Currently, numerous environmental researchers are warning of future resource shortages. The list is large and includes water, oil, and a variety of minerals and metals, as well as other materials.
Yet, most people carry on as if they do not hear the message at all. They refuse to cut back in their dreams of continuing economic growth. Part of their problem is perhaps an inability to make connections. They seem to have little or no idea about the collective consequences of their individual behavior.
For example, they can't walk into a super-sized Wal-Mart or a mall and see the environmental destruction and energy use behind each type of product on the shelves, nor that the whole gargantuan conglomeration of products could cause a problem. They can't look at cotton goods or food and imagine the huge oceanic dead zones and the annihilation of many diverse organisms caused by farm runoff. They can't go to the paper aisle and picture that, aside from all of the multitudes of items derived from timber, U.S. toilet paper use alone destroys 13-million acres of forests per year, along with all life dependent on those forests.
In particular, loggers, paper mill operators, truckers hauling raw materials and final products, and even store clerks don't want to visualize such images. They don't want to see their own roles in the process any more than do the people who, while complaining about the impacts of overpopulation, continue to have many children, which, of course, leads to many more toilet paper purchases. In fact, they, like those who wring their hands over mountaintop blowups for coal and the slaughter of indigenous forest dwellers by oil company hired thugs, don't want to be told of cut-backs of any types at all, let alone just bathroom paper.
Especially if they are fond of vacation travel or have seen their home energy use spike due to lots of appliances running at once, they don't want to picture that they possibly could be implicated in anything having to do with the downside of their lifestyles. They don't want to link their habits to the fact that over 70-percent of electricity in the U.S. comes from fossil fuels. They don't want to think that maybe their rising demand for oil at the pump or penchant for air travel is somehow indirectly related to the types of damage seen in the Amazon forests, the Appalachians, the Niger Delta, or the Gulf of Mexico.
Above all, they do not want to be told that the economic growth is not coming back. They don't want to picture that life will dramatically change as the oil runs out, while the price for it and everything dependent on it will continuously rise. They don't want to question whether the capitalist system of economics will cause further ecological ruin and social inequality as it plays itself out.
Further, they don't want to consider that maybe they will be forced to change some of their major goals and the ways that they live in the future due to a combination of factors, such as the coming energy power-down, climate change variables, diminishing resource bases, and overpopulation. Instead, want to rise up the socio-economic chain so that they can consume even more goods. And, those who succeed in obtaining riches, may be able to purchase vacation homes, yachts, gas-gobbling RVs, or other coveted treasure.
Moreover, they don't want to imagine that maybe two groups will make out okay in times ahead, and one of them probably won't be the (ever shrinking) middle class. They don't want to note that the successful ones could be the very wealthy people who can afford to buy anything regardless of its costliness and scarcity, and the people at the other end of the spectrum, who have simply walked away from the status quo to form self-sufficient farming communities, transition towns, and egalitarian co-ops able to provide for the majority of their members' needs.
Instead, they continue to envision that everything in life overall will get better after a spell. Yet, we are all stuck in a situation in which there exist 7-billion humans all needing food, water, and shelter, among other things, at an increasing rate unprecedented in human history. All together, we're digging up and plowing every parcel of land on which we can manage to lay our hands. We're trawling and dredging every ocean and sea onto which we can stake our claims. We're damming every waterway that can be controlled. We're pumping and polluting the world's fresh water supply faster than it can be replenished, using up other resources in entirety, turning the Earth's oceans into acid, fouling the atmosphere, scarring the land with deep mining holes, blowing up mountains to extract their coal and, in exchange, creating mountains of trash.
Simultaneously, we're methodically ripping apart the planet's forests at the rate of about one acre per second, destroying multitudinous species one after another, creating climate change on a scale that staggers the imagination, and generating explosions of radiation to blow into every existing outdoor nook and cranny. (Recent news headlines include Radiation Readings in Fukushima Reactor Rise to Highest Since Crisis Began
.) Imagine the hubris of a species that refuses to learn from Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, such that even now the desire exists to build even more nuclear plants and A-bombs!
At the same time, we're warring with each other over resources between and within nations, and always, always ... insisting upon more things to own. In relation, the proliferation of wants and needs is limitless.
So, we're demanding more food, more water, more construction for our ever-burgeoning masses, more jobs and, especially, more spaces into which to fan out as we add 219,000 more humans every single day (80-million people each year) while simultaneously displacing other types of life whose environments we take over in the process. Meanwhile, billions are sunk in poverty, largely due to having already exceeded their regions' carrying capacity and, as they did so, they often took the last trees with them, just as had happened on Easter Island.
At some point, something has to give. The pattern, the rapacious ravage, cannot persist indefinitely. Indeed, it won't because the resource base itself is largely disappearing across the globe. The ocean fisheries are depleting and are expected to run out by mid-century. Climate change has brought pine and spruce beetles in such high numbers that they are eating millions upon millions of acres of trees and spreading out everywhere that they can, much like their human counterparts.
Concurrently, methane is releasing from underwater beds and permafrost to join the carbon releases from humanity's use of fossil fuel from rich underground deposits that took millions of years to form, and that will be gone in the blink of a century. In relation, the looming climate change effects will be horrendous and will curtail many areas of human activity..
The main reason that the whole mess will be curbed is a simple one -- infinite growth, whether economic or population -- cannot continue indefinitely. As economist Kenneth Ewart Boulding reputedly said, "Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist."
A crash is coming -- one far worse than the current recession. In large measure, it's because environmental tipping points are on the way and, for those people in the worst locations for the collapse -- the desperation, conflicts, and chaos will likely be horrific in scale and ferocity.
How could they not be when our governments and the status quo do not encourage our transitioning to a steady state economy, business based on regionalized commerce, and a cooperative inclusive economic arrangement rather than out of control global competition? How can further troubles not come into being when a vicious globalized capitalist system is in existence for which profits, not people and their needs, is always the overriding goal? Despite its desirability from many standpoints, how can an alternative scheme be put in place when it bumps up against the prevailing paradigm and the corporatists -- the powerful uber-elites who control the gargantuan transnational companies and fawning government toadies?
Therefore, unless one is incredibly affluent, the best course of action is to run for the hills. Under the circumstances, it would be sensible to find a quiet niche somewhere in which there's already a community in place whose members have the appropriate skills, constructive understandings, and a supportive intact surrounding environment in order to be able to create a largely self-reliant way of life. Even though such a change could be hard, the option of doing nothing different could become increasingly problematic in light of the further social and ecological breakdown that's assuredly on the way.
Emily Spence is a progressive living in MA. She has spent many years involved with assorted types of human rights, environmental and social service efforts.