapters, he explains how the inhabitants of modern civilization (homo colossus, he calls us, due to our prodigious use of energy, raw materials, and mechanical/prosthetic amplification devices) are living more and more luxuriously but, ironically, more and more dependently on the limited and nonrenewable resources and energy we have unearthed from the geologic past. The result, he says, is a mortgaging of our and our descendants' future.

    From a vantage point of the late 20th century, he offers not only a paradigm shift but also a temporal shift for 21st century humanity. What we have built, what we have become, and what we have come to expect as individuals and complex societies is, he writes, but a unique and historically brief interlude of riches (“exuberance,” he labels it) as we (especially the Western “we”) have dominated and abused the planet whose ecological workings and whose place in it most of us did not and still do not fully understand.


    Key words in Overshoot:

    homo colossus
    and
    Age of Exuberance
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    Re: Overshoot: Growth Beyond Carrying Capacity

    Post by Ren's View on Sat Oct 08, 2016 12:27 pm

    On page 18, Catton provides a time table that illustrates how humans have risen to become the dominant invasive species in any eco system they decide to invade:

    Remember,  he was writing this in 1979-80, not today.

    Here's his introduction to the graph:

    William R. Catton wrote:
    Origins of Man's Future

    We are already living on an overloaded world.1 Our future will be a product of that fact; that fact is a product of our past. Our first order of business, then, is to make clear to ourselves how we got where we are and why our present situation entails a certain kind of future.

    To this purpose, consider the information about the human saga assembled in Table 1. Taken a row at a time, this table tells an enormous (and enormously revealing) story. It is the story of a world that has again and again approached the condition of being saturated with human inhabitants, only to have the limit raised by human ingenuity.

    The first several rounds of limit-raising were accomplished by a series of technological breakthroughs that took almost two million years. These breakthroughs enabled human populations repeatedly to take over for human use portions of the earth's total life-supporting capacity that had previously supported other species. The most recent episode of limit-raising has had much more spectacular results, although it enlarged human carrying capacity by a fundamentally different method: the drawing down of finite reservoirs of materials that do not replace themselves within any human time frame. Thus its results cannot be permanent. This fact puts mankind out on a limb which the activities of modern life are busily sawing off.

    Catton, William R. (2015-04-10). Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change (Kindle Locations 483-493). University of Illinois Press. Kindle Edition.
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    Re: Overshoot: Growth Beyond Carrying Capacity

    Post by Ren's View on Sat Oct 15, 2016 11:49 am

    From a page on the Die Off site with the same name as this topic, The Language of Ecology, Garrett Hardin (author of Tragedy of the Commons) on Carrying Capacity:

    Garrett Hardin wrote:
    "Transgressing the carrying capacity for one period lowers the carrying capacity thereafter, perhaps starting a downward spiral toward zero. David Klein's classic study of the reindeer on St. Matthew Island illustrates the point.26 In 1944 a population of 29 animals was moved to the island, without the corrective feedback (negative feedback) of such predators as wolves and human hunters. In 19 years the population swelled to 6,000 and then "crashed" in 3 years to a total of 41 females and one male, all in miserable condition. Klein estimates that the primeval carrying capacity of the island was about 5 deer per square kilometer. At the population peak there were 18 per square kilometer. After the crash there were only 0.126 animals per square kilometer and even this was probably too many once the island was largely denuded of lichens. Recovery of lichens under zero population conditions takes decades; with a continuing resident population of reindeer it may never occur. Transgressing the carrying capacity of St. Matthew Island reduced its carrying capacity by at least 97.5 percent. It is facts like these -- repeated over and over again in game management experience -- that justify the ecolate game manager in viewing carrying capacity as partaking of the sacred. I do not think it is going too far to assert and defend the sanctity of the carry capacity. "



    And....

    Here's us:



    (Graph courtesy of Die Off)

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