Just checked the World Population Clock. We’re humming along at 6.8 billion and counting. And we’ve been adding a billion new souls to the planet at an alarming clip – this last time, in just 12 years. Even though the adding-a-billion rate may be slowing, that’s a lot of mouths to feed and a lot of diapers to clean. How much can our blue marble take?
In systems parlance, the term we’re looking for is “carrying capacity” – the number of organisms a habitat can support, to paraphrase John Sterman. Occasionally and tragically, the growth of the organism can be fast, exhaust the resource, and then, well, trouble with a capital T. Or capital O, as in overshoot.
Perhaps a model to start with looks like this:
We can trace the balancing feedback, can’t we? We make babies; we eat and use things; less food, fewer things; death rate picks up; perhaps, also, the birth rate plummets (but that’s not in the model, of course). There’s a balance point in there that nature tends to find, sometimes at great cost.
If we have this archetypal pattern in our heads and wonder, metaphorically, what other types of things might have carrying capacities – like organizations, for example – there’s much insight here. Recently, I’ve been wondering about the carrying capacity of my faculty: how much can I ask them to take on? What resources do they need to sustain the change? What other limits to growth and change mitigate our hopes?
I really don’t know, but I’m going to start thinking about it. A lot.
But, first things first. Time to sleep on this for a night.