We’re maxed out, living on the edge
Everywhere you look these days, you get the impression that in more and more ways, the world’s resources, on which our modern civilization depends, are being stretched to their very limits.
Starting with fossil fuels, particularly petroleum and natural gas, production is operating at nearly full capacity and is barely able to keep up with the steadily increasing demand. And we are no longer finding significant new gas or oil reserves to meet the needs of the future. So what is going to keep cars and trucks on the road, ships at sea, and airplanes in the air?
We can use plug-in hybrid or all-electric cars and replace long-haul trucks with electrically powered trains, using coal-generated electrical power, you say. After all, we still have lots of coal. But our electric generating plants and electric power grid are operating at their maximums, with virtually no reserve capacity. They are in no position to take on the added burden of trying to power our transportation needs without the massive investment in additional generating and transmission capacity that would require. And burning all that additional coal would add billions of tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, likely further accelerating global warming.
The world is also running out of arable land, straining its ability to feed its exploding population. Food-exporting nations are cutting back on exports in order to meet their own needs, creating food shortages that are driving food prices beyond the means of the world’s masses of poor, causing riots in many countries. And we are only making the situation worse by our misguided diversion of food-producing land to grow corn for making ethanol to fuel automobiles. This drives up the price of corn and all foods dependent on corn ” meat, eggs, cereals, and dairy projects to name but a few.
Land formerly used to raise wheat is now being switched to corn, raising the cost of wheat and all wheat products, such as bread.
Supplies of water suitable for human consumption and irrigation water for food production are also being pushed to their limits throughout major portions of the world, including the American Southwest, which is in the throes of a prolonged drought.
Add to this list the world’s declining ability to supply basic resources such as the timber, metals, and minerals essential to our modern industrial world, drastically increasing their cost.
Current financial conditions in the United States are certainly no reason for optimism.
Our government is spending money on its folly in Iraq far in excess of its income, driving our national debt up at a rate of half a trillion dollars a year. The rising cost of everything we depend on for our standard of living is threatening to reawaken inflation, which means that we may have a more and more difficult time attracting foreign capital (primarily from China) to finance our debt unless we pay a significantly higher rate of interest on the debt, increasing our deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars a year.
The personal financial situation of the majority of Americans is just as dismal as that of our government. People are living on the edge, mortgaged to the hilt with interest rates they can no longer afford, and running up credit card debt that is eating them up in interest charges. Credit card debt has nearly doubled in the past ten years, and now exceeds $2.5 trillion.
How did we and the rest of the world get into this mess? It is the world’s skyrocketing population, which quadrupled in just the last century, coupled with the rapidly increasing per capita demand on resources by the world’s three largest countries, China, India and the U.S.
And how do we get out of this mess? It is going to require drastic reductions in both population and standards of living, and a Herculean international effort to avoid a fight to the finish over control of dwindling supply of the world’s resources. The reality is we cannot continue to live beyond our means, either financially or in our consumption of the world’s dwindling resources.
Hal Sundin’s column appears every other Thursday in the Post Independent.
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