Every living thing, from amoeba to blue whale, exists within an ecosystem that provides all the resources it needs to survive. If those resources become unavailable, the organism will either adapt to a different environment, or die.
Scientists look at the ecological resources available in an area and calculate how many of a certain species it can support; how many honeybees can this meadow support, how many koalas can this eucalyptus plantation support. This is the carrying capacity of a particular ecosystem at a particular time for a particular species.
Over time, some organisms adapt their bodies to be able to survive within very specific ecosystems. Caterpillars of Monarch butterflies eat only milkweed leaves and pandas need bamboo.
Humans, however, have evolved to be able to adapt to a huge variety of ecosystems, which has contributed to our success as a species. It has also contributed to our hubris in thinking that if we destroy one ecosystem, we can always find another.
It is slowly sinking into our collective consciousness, however, that our entire earthly ecosystem may not be able to sustain unlimited life; Earth itself has a carrying capacity.
Earth has a carrying capacity
The carrying capacity of Earth is not a fixed figure. As the rates of population growth and consumption of ecological resources change, the long-term capacity for sustaining life also changes. The rates of human population growth and human consumption of ecological resources were relatively stable and balanced over much of human history. The rates began to creep up in medieval times, grew dramatically after the industrial revolution, and just exploded during the twentieth century.
Based on current growth and consumption rates, many scientists and mathematicians predict that the carrying capacity is now somewhere around 10 billion people. We will likely reach that in 80 years – the lifetime of a baby born today.
We have less than a century to curb human growth, significantly slow the rate at which we use ecological resources, and find ways to ecologically manage our waste products.
What we must do
Current solutions fall into three general categories: improving technology (especially of food production, waste management, energy production, and fresh water availability), slowing population growth, and educating the global population about the human relationships to the natural world and the importance of making better decisions about natural resources.
The generations of students in college now and in the immediate future have an enormous job to do: the survival of life as we know it depends upon them.
Understanding ecology is central to this mission. UofWild’s job is to give students–and anyone else who will listen–a holistic, well-rounded understanding of the ecology of the planet and the broad range of problems facing the sustainability of life on Earth. UofWild focuses on educating and re-educating the global population about the natural world and ways in which individuals can contribute to better, more sustainable, regenerative, and fair management of food, waste, energy, and water.
Our goal is to educate and energize current and future teachers, writers, speakers, and activists, as well as people in positions to influence and change policies and actions in governments, businesses, and schools. There is no time to lose.