Throughout history, there has been tremendous progress made on the part of mankind. We, as a species, have been able to tame fire, learn to hunt, survive in extreme conditions, and use our resources to their fullest potential. But do we overuse our resources? I strongly believe that we, as a population, do overuse our resources. This is an issue, which we must now face as we head into the next millenium, for it is there, which we will find the answer to the future. Never has more alarm been raised about the peril that the Earth is in. Some choose to ignore it, most notably Julian Simon as far as this paper is concerned, while others, most notably Norman Myers, speak out against it, imploring the population of the planet to listen. Listen to the sounds of a planet that is overburdened, overused, and overheated. One can only wonder how much more our great Blue Marble can take. I don’t believe that it can endure much more.
One cannot deny the fact that more and more people are inhabiting the Earth every year. This is indisputable. However, the question is, what type of effect does this have on the Earth? Well, for one, more people leads to overpopulation, which in some places on the planet, this is already a huge problem. Julian Simon likes to look at this as a good thing because, as he puts it, “the triumph of the human mind and organizations over the raw killing forces of nature” has increased the number of people the Earth can hold (Simon 6). However, what if you look at the other side of the coin? Mankind has exhibited the ability to wield its gift of superior intellectual ability and with increased technology, more people can now be packed into an area than previously expected. Mr. Norman Myers points out that human beings’ relationship with nature has changed. Humankind is “no longer a part of nature”, rather, society is “now in control of the Earth” (Myers 18). This is an extremely important point when discussing the Earth and its future.
The fact that the relationship between humans and nature has changed is very important in the debate between Myers and Simon. Technology has a great deal to do with this changing relationship. It is in my opinion, that technology, while it has made many things possible that were once only considered dreams, is really masking many of today’s problems. In the short term, technology can almost hide the fact that the Earth natural resources are being slowly tapped, or that the population is going to increase again, but eventually, what happens when the raw materials needed for some of these technological feats simply aren’t there? Much of technology has occurred from an original problem and then the invention, or whatever device needed to solve the problem has proven to be the answer. But, soon the answer will not lie on Earth. Man will have to look elsewhere, and perhaps technology will benefit mankind when the time comes, but that is yet to be seen. I’m not totally against technology; it has a great deal of benefits. In my opinion, its benefits are far greater in number than its negatives. However, in this case, technology is hurting the people of the Earth.
One thing that technology has been able to mask is the always declining resources and food production of our planet. For starters, prices are going down, at least in the U.S as far as food is concerned. The same can be said for natural resources, and this is even a more global trend than the price of food. As Norman Myers points out, just because our gasoline is cheaper than it was thirty years ago, or because our prices for food at the supermarket are lower, doesn’t mean that we won’t have to pay the price later (Myers, 24). Essentially, Myers is saying that later on, the mankind will have to pay to clean up the environment and try to reverse the effects of the pollution produced when gasoline is burned in automobiles. However, money is not the only thing that will be sacrificed. Generations upon generations of people will have to change their way of life, and we might as well start now. I strongly agree with precisely this theory. If one were to think about this trend just for a moment, it would become clear what is going to happen in the future of the Earth if the rates of consumption continue at their present pace.
First, let me state my logic for agreeing with this statement. When the Earth was created in the beginning of time, there was and still is a fixed amount of natural resources in the Earth. The only way that this can change is by species using up natural resources or putting them back. Currently, there are enough resources on the Earth to last mankind for many, many more generations. However, there will come a time when our oil supply runs out, or our ozone becomes too worn away, and changes will have to be made to ensure survival of our species. More oil cannot be produced overnight, and more copper can’t be changed without substantial cost involved. Eventually, these resources will start to grow very scarce, and prices will rise sharply.
It will definitely have a drastic impact on our economy. I can’t think of a single item produced in the world that doesn’t depend on at least one natural resource for production. Whether it is a silicon computer chip, or a leather shoe, everything is dependent upon resources. What is going to happen when they run out? This is precisely why we should start conserving, and trying to replace what we use. It might not be the more profitable thing to do in the present, but think about the future.
Clearly, Myers would most likely be in favor of raising the price of gasoline immediately. Not only would this catch the public’s attention and alert them that they are doing damage by using gasoline so carelessly, but it could also lead to support for a cleaner-burning fuel. I know for a fact that several automobile companies already have cars that run on electricity, as well as several other alternative sources of power. Perhaps these alternative sources of power would be taken more seriously once the people are aware of how much harm they are doing. For that matter, Myers would favor significant price increases on oil, metals, and other natural resources in order to reduce pollution and help conserve these raw materials .
Julian Simon tries to use the fact that agriculture and mining used to account for 80 percent of the national economy. Now, agriculture and mining make up roughly three percent of the economy of the United States (Simon, 21). When one considers this fact, it may appear that agriculture isn’t needed any longer, however this is definitely not true. This fact is useless in terms of the importance of natural resources. The only thing that this fact means, is that today, the economy of the United States of America is extremely diversified, much more so that it was fifty years ago. A great deal of profit is found in technological applications, or entertainment, and while that is not directly related to mining of the Earth’s resources, it is indirectly related. Computer chips can’t be made without the silicon used for their production; television networks, satellites, and phone systems aren’t of any use to the world without the copper used in the wiring or the power supplies. In every product produced everywhere in the world, some sort of resource is used.
Simon continues to point out trends that prices for certain things are lower now, then ever before. He does this throughout his argument. If one followed the laws of supply and demand, which our economy is centered around, it was be painfully obvious that this could only mean one thing: the resource is very abundant now, compared with the demand for that resource. However, the only thing that this means is that resources just aren’t as scarce right now, as they used to be. One of the major causes for this is quite possibly the over-saturation of the market with such resources. Because mankind’s economies are using the resources so quickly, there doesn’t appear to be as much scarcity as there once was. These resources don’t last forever. Eventually, they will run out, and this is when the problems will occur, as Norman Myers alludes to.
Simon would most likely favor the harvesting of resources however mankind deems it necessary, without regard to how much of that resource remains. Mankind could extract the resources from the Earth, and not worry about it, because according to Simon, “resources have been getting more available rather than more scarce since World War II” (Simon, 2).
Both Simons and Myers make valid arguments in support of their cause. However, I just can’t agree with Mr. Simon, because eventually, his logic does not hold true. The Earth is very much like a commons, as discussed by Garrett Hardin in his essay, “Tragedy of the Commons” Everything will work satisfactorily until the Earth reaches its carrying capacity, which is when the problems start to occur (Hardin, 4). Now Simon reasons that technology has increased the carrying capacity of Earth from 4 million people about ten thousand years ago, to 5.5 billion people today (Simon, 6). I totally agree with this. However, if that trend will continue or not is highly unlikely in my opinion since populations tend to grow exponentially, and then they level off simply because there are just not enough resources to sustain life for that many members of the species. Simon assumes that everything can and will be used, or the availability of resources will improve at the same rates as they are today, and this is just not true. Resources are finite, and eventually, they will run out. Simon would probably favor a policy, which placed absolutely no regulation on population growth. In fact, he would probably encourage population growth because he views it as a cause of an increased standard to living (Simon, 11).
Later on in his argument, Julian Simon cites the Nobel Prize winner in agricultural economics, Theodore Schultz. In 1951 he published an article called “The Declining Economic Importance of Land,” which showed that food production per person was going up because of technological change, and the need for agricultural land was going down (Simon, 21). Now, this might be totally true, in 1951. The population of the world then was not nearly as great as it is now. Also, there were many more resources available then than there are now, after more than forty years of constant consumption by mankind. Simon’s reason for believing in this is because it is part of a theory of “all economic history” (Simon, 22). He believes that, on average, human beings create more than they use in their lifetimes, or else we would be an extinct species (Simon, 22). I say this is not true. Why? There are a couple reasons. For starters, human beings are not capable of producing natural resources in any large quantity with much efficiency, nor have they ever been able to. Also, these trends only hold true because the Earth has not yet reached its carrying capacity yet. This is an extremely important part of my logic. Sure, Mr. Simon may appear to be right using the figures that he uses. However, past figures are not very effective when predicting the effects on mankind’s consumption in the future.
On the contrary, Norman Myers is thinking more about the future. For example, he states he has written over thirty papers on mass extinction, and these deal mainly with “hot spots” on the Earth, where one fifth of all species on Earth are confined to 0.5 percent of the Earth’s land surface (Myers, 24). Myers also claims that 30,000 species are being lost every year, which has been backed up by several credible scientists in the Club of Earth, whose professional credentials are beyond question (Myers, 16). This is horrifying! When a species is gone, it’s gone forever. Who knows what is being lost with each species that disappears from our planet? The cure for AIDS? A cure for cancer? The fact that there are “hot spots” on the Earth, as far as species are concerned, is extremely relevant for the future predictions, because these are the areas being affected today that were not being devastated 50 years ago. The rainforests in Brazil and Africa are some of these “hot spots” and each day, more and more of these vital areas are being lost because local farmers are struggling to make a living.
Another valid point which Myers brings up is that in 1985, the world’s grain harvest plateaued, and has continued to do so every year since (Myers, 24).
According to Myers, during this time period, the Earth has taken on an additional 626 million people, which means that food availability per person has declined by almost 9 percent worldwide (Myers, 24). This is exactly the type of thing which the world should expect to see more of. The Green Revolution, which allowed world food production to keep up with the population growth, has slowed down faster than the rate of population growth, and this means that more and more people are going hungry every year. This is especially horrific when the world population is projected to double again in the next thirty years (Myers, 24). Norman Myers would favor an increased amount of family planning programs for sure. He would also be in favor of access to birth control measures for whoever wants them, because this will definitely curtail the growth of population. Countries like China, which had severe population growth problems, have significantly cut down on their population growth by imposing regulations on the number of children that each family can have. This is proof that if a country becomes aware of their problem, and they choose to address it, the problem can be corrected. This logic can be followed on a worldwide level, which is necessary when talking about population growth.
In conclusion, I strongly feel that Norman Myers has made a stronger argument than Julian Simon, and his facts are much more relevant when discussing the future of the Earth. Mankind does overuse the resources of the Earth. Simon makes a valid argument for his theory, but I don’t believe that he takes into account the future limitations of natural resources and the vast changes that life on Earth will go through. Norman Myers does this, and his theory is the one which I strongly support. The evidence is stronger in my opinion that the world’s rate of consumption must be slowed down if our species is going to be able to exist on Earth forever. There are hundreds of conservation committees and groups which try to save the forests, oceans, rainforests, and rivers, but how successful can they be without the support of the world behind them? There will come a time when the people of Earth realize what their way of life is leading to, and they will have to change. The sooner they realize this, the less painful it will be for everyone involved, especially the Earth. Hopefully, they don’t come to this conclusion too late.