22 January 2012

And when we are gone ……..

I remember hearing those word from a very eminent scientist and thinking at the time; “How can that be? We are such a successful species that dominates the world.” And here we are at the end of 2011 and there are now 7 billion humans alive on the planet! How can we be gone?



I was born in 1954, the year of the first UN Population conference, into a world of 2.7 billion humans where millions starved to death every year and a third of the population living in poverty without access to an adequate diet, clean water or proper shelter.



And here we are in 2011, 56 years later and we have almost tripled the worlds population to over 7 billion where 10’s of millions starve and still a third of people live in poverty … that’s more people than were alive when I was born!




And when I die in 20 years time, it may well be 9 billion people, with 100’s of millions starving and a third of those people or more living in povert



But the real nightmare is how we managed to get to 7 billion people on the planet today. A planet that is not increasing in size and resources to match our ever increasing population and demands. The nightmare is called non renewable resources.



The planet has given us an unbelievable gift: A huge quantity of oil, gas, phosphate(Essential for fertilizers), soil and fossil ground water that had been built up over billions of years. We can think of these non renewable resources like being given a large amount of cash in the bank.



Now we can do two things with these non renewable resources, the “cash in the bank”. The first is to use these non renewable resources to enable us set us sustainable technological civilizations that return a lot of the resources to the planet and other species and live within the recycling capacity of the planet. This is the future strategy, using the interest from the “money in the bank” without depleting the initial capital.



The second strategy is to use these non renewable resources to go for growth;  growth of everything from the economy to the population of the planet. This is today’s strategy, where we spend up big, have a wonderful time and blow the lot, so we end up with “no cash in the bank”.



So here we are, with 7 billion people today and in the near future, 9 billion people who are totally dependant on these non renewable resources and when we have totally consume them …. the “bank account” will be empty, the party ends and we all die.



The sad part is that anyone with an understanding of basic high school maths will quickly realise that continual growth in a finite system is a mathematical impossibility, that leads to resource exhaustion and finally a crash. Yet we continually listen to the politicians and economists telling use we must have growth, growth, growth right to the end.



And it is not as if we didn’t know. The writing is on the wall in plain every day language for those who wish to read it, because in the past, this has happened before! In regional areas, past civilizations have come and gone, for exactly the same reason as our will. Total depletion of resources essential for life. Yet this is not the message we want to hear, so the party goes on and we ignore the message at our peril.



But this is the 21st century. Times have now changed. Today, there is nowhere to escape the consequences of our actions because this time, we have taken over the entire planet. There is nowhere to start a fresh and no amount of money will isolate anyone from the coming storm. As it is often said “When the titanic sank, the first class cabins went to the bottom just as quickly as the steerage.



On our current path, this is our future. The human race shines every so brightly for a twinkling in the planetary time scale, then crashes and burns out … never to be seen again…. and when we are gone ….



But we can switch to renewable technologies I hear people say. “Technology will save us!” The answer here is NO. Once the non renewable resources are gone, technology which is totally dependant on them is gone and the game is over.



Consider all the renewable power sources: Solar, Wind, Biomass, Hydro and Thermal. They are all totally dependant on scarce rare earth minerals, oil based technology, steel, concrete and use lots of water. When the non renewable resources are exhausted, the “bank account is empty” and they too will be gone.



So here is the question we need to ask: “Is there anything we can do to avert the crash that must inevitably come?” The answer is, at this late stage, we cannot avert a crash, BUT we can influence the landing. This “influence” is totally dependant on when we seriously taken action. The longer we party and burn up the capital, the less “influence” we will have.



So where do you start? The first step is easy. We just have to realise that we are at war. We are at war with the planet. We are at war with the resources of the planet. We are at war with environment and we are at war with all the other species on the planet.



Our survival is dependant on the human race ending the war and making peace, because at the end of the day, we need the planet, resources, environment and other species. They don’t need us and would do far better without us. Until we realise this and it is reflected in our decision making, there is no hope for us…. and when were are gone…………



So how do we make peace? Well this is where it becomes utopian but it is what must happen if we want to survive on this planet. We need to do six things:


    1. End our profligate expenditure on both “defence” (aka war) and rampant immediate gratification consumerism.


    1. Share the resources of the planet more equally. It means the rich (that’s you if you are reading this) accepting a much lower standard of living and shorter life span.


    1. Use our remaining resources for the education of everyone. Most people will do what is needed if they understand the severity of the problem.


    1. Get population and consumption down as quickly as is humanely possible, to a level that gives us a long term future. Best estimates are 500 million people!


    1. Copy the planet: Recycle everything. If you can’t recycle it, you can’t have it.


    1. Realise that your god is not going to save you. If you must be religious, then get off your knees and understand that your god gave you a brain for a reason. Blow the dust off it and use it the way your god intended … for survival.




“Not going to happen” you say and you may well be right. But here is the alternative: Party to the end and then let the planet make the decisions for you. This is the default alternative:


    1. Nuclear and conventional warfare breaks out over the remaining non renewable resources. We can see this happening with oil already. This will get rid of a lot of people and wreck the remaining environment, making it immensely more hostile to life.


    1. Increasing pollution continues to disrupt the environment. Temperatures and sea levels rise reducing agriculture. Billions of people died of starvation from lack of food or war over resources. Maybe the climate tips into a new cycle and we get another ice age covering most of the planet.


    1. Contamination of water, soil and air dramatically lowering production and quality of available food, causing starvation and disease.


    1. The scramble for human survival decimates the remaining species leaving humans alone and hungry.


    1. Loss of clean, air, water, soil and an adequate diet causes a massive decline in sanitation leading to massive disease outbreaks killing billions.


    1. Technology fails due to war, power shortages and resource shortages. With it goes health care, fertilizers, modern agriculture and much of our hard won knowledge is lost.




“People won’t change” you say “We are screwed”. I disagree. When faced with adversity and when they understand the problem, people are capable of incredible change and feats. So, I am optimistic that we could change and do what is needed. I am also pessimistic that we may take the path of least resistance and party to the end. But having read this far, you now have a responsibility to do something. You cannot look your children in the eye and say “I am sorry, I just didn’t know”.


Article Publication: Think Tank
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