So much to be thankful for, but …
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Thanksgiving Day, 2007. As we look back on the years of our lives, so many of us have so much to be thankful for. The love and support of our families above all; and in addition, the fact that we have had the good fortune to live in this great country, where we have enjoyed political and religious freedoms, have benefited from its rich resources, which have provided us with the comforts of our marvelous standard of living, and have not had to endure major ravages of war on our land for more than 140 years.
But what about the years ahead? All the things we depend on for the life we have enjoyed are now stretched to the breaking point.
The future of oil and gas, which supply our energy demands are becoming increasingly uncertain. The world’s petroleum resources are in decline, and are increasingly at risk because of political uncertainty in the regions where they are located. Here in the U.S. West, the frantic drilling activity for natural gas is barely able to keep up with growing demands. Electric power generating capacity is on the edge, but steel and cement to construct more plants are in short supply. The railroads are already operating at capacity to deliver the coal needed to keep existing plants running at capacity. The power grid that distributes electricity is running on the verge of breakdown at peak demands. Peak demands increase transmission losses from a normal five percent to as much as twenty percent, making it even harder for the system to keep up with demand. We are also running short on the natural resources on which we depend ” timber, and metals like copper, zinc, cadmium and molybdenum, all of which are skyrocketing in price.
Our transportation systems are also under siege. Commuter routes and many parts of our highway system are being overwhelmed, and air travel is being strained by an overloaded traffic control system and rising costs and even the availability of jet fuel.
Even more crucial is the water and food supply situation. Most of the world, including many areas in the U.S., are running short of fresh water, which also threatens the world’s food supply. Other concerns over food production are the shrinking amount of arable land due to spreading drought conditions, the future availability and rising cost of fertilizer (which uses natural gas and huge amounts of energy for its production), and the mysterious decline in honey bees that pollinate fruits, vegetables and nuts. In addition, the fisheries on which much of the world depends are collapsing because of overfishing.
Possibly the greatest threat to our future is global warming associated with the steadily increasing discharge of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. Global warming feeds on itself as ice surfaces shrink and forests die and burn. As temperatures rise, increased air conditioning demand eats up more power, which produces more CO2, resulting in even more warming.
A moment’s reflection will reveal that all of these crisis situations are driven by a single cause ” runaway population growth. Throughout nature, species proliferate to the limit of their resources, usually food. Human history since its origin has been no different. But unlike in the past ” because of our energy-dependent technological advances that have tremendously increased food production with fertilizers and massive irrigation; and permitted long-distance transportation of food from where it is grown to the megalopolises in which so much of it is consumed ” it will be future limitations in the energy supply that will determine the population the world can support.
But we are continuing to do all the wrong things and few of the right things. We are overfishing the oceans and cutting down the rain forests. We are not doing enough toward conserving energy and improving efficiency, controlling population, and reducing CO2 emissions. Since 2000, annual CO2 emissions have increased at two and a half times the rate of increase in the 1990s, and the world’s population has increased another half-billion. None of this gives us much in our future to be thankful for.
Hal Sundin’s column appears every other Thursday in the Post Independent.
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Recently the challenges have mounted against making another bridge connecting south Glenwood Springs to the Colorado Highway 82 corridor.