Let’s for a moment consider the two diagrams above: one concerning oil / fossil fuel usage, and the other world population (full size Oil Poster image here). And yes, granted the population chart shows a much longer domain of time, that is on purpose. If I could find an image to represent one more thing, I would include it here as well: the remaining “un-explored, virgin landmasses on the planet”. That third illustration would ideally convey an increasingly dwindling amount of space – there is no “new world” to discover, there are no other continents to find, the planet is no longer a vast expanse of unimaginable freedom.
How do we live on a planet with a limited capacity?
This is the question I see affecting my future, my generation, and all others after it. World population has exploded compared to the average population – advances in agriculture, hygiene, medicine, and of course industry, have all lead to more humans on the planet. There is often an overlooked driver to the development of population growth and other human advancements – energy – and it predominantly has been easily accessible fossil fuels. Coal, oil, natural gas. What’s more, the technological and production capabilities of oil (plastics, medicinal applications, food production, electronics) have lead to invaluable discoveries and unimaginable capabilities.
That said, in terms of natural processes, the rate at which non-renewable fuels takes to generate is millions of years, thus the title. They ‘can be renewed’, but, comparing the time it takes to make them versus the rate of usage, they will run out exceedingly quickly. Regardless of what you may, at this time, “believe” about peak oil, there is a limitation of reality that at our current rate, the resources will run out. This is a fact. It is one greatly disputed by various parties, particularly as to ‘when’ peak oil is and it’s myriad ramifications, but its reality still remains.
So we have a depleting source of energy that has fueled the growth of modern society; we have a world population that is dramatically increasing; we have no new areas on the planet to discover — where does this leave us? Having to make some choices about how to live in this world. At this time, we have no capabilities to find another planet with other resources – be it liveable land, clean water, easily accessible fuel sources, or other such things. There is one planet.
So how do we deal with that?
From a raw logistic sense, how do you actually deal with that? The trajectory of life as it is right now in this planet cannot maintain itself – a billion people every 13 years cannot go on, using fossil fuels at this rate cannot go on. So things will change. Likely many aspects of life will change, from how we actually cultivate and develop “energy”, to how society itself functions. How we deal with the planetary limitations in light of our currently unsustainable trajectory is what I’ve come to realize as the biggest issue of my lifetime… and the lifetime of my children, of all those that come after me. I realize that the decisions I make and what I do right now will affect their starting point, the world they live in.
So that is the background. That is the starting point to this website, to my interests in the world, and to what I want to do with my life. It’s a place I’d like to engage as many people as I can – because it’s going to affect your life, too. There is no one on this planet who is escaping the consequences of what is going on right now – the economy is global, the atmosphere of the planet affects everyone, and frankly humans have the capability to ruin their own ability to live on this planet (I’ll conservatively just mention a massive nuclear war, no less the worst possible implications of severe climate change). There are a lot of important decisions to be made, decisions that will be forced upon the human species.
I think the more you know the better – the more you can understand, the more you can try to make the best decisions possible. I would encourage everyone to try to learn more about these things, and understand how they affect you in your daily life. There is no clear path forward; innovation is necessary. There are new technologies emerging, and new ways to think about things – or we can return to life as it was several hundred years ago. Or something else altogether – but whatever it is, it won’t be as things are now.
What will happen ? I don’t know, but it is up to us. So let’s figure it out.
Keep moving forward.
2011 October 1