When Americans not equipped with ecological concepts tried to describe and explain the contrast between their land of opportunity and the old countries from which they had come as immigrants, it became conventional to emphasize the political and ideological contrasts. We tended to forget that the freedoms America offered were not exclusively political. Even more, we forgot that the political differences between America and the older nations in Europe was full of people; America was full of potential.
When population density was low, human equality is feasible and even probable. Each individual is economically valuable to others; it is, accordingly, hard for others to subordinate him. Class distinctions fade in such circumstances. [William Graham] Sumner tried to get us to see that democracy in Europe as well as in America had been fostered by the New World's low population density. His low density had relieved Old World pressure. Abundant land in another hemisphere influenced the European labor and land markets. Wages went up, food prices were held down, and land rents were kept lower than they would otherwise have been. The power of each European landed aristocrat was reduced by the availability of land elsewhere on the globe, not under his control. Still, Europeans tended to attribute their new freedom to new institutions and new doctrines, not seeing that the institutional and doctrinal changes were responses to the effective reduction of population pressure.
Homo Sapiens mistook the rate of withdrawal of savings deposits for a rise in income. No regard for the total size of the legacy, or for the rate at which nature might still be storing carbon away, seemed necessary. Homo Sapiens set about becoming Homo Colossus without wondering if the transformation would have to be quite temporary. [...] The essence of the drawdown method is this: man began to spend nature's legacy as if it were income. Temporarily this made possible a dramatic increase in the quantity of energy per capita per year by which Homo Colossus could do the things he wanted to do.
Population pressure can be defined as the frequency of mutual interference per capita per day that results from the presence of others in a finite habitat. [...] Population density in the ordinary sense is simply the number of people per square mile. Two nations with equal population density could differ in population pressure if their peoples differed in level of activity. A population using more prosthetic equipment would tend to subject its members to more pressure by doing more things. [In America] more people had been pumped into our finite living space, to make demands upon our finite resources. But our pace of living had also been greatly accelerated. We traditionally welcomed such acceleration as a sign of progress, seldom recognizing that it meant people had increased the ways in which their co-presence resulted in mutual interference. The loss of independence and the failure to understand how it was lost can be illustrated by a fundamental change in the occupational structure of an industrialized nation's labor force.
It is high time to learn that the wisest "use" of coal and oil may be to leave them underground as nature's safe disposal of a primeval atmospheric "pollutant" - carbon. By our ravenous use of fossil acreage to extend carrying capacity we not only prolonged human irruption but also began undoing what evolution had done in getting the atmosphere ready for animals (including man) to breathe, and ready to sustain the kind of climate in which present species (including ourselves) had been evolved. Hundreds of millions of years of evolution had produced the oxygen-rich and nearly carbon-free atmosphere we need [...] We need to accept the earth as it was when our species evolved upon it. had it been different, Homo Sapiens could not have emerged [...] Barring human extinction, there will never come an end to man's need for enlightened self-restraint - the conservation ethic.
Overshoot, William R. Catton