Sustain Ability

With growing human population and consumption, our planet is already strained with water scarcity, fossil fuel scarcity, food scarcity, mineral scarcity, and environmental degradation.  Is the big picture that humans will eventually kill each other to compete for scarce resources?

Let’s see.

We are now 6.7 billion people, and growing.

Billions are rising out of extreme poverty, which will also require more resources.

Billions are shifting consumption patterns from very minimal consumption to greater levels that approximate the excess consumption of developed countries.

Americans’ consumption is so excessive that, if all human beings consumed at such level, we’d need the equivalent to five planet earths to keep up (according to a conversation between Jeffrey Sachs from the Earth Institute and Bill Mahr from Real Time).

People are living longer.


Water amounts are finite.  Minerals are finite. 

The only answer to prevent a Mad Max scenario where people and nations literally kill each other to survive is to recognize that humanity must stabilize its consumption. 

Yes, technology must keep up and increase productivity, which will enable us to increase food production to keep up for some time.

And yes, desalinization plants and water purification technologies will help us keep up for some time.

And yes, technology can help create new resource substitutes (like plastic chairs instead of wooden chairs) and maximize efficiencies (using lower amounts of raw materials in more effective ways per output) to leverage resources.

But that will not be enough.

We need to, above all, recognize that population control is critical.

Reproduction levels have stabilized or even gone below the 2.0 "balance" number in developed countries.  But that is not enough.

First of all, because we are living longer and we are consuming more, it is not enough for two parents to just replace themselves with two children.  That will still put enormous pressure on our resources in the years to come.  A target of 1.5 children per couple will be able to address this challenge better (whereas a zero to 1 child per couple has the challenge of straining existing social security systems and yielding older populations with lower bases of young that may have difficulty supporting them).

But most important, in developing countries many families are still having 7, 9, and even 12 children.  This is not a "sexy" issue.  But new philanthropists and people concerned with climate change need to recognize that family planning and population control is just as critical a part of the puzzle as anything else.

We also need to evolve to eat more fruits, grains and vegetables and less meat.  Every pound of meat requires about 16 pounds of grains and 40 times the amount of water and land to grow than the equivalent grain, but it also causes severe environmental degradation because of increases in pollution and uses of fossil fuels and other resources.  This is rightfully giving rise to "environmental vegetarianism," not to mention it is just more healthful to the body.

Alternative energy solutions need to be supported, promoted, advocated, and adopted.  Excessive use of fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources needs to go down.

This means people need to stop buying and driving SUVs, and that people and governments and businesses need to start building networks for alternative energy.

Solar and hydrogen energy solutions need to be fostered assertively.

We as humans also need to avoid excesses in all areas of our lives, and stop living modern life thinking that greater consumption is equated to greater satisfaction or joy.  The digital economy can hopefully bring much added joy with a lower use of physical resources.  When we buy gifts we should avoid the bags and boxes that go with them.  When we do get the bags and boxes, we should use them or recycle them.  And gifts and daily need purchases should be acquired bearing in mind our environmental impact.

And, perhaps least popular, we need to come to terms with the fact that we are not immortal and are not meant to approximate immortality. It is not natural to force our grandparents’ bodies to last another 6 months or another 1 year in tubes and machines that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Social ethics need to evolve to make it acceptable for us to move on.

Above all, we need to bear in mind when we live our daily lives that our consumption decisions are impacting future generations.

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