Thursday, December 10, 2009


How do we phase out our economics-driven over-consumption of the world's precious and rapidly disappearing resources? There is no question that we must. The remaining supplies of major resources like oil, natural gas, coal, gold, silver, copper, lithium, uranium, fresh water, top soil and more is insufficient to support our wasteful usage, or even our needs, through the lifetime of our children. We could, of course, just keep using them all up until they are are gone. 7-8-9 billion people then standing around asking, "Now what the hell do we do?"

Major transitions in society consume a tremendous amount of energy and resources. Countries rebuilding after the devastation of war, transitioning through a new industrial, technical or cultural revolution, recovering from a spate of devastating natural disasters, all consume resources at a tremendous pace. Though quite different in the detail, a society transitioning from an industrial base to an agrarian focus, from a high tech base to a low tech base, also require extensive resources to build out the infrastructure suited to the new societal structure. We can continue to use up the dwindling resources and energy supporting our current, unsustainable lifestyle and society and then just accept whatever comes when the resources are gone. Or we can - please pardon me for such a blasphemous suggestion - plan ahead and use what resources we have left during the powerdown building the society as it is going to have to be in a low/no-energy world. That need to marshall our remaining resources to prepare for the future should not be that difficult to understand.

It is interesting to watch children of any age in a class discussing resource usage and the environment. They get it. Why don't their parents? They know that they are discussing their own futures. They seem to instinctively understand that everything they can do now makes their own future better and more sustainable, that they are going to need to have left some of what we now have if they are going to have any sort of quality of life in their future. When and how do we educate that understanding out of them? When and how do we force them into the tunnel vision of consumerism, quarterly reports and economic forecasts?

We have, in fact, reached the point where our profligate resource consumption and wastage is no longer just a concern for future generations. It has become a critical issue for ourselves, for all those generations alive today. Demand for most important and critical resources is now growing faster than the availability of those resources. Availability of many of those resources is, in fact, in decline while demand continues to increase.

We are early enough in the decline of most of those critical resources that the impact is, unfortunately, largely unnoticed by most people. It manifests itself in other ways, such as higher prices, reduction of services, reduced product quality and durability. As long as demand continues to grow while resource availability declines, however, we move closer to perpetual shortages, rapidly escalating prices, conflicts and wars over those remaining resources and more.

How do we break the cycle of resource over-consumption and environmental degradation in the pursuit of Madison Avenue concocted wishes and dreams? All life, all living species, use from their environment what they need to survive. That, of course, is a lie. Were that true we would not be facing the global crises we have before us. But only one species, out of hundreds of thousands, does not adhere to that principal. Man. And only one species has the ability and potential to undo the damage already done and plan and prepare for a future that will be forever characterized by resource shortages. Man.

All species can and do damage and even destroy their environment. All life, after all, is parasitic, living off the avails of the environment around it. Any species can and will, especially under the pressure of overpopulation, destroy the ability of the local environment to support their numbers. Humans did it, on Easter Island.

There are two very important differences between human society today and that of any other species, or indeed our own species, at any time in earth's history. Our impact is global, not local. As is our overpopulation. We are over-consuming the resources of the entire planet and degrading the environment of the entire planet. Secondly, we are the only species which transforms. We change materials, dig up ores and turned them into a vast array of metals, dig up oil and other fossil fuels and transform it not only into fuels but into a vast array of chemicals and toxins against which the natural environment has no defense and for which the natural environment is not equipped to recycle. We have, quite literally, overwhelmed the environment which, with increasing difficulty, supports us.

We can no longer afford the luxury of running human society in a manner planned around the over-consumption and destruction of dwindling resources. We can no longer tolerate the idiocy of planned obsolescence, designing and manufacturing products meant to fail after a pre-determined period of time. We can no longer justify the unnecessary wastage of resources that will be critical to survival of future generations in production of goods that we do not need. We can no longer unthinkingly continue to support consumerism, consuming and wasting critical resources for momentary financial profit. To continue to do so dooms us globally to the same result as Easter Island.