Sent: Thursday, May 10, 2007 4:24 PM
Subject: How many is too many?
I've gotten started on the inventory of community resources and talked to some of the local leadership to help them think through the idea of a sustainable community. There's one very difficult calculation, which will ultimately involve some difficult choices, that we need to face fairly quickly. What is the carrying capacity of our community? This is an ecological concept concerning how many organisms of a particular species can be supported by a particular territory. In the case of our community, which doesn't have sharply defined limits, how many more folks like me can be absorbed before our ability to feed and shelter immigrants from the cities becomes a problem? Given that the planet as a whole may have overshot its carrying capacity by 2 to 4 BILLION already (depending on whether you listen to the optimists or the pessimists), what is this going to mean for our local community?
Carrying capacity may have to be re-calculated every year or so into the future, because as we learn to live locally, we might find more efficient ways to produce foods, or more effective foods, so that the number of folks we can handle might go up. Food will be the limiting factor in most communities (although it could be potable water, but probably not here). We need to determine the ideal "footprint" for the most critical foods -- i.e. given known acreage and yields of key items, and what we know of dietary needs, how many folks could be supported? The U. S. Department of Agriculture has a good bit of potentially useful data hiding on its website and in its archives at Cornell. The creative farmer may become the most valuable member of the community.
We might also find it useful to educate people about the most efficient and healthy foods to eat. That could also have an effect on the carrying-capacity calculation. With winter coming only four months away, and things deteriorating all over the world, we need to have a first cut on our local carrying capacity by the end of next month. It's going to be a hairy time if folks start to pour out of the big cities, because the countryside may not be able to handle all of them.