A sobering look into the future: conclusions
February 17, 2011
So what are we to draw from the predictions of scarcity presented in the preceding three articles? First, I want to make it clear that I have not just made up this stuff. I have drawn from a vast array of information from panels of experts and scientific articles from a variety of sources not serving political or economic interests. The timing of depletion of various essential resources is arguable, but it is an inescapable fact that Earth’s resources are finite, and that sooner or later our continuing consumption will lead to their exhaustion. We may be able to discover and develop substitutes for many of these resources; but can we do so for all of them, and in the enormous quantities on which our current lifestyle is dependent, and at a cost we can afford?
So how should we respond to a future of increasing scarcity? First, we need to shake off our denial and realize that ignoring problems does not make them go away. Since it is both overpopulation and excessive consumption that have brought us to the pending crisis, it should be obvious that it will be necessary for us to reduce both. Greater conservation, improved efficiency, increased recycling, and learning to live without much of the comfort and plenty we have increasingly taken for granted are inevitable. Capitalism must wean itself from its obsession with producing more and more goods for more and more people, and wake up to the fact that that is a dead-end course.
The industrialized nations of the world need to abandon the expense and wasteful use of our resources preparing for the possibility of conflict with one another, and band together to combine their energies to respond to the certainty of a world of depleting resources. This is a small example, but we certainly need to abandon trying to put a man on Mars, and devote the funds and resources that effort will consume toward saving the planet we live on.
Bringing down world population, in both the industrialized nations because of their much higher per capita consumption of resources and Third World countries which are already on the brink of starvation, is both the most important – and at the same time the most difficult – action that needs to be taken. It will require generations to achieve any meaningful effect, which is why it is imperative that a serious effort be started immediately. Several writers have cautioned that as many of the resources the world depends on are depleted (possibly as soon as the middle or end of this century), food production will decline rapidly, giving rise to starvation on a massive scale. The result will be a reduction in the world’s population, possibly to the two billion which can survive wholly on renewable resources. We have the choice of achieving the necessary population reduction pre-emptively, or by allowing it to take place through starvation and social breakdown. It is up to us.
A recent panel on the History Channel pointed out two other threats to our future that could be far more immediate than overpopulation and depletion of resources. One is the state of our economy – we are running out of money! Debt at all levels of government is a Sword of Damocles hanging by a thread over our heads. Our national debt is out of control, there is concern about many of our states declaring bankruptcy, and there is growing concern over the ability of local governments to cover their bond obligations. This could all come crashing down overnight, and take the world economy with it. Yet no one seems to be taking this looming crisis seriously. The President and Congress are in total denial of the seriousness of the situation – they talk about trimming a few hundred million or a few billion dollars here and there, or maybe even several hundred billion dollars (over the next five years), and maybe cutting the deficit in half within ten years. And they are not alone in their denial – none of the beneficiaries of the entitlement programs that are driving these deficits are willing to make meaningful concessions. Can’t they see that if they are not willing to give up something they may be left with nothing? The other is the possibility of terrorist groups gaining access to atomic weapons, which could turn the future of the world upside down in an instant.
Our future as a nation and as a civilized society depends on whether we and our government can wake up to the threats that confront us, and are willing to change our ways for the well being of coming generations.
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– Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.