- Thermal Audit
Newfoundland Carrying Capacity
The human carrying capacity of the island of Newfoundland is the maximum population that could live here indefinitely, with a "decent" standard of lining, without importing food and energy and without destroying the land through soil erosion. The answer to this question is fundamental for long term community planning. If the capacity is exceeded, then it must be part of a larger balanced system - i.e. other parts of Canada must support it with food and supplies. The long term goal for residents should be self sufficiency and to keep surplus capacity for internal use or a safety buffer. From an outside perspective, the goal is reversed; maintain the island as a sparsely populated, fish, electricity and nickel mining colony to support other more powerful (economic/military) regions.
Note the quotes around "decent" -- this is obviously a very subjective judgment. Many assumptions are required when calculating carrying capacities, the standard of living being one of the most significant. Here, a "decent" standard of living will have the following characteristics - some of which are the results of math while others are this author's bias.
Constraints determined by Physics
The average long term growth must be zero since a sustainable population cannot grow. Perpetual growth of any kind is NOT sustainable. That limits reproduction to about 2.1 children per family to replace their parents and to recover from the occasional tragedy. All populations fluctuate with catastrophic events (tidal waves, forest fires, Spanish flu, potato blight, etc.) so while growth may fluctuate, the average population over a few generations will be quite constant.
The sum of energy inputs (power for industry, heating, food calories, chemicals, fertilizer, liquid fuels) must be less than the energy captured. This capture is in the form of trees and crops as well as technological solutions like hydroelectric and wind power generation.
The ecosystem of the island must not be consumed. For example, farming peat bogs by draining them, adding limestone to reduce the acidity and then adding fertilizer, results in productive but temporary food source. The peat bog fibers break down, and the growing media, eventually vanishes. The destruction of peat bogs destroys natural habitat for other food sources such as game birds and berries. Cutting trees on steep slopes can result in the total loss of soil via erosion. Incinerating blueberry barrens to increase the yield by burning all the weeks, also destroys the soil.
In contrast to this, it is possible to create growing media (soil) via labor intensive methods on homesteads by recycling waste, composting vegetation, removing large rocks, crop rotations, using legumes to fix nitrogen, augmenting with kelp etc. This is not something that can be done on large scale to create hectares of farm soil over rocky barrens. Therefore this analysis does not foresee tera-forming on a large scale. It has been 10,000 years since the last glaciation so the natural soil building process is quite slow.
The current forest on the Island is not stable. Without water bombers, airports and a society that can afford the fuel, pilots and associated infrastructure - the thick tangle of spruce stands will be incinerated. Periodic forest fires will again, someday, regularly clean out brush and leave fire tolerant species to dominate the climax forest. I would expect large stands of pine. This also means that permanent communities cannot be in or near the woods or else they will be periodically incinerated.
There are many constraints that are my personal bias. These include a desire for low child mortality, being free of water borne diseases like polio, having an average life span equal to that of today, all the food required for a healthy and balanced diet, plus a safety margin. A bad summer due to volcanic ash from Iceland, a population explosion of insects or a potato blight will cause cyclical changes in food supplies. The population should be able to survive the worst case rather than push resource usage to the limits (e.g. periodic famines and watching your children starve is not desirable).
To simplify analysis, I will assume that people live primarily in family estates or homesteads rather than cities since rural living is more efficient and sustainable. While cities are possible, they are high maintenance with sewer plants that often don't work properly, roads that require regular rut removal and resurfacing, bus transportation services, imported food and fuel, etc. Our current cities (in general) were built in a period where energy was cheap, and manufacturing jobs provided a reason to live there. St. John's growth is largely due to a large university with an extensive, well paid bureaucracy, lots of provincial government jobs and people relocating from rural areas for access to health care. A low energy homestead should allow a larger carrying capacity than city life since it is inherently more efficient -- no morning commute, food moves from the garden to root cellar to table rather than spending a few thousand miles on refrigerated trucks before taking the ferry to Port aux Basques.
From a purely physical standpoint, the lowest energy systems are the most stable. A highly complex system has many points of catastrophic failure, and requires large energy inputs for survival. Newfoundland is highly dependant on marine ferries such as the William Carson, which cost $6 million in 1955 eventually sank of the coast of Labrador. Grocery stores only have a few days worth of food on hand and get daily deliveries so severing the freight route to the mainland would be bring chaos within a few weeks. Similarly, a failure of a municipal sewer system or lack of reliable power for buildings that depend in elevators would rapidly reduce a cities desirability. Low complexity systems, such as rural farming communities that have simple septic systems, wells and produce their own food have few points of failure. Perhaps more likely than a physical disaster is a financial one. A bankrupt city that could no longer afford the energy costs to provide water, sewer and street lights would rapidly be abandoned. The lowest complexity community will always be the most sustainable community. A low energy community can also support more people since more energy can be diverted into food production.
The fate of our current cities may very well me the inverse of what created them in the first place, namely land enclosure in England and the simultaneous birth of capitalism and industrialism. Millions were left landless and with no means to make a living other than working for wages, conveniently provided a huge labor force to be exploited by factory owners. The city of London is an excellent example of this. Many of those labor intensive industries, such as textiles, have now be automated to the point that the human labor is no longer required, and where it is required, outsourced to the 3rd world.
This is unfortunately not something that government land policy has considered -- you can get cabin lots or lease agricultural land but there is no mechanism for obtaining a piece of crown land large enough to support a family, let alone an extended family.
The hypothetical homestead would support three generations, e.g. children and their grandparents would live together (no government run old age homes or child care facilities) so the arbitrary household size is set to six. Caring for the elderly is of mutual benefit -- in return, the younger generation inherits the wealth of their ancestors.
A great deal of human conflict can be avoided if everyone has some private space, even if it is very little. Let's set 2000 sq foot dwelling for a family of 6. This is adequate to provide some private space, squeeze in extended family when needed and have some room for storage. Industrious families would likely expand this over time.
The homestead must have sufficient land to be able to grow enough food for survival as well as a small surplus for trade. In western Canada and the USA, this used to be 160 acres or 1/4 square mile. This was the maximum size that a family could farm with equipment available in the early 1900s, as well as an impediment to discourage land speculators from hoarding land. Newfoundland has rather difficult terrain so even with modern equipment, 160 acres is probably still an upper limit for non-corporate farms.
Each homestead requires a healthy water source. Water quantity is not a limiting factor since it rains all year long, but there are issues. Arsenic in well water increases cancer risk, so some areas may have unacceptable ground water and better left free of homesteads.
Chlorinating cloudy pond water leads to high levels of disinfectant by-products which also increase the risk of cancer. If you don't chlorinate the water, you risk waterborne illness like polio and parasitic diseases.
Waste disposal -- Newfoundland was using chamber pots and outhouses not that long ago that leaked into streams and caused polio outbreaks. The assumption here is that homes will have running or hand pumped, potable water and a septic field for safe human waste recycling. Human waste is a biohazard and should not be used for farming or allowed to enter fresh water systems since it enables various parasites to complete their lifecycle.
Energy -- cooking food is the only way to safely prepare some foods and ensure they are parasite free, and it is required for wet food preservation (canning, bottling). Heating of homes is optional -- and homes can be designed to be comfortable most of the year even without heating.
Social infrastructure overhead: Building materials for maintenance of homes, building sailing ships for trading, production of basic chemicals (soaps, glues, disinfectant, salt, nails). An approximate guess would be the inventory of an old general hardware store from the 1930s. Not everything has to be produced locally -- but there should be a trade balance -- import the nails perhaps and export something else of value to compensate.
Compared to life in the rural 1940's, this "decent" quality of life would have improvements in water (interior plumbing), sewer (septic fields rather than outhouse), home design (warmer but smaller than today) and disease control (tuberculous and polio). Compared with today, it would mean far less stuff (e.g. all the junk at Walmart), smaller homes, no grocery stores full of things like Chilean oranges and air-freighted New Zealand Kiwi, more walking, yes to tractors, no to personal cars.
"The Island of Newfoundland has limited potential for agricultural development on mineral soils. Less than 0.3%
of all the land or approximately 100,000 hectares of mineral soils are suitable for farming. However, there are
approximately 2,000,000 hectares of organic soils on the island. Many of these soils can be used for farming and
are capable of producing a variety of vegetables and forages." Soil Survey
There is very little farm land on the Island. The organic soils mentioned above are peat bogs. These can, and probably will be farmed until they are destroyed and gone forever. The 100,000 hectares could conceivably be developed as a common food source for the population to supplement homestead gardens. Lets assume that it was planted with organically grown crops like potatoes, carrots, cabbage and the fields are left fallow with clover once every 7 years. Chemical fertilizers would not be available, hence the need for sustainable farming practices.
Food can be grown anywhere but rocky glacial till, highly acidic soils and slopes guarantee that it is labor intensive. Soils can be built up via composting, rocks can be removed by hand, terraces can be built from stones etc. The labor for this would come from the inhabitants of the homestead. This in turn is one of the inputs to the minimum homestead size.
The marine fishery is a shared resource that cannot be relied upon. The most likely scenario is that local species (flat fish, lump fish, tomcods, mussels and seasonal creatures like capelin squid mackerel and herring -- will be available as a protein supplement but not a primary source of food. Nothing short of having a large navy to threaten foreign fleets will prevent migratory and offshore species from being over exploited at sea -- and the cost of the required military presence would exceed the food calorie value of the fishery.
Large wild animals such as the moose can provide ample meat for a family, but the current moose licence rate of 5000 to 6000 per year has resulted in a decline in the population from a high of 150,000 in 1997 to 115,000 in 2012. Therefore, wild meat cannot be counted as a significant protein source for a large human population.
There are many possibilities for small scale aquatic aquiculture. Carp (gold fish) grow quickly in garden ponds in Newfoundland and can live on sludge, algae and dead plant material. They seem to be rare in the wild, probably because of predators like trout.
The potato yield in Newfoundland is 175 hundred weight per acre. (175 * 45.36 kg/cwt * 0.405 ha/acre) = 3215 kg/ha
Relying totally on potatoes isn't wise -- in 1845 a blight caused approximately a million Irish to starve and another million to emigrate. However, it is a high yield crop and probably represents the absolute upper limit for food calorie production.
The food calories per kg of potato are 675 cal/kg. The total food calories then from 100,000 ha is therefore:
(100,000 ha * 3215 kg/ha * 675 cal/kg) = 2.17 e11 calories. From this, seed potatoes need to be subtracted, and the farm labor, fuel and transportation of these potatoes must be coming from some other energy source.
Subtracting 10% for seed potatoes and multiplying by 6/7 for one fallow year out of 7, gives (2.17 e11 * .9 * .86) = 1.67 e11.
The average human male needs 2500 food calories a day and probably a lot more for a more self sufficient lifestyle where you walked most places and probably tended a garden. (1.68 e11 cal/year) / (2500 cal/day * 365 days) = 183,000 people.
This represents an upper limit -- much of the land is suitable for forage crops, and many crops have far lower caloric yields. Those potatoes could also make a lot of vodka. A more realistic diet would a mix of traditional crops including carrots, potatoes, cabbage, turnip as well as milk, eggs, pork and beef. These have far lower yields per acre. For example, in million calories per acre:
|acre yield||% of diet||calories|
|Reduction over potato diet||26%|
Therefore, if the diet used potato as a stable, but also consisted of lower yield vegetables and 10% meat and hardy fruits, caloric output would be 26% lower than a potato only diet. This reduces our 186,000 potato people to 137,000 healthier people with a mixed diet.
Individual food production
There is a good reason why populations settled along the coast, river ways and valleys. The coast had access to fish and sailing vessels, river ways supported water driven mills and served as freight highways or for floating logs and valleys often had good soil for farming. Mountain slopes, barren areas, bogs were un-inhabited because it wasn't worth the effort. You need a place for a home foundation, source of drinking water, place to grow food or have animals and access to other people for trade and socializing. Looking at Google maps, you can still see the abandoned fields on places like Merasheen island and only selected areas were deemed fit to settle on by people who probably knew every inch of the terrain.
For the sake of analysis, assume that homesteads are contiguous, rather than a home near a wharf and a pasture further down the road with a communal wood lot. The block of land in general, needs room for a septic field, water well, home, auxiliary buildings, food production and wood for cooking fires. Assuming that homesteads are limited to relatively flat areas that are well drained (which severely restricts the available land mass), basic home, potable water and septic would fit comfortably in an acre. Add to this food calories for 6 people for a year (6 * 2500 * 365) = 5,475,000 calories.
(175 cwt/acre * 45.36 kg/cwt * 675 cal/kg) = 148,743 potato calories per year per acre
Therefore, you need (5,475,000/148,743) = 36 acres for food production. This doesn't include seed potatoes, or that you'd want mixed crops like carrots, cabbage, carrots, beans, beets etc. Using 26% less for a mix of lower yield food products gives 49 acres.
A horse perhaps? Chickens? Adding a few more acres for pasture and it is 55 acres. Enough forest to allow 1/50 of it to be cut every year for cooking fuel and timber for maintaining fences and buildings, would allow trees to slowly grow back. Assuming a very efficient home and cooking stove, and that 4 cords of wood are needed annually and required an acre, you would need 50 acres of forest.
This brings the total homestead to approximately 100 acres (40 hectares), and would allow indefinite subsistence living for six people. So, how many 40 hectare blocks can be found on the island suitable for a mix of gardening and growing trees, suitable for septic and located near transportation routes ? One crude estimate is to take the current land area of St. John's and turn it into homesteads. This would result in a population reduction that could be applied to all built-up areas. Assuming that most of the inhabitable land is already occupied with similar densities, we could arrive at a fraction of the current population. The land not currently in use should remain as a buffer zone, except perhaps the small quantity of agricultural lands.
St. John's 446 sq km = 44600 ha. large enough for (44600 / 40 ha per homestead) * 6 people/homestead = 6690 people. The population of St. John's is 106,172 so this is a reduction in density by a factor of 106172/6690 = 16
Dividing the entire population of this province by this factor, (514,536 / 16) = 32,000 .
This gives us 32,000 living less densely in the currently occupied areas and another 137,000 possibly landless peasants. So 169,000 is a first approximation of a sustainable population for the Island.
Where does the "stuff" come from -- nails, soap, glue, medicines etc.? No analysis yet, but there is a lot of valuable energy from hydroelectric power that can power industry to make basics to consume locally or trade for products not made here or which are hard to grow here. Wheat for bread would be nice. If the surplus is large enough, extra imported food could sustain a slightly larger population.
Comparison with the original population
The Beothic Population was somewhere around 2000 people. Note in the map below that the the Avalon was not a popular spot yet it is where most resident are crammed in today. The greatest density is in the region that has the most abundant wildlife. It is likely that the current population will eventually move away from the Avalon due to lack of food, wood and the associated transportation costs of bringing supplies into St. John's.
169,000 is 85 times larger than the Beothics managed. There is no reason they wouldn't have expanded their populations if food had been available. The only reason 169,000 is possible is technology -- we have high yield crops like potatoes that aren't native, lower mortality (for now) due to medical care, 6000 moose to eat each year, ocean going vessels and a great deal of scientific knowledge. However, there is a great deal that can go wrong -- like drug resistant tuberculosis, tidal waves wiping out coastal communities, droughts and forest fires. Finally, we have mobility. If the grass is greener on the mainland, many will emigrate. The final, stable population of the province may be far close to that of the Beothic population than we care to believe.