By Pat Toner

That’s a lot. No matter how you look at it. But what on earth does it mean, and what kind of title is that for a newsletter article?

Well, for some, you might recognize this as the forecast Maximum Sustainable Human Population of the Planet. Granted, the number is up for debate, and I won’t profess to be an expert on the issue, but, if it’s up for debate, it must be close. Rumor has it, the earth will reach that population by 2050.

Two things are for certain: The cities will be awfully crowded, and arable Land will rapidly become sacred ground. (Wars may once again erupt for want of food.)

If or when we reach that number, what will we do? Well, if you follow NASA News, you know that we have investigated the atmosphere of Mars, and found it to be non-existent really. We could try pelting Mars’s surface with anaerobic bacteria, make oxygen, and maybe make an atmosphere. Problem is, Mars has a solid core, and the solar winds that stripped the old atmosphere away will blow the new atmosphere away as well.

So, Mars is out.

Well then, how about the newly-discovered Kepler 452 B? It seems very earth-like, and only some 1,500 Light years away?  (I’m guessing 76 trillion miles.)

Yeah, that’s too far.

Looks like we 10 billion will have to make do with what we have at our disposal here at home. (Also known as Earth.)

While some minds focus on potential life on other planets, others think about life on Earth, in their own country, town, yard, house, and cupboards with mouldy bread, like in my bachelor days.

Horton Hears a Who.

Irrelevant? Not really.

Each and every plant we grow in our annual cash crops has somewhere around five square inches of topsoil to survive in. That five square inches of topsoil is another world, an ecosystem all of its own. Our one single cash crop plant is sharing that environment with others.  (Over 10 billion others.) Topsoil is estimated to host over Two Billion Living Organisms per cubic inch.

These “microbes” include some pests, but are largely beneficial to each other (not to mention our cash-crop plant), as they adjust to their environment every day. The race is on in the world of Microbiology to identify these creatures and to find the perfect balance in that microbial environment so that our cash crop plant thrives at its highest known potential.

So, next time scientists force your mind into inter-galactic thoughts of human survival by inhabiting other planets, give some thought to the more practical and realistic science that is the very smallest in scale, but biggest in sustaining life.