Imagine for a moment that planet Earth isn’t running out of anything. We have plenty of food, plenty of oil, plenty of rare minerals, and plenty of air. In this little utopia, the only constraint is space. We can breed like bunnies, and everything is fine — until we hit what I call Peak Elbowroom.

This is more or less the idea behind a series of experiments conducted by John B. Calhoun in the 1960s. Calhoun offered a group of rats a limitless supply of food, water, bedding, and everything else healthy, happy rats could want — except space. He kept his rats confined in “rat cities” — elaborately partitioned boxes designed to simulate the urban environment, which he built in his basement in Washington, D.C.