What does our future hold?

Aug. 24, 2013 @ 05:49 PM

Financial planners will tell you that Rule No. 1 in managing your nest egg is to never spend the principal. Interest is a renewable resource, but if you crack the nest egg, there will be less and less to generate interest next year and the year after. It is good advice.

Too bad we have not been listening. Last Tuesday — only eight months into the year — marked the day we used up as many resources as the Earth is capable of renewing in a year. Now we are in what is known as “ecological overshoot” or environmental debt. And that is just for this year.

According to Global Footprint Network, human consumption began outstripping the planet’s capacity for renewal in the 1970s when global population reached 4 billion, up from 2.5 billion in 1950. Since then global population has grown to 7.2 billion and the planet’s nest egg has shrunk producing fewer resources. Together the two trends have moved Earth Overshoot day up to Aug. 20 this year.

What is truly concerning is that at our current pace, world population will top 11 billion by the end of this century. Right now, it requires the equivalent of 1.5 Earths to provide all that humans consume. By 2100, it will take the equivalent of two Earths.

That means a child born here in Union County on Earth Overshoot Day in 2013 will likely live to see a reaping of the seeds we are sowing today.

If you think this is merely the raving of tree huggers, liberal Chicken Littles and scaremongers, consider the sources.

The American Petroleum Institute estimates — on the conservative side — that world petroleum supplies will be depleted by 2094. You may argue that fracking can extend that. And it may. But how long? The point is that supply is not endless, it is finite.

Petroleum is a key ingredient in fertilizers, pesticides and energy for farm equipment that has powered a Green Revolution that feeds the world. With more mouths and less food, famine that can already been seen around the world will become more widespread. What will hunger drive the masses to do? What would it drive you to do?

Already the U.S. consumes nearly twice what we can produce. China consumes 2.5 times what it can produce. Japan consumes eight times what it can produce. Only Australia consumes less that they produce each year.

NASA has estimated that there are approximately 400 billion trees on the planet.  The Idaho Forest Products Commission estimates it takes 102 trees to construct a typical 2,000 square foot house. Do the math. Building homes for the 4 billion added to the Earth’s population this century will take every one of those trees.

So if it was your son or daughter — grandson or granddaughter — who was born last Tuesday, what are you leaving them? What will they see at the end of their lives as they look ahead at a world that awaits their children and grandchildren? Where will they live? What will they eat? What kind of world will it be?

These are problems, not prophecies. But unless they are recognized and addressed there is little reason to believe that the trends begun in the 1950s will not continue. And their consequences await our children.