We are at a turning point in history. We have become the dominant species on the planet, having nothing to fear... but ourselves. We have conquered the animal kingdom. Medicine breaks new ground every year. Our ability to use resources and turn them into finish products has grown immensely. So, has the battery of chemicals used in their fabrication and as final goods themselves.
Since many environmental problems are cumulative in nature, we are only beginning to suffer the consequences of our inaction, be they damage to our health, the loss of income and tax revenue from the destruction of renewable resources such as fisheries, the rise in the cost of living as a result of the depletion of fossil fuels, the decrease in enjoyment of such things as clean air and natural surroundings, or the price of funding environmental clean up costs.
We lived it up for years without concern over what we did to the world around us, and this is now coming back to haunt us. Recent research shows that babies are born with hundreds of harmful chemicals in their body. Environmental issues can no longer be avoided. The honeymoon is over; we have reached a turning point.
Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of our problems. There is a disaster in the making: the depletion of non-renewable resources. The earth is much poorer in terms of metallic assets than is commonly believed. This is something that we are only starting to realize. The planet's total lifespan is estimated to be about 10 billion years. We are already halfway through this. Our use of its resources was negligible up until a century ago.
Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, it took only a few decades to bring us within sight of the depletion of the world's petroleum reserves—a resource formed over millions of years. Oil has renewable substitutes, and these are relatively plentiful on the planet, if more expensive. They are also generally cleaner and many are available on a sustainable basis.
Our supplies of exploitable metallic ores are not very far behind petroleum in terms of depletion according to currently available data. Unlike energy, however, these minerals are generally not renewable and have few substitutes. Once gone, they are gone and will not grow back. Their depletion is a one-way street.
The prices of both petroleum and metals were significantly up prior to the recession following the subprime mortgage crisis that hit in 2007. The resulting economic slowdown provided some breathing space, but the news headlines concerning high oil and food prices will soon be back, heralding a taste of what the future holds.
Surely, humanity's survival and economic achievements should be celebrated. However, it is those very successes that now threaten our way of life and the well-being of our children, grandchildren, and future generations. We are at yet another turning point, this time with respect to the conservation of non-renewable resources, one which may turn out to be a lot more critical than that of other environmental issues.
The realization that in but a few centuries of economic growth we could wipe out the bulk of the earth's non-renewable resources has yet to be made by most of us. The reserves of many of the metals essential to the functioning of modern economies and societies are relatively limited, from a few years to a few decades. Non-renewable resources will behave similarly to the way oil did over the last half century, their prices rising sharply over short periods of time and being the object of speculation and geopolitics. Standards of living will drop, a process that will only accelerate over time. Unless we do something, the effect will be like heading at full speed into a wall, the Depletion Wall.
The massive consumption and economic growth that we saw in the last century are directly responsible for the impending crisis. Unlimited expansion on a planet with seven billion people is not in the cards, unless war, chaos, and starvation is what we want. We have to steer away from that destiny and, as you will see in the rest of this book, we have very little time to do it.
If other planets harbor intelligent life, this may just prove to be a typical pattern of evolution: intelligence emerges, leading a species to dominance and the development of the ability to destroy itself and its entire living environment. Whether evolution leads to the depletion of essential resources and a collapse of the species, remains to be seen.
Unbridled economic expansion cannot continue; consuming more of the earth's resources and faster than they can be replenished is not sustainable. Neither can the world population be maintained at current levels—or continue to increase, for that matter.
This book explores the many issues relating to resource depletion and population growth and links back to the first book of the Waves of the Future series to develop a comprehensive solution to address the problems at hand.
The first part is meant to provide background information and give some perspective to this book and the concerns it attempts to address. Alvin Toffler's analogy of waves of change is briefly explored, and some of the 20th century issues that served as a backdrop to the Waves of the Future series are looked at. It also briefly examines the environmental approach, the Green Economic Environment, proposed in the preceding work, The 21st Century Environmental Revolution, as it has resource conservation at its core and could successfully address the depletion problem.
The second part looks at the issue of conservation—which is on very few people's minds and no government's radar at this point. Inspired by the work of Jared Diamond in 2005, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, it examines the causes of dramatic declines and more specifically the case of Easter Island. Following that, an assessment of the present is made, and the issue of population growth is explored, especially relating to resource consumption and depletion.
The third part takes a detailed look at the problems of non-renewable resources and population growth. The 1970s Club of Rome's Model3 controversial projections regarding a potential world collapse past the middle of this century are investigated in light of new research and recent data. The ins and outs of population growth are explored, and the 1994 Rwandan Genocide is looked at as a concrete example of social collapse or what might happen if the world continues down its current path.
The fourth part focuses on solutions. It explores issues such as speed of depopulation, financial aspects of the problem, and optimal targets to be reached. The economics of depopulation are then investigated. Topics include reasonable goals, the myth of market size, productivity increases, labor shortages, and depopulation strategies.
It then delves into the problem of countries having to support a larger number of retirees as the baby boomer generation ages. The issue is looked at in depth as depopulating would present a similar situation. A historical analysis reveals that population growth as a means to address the problem would not make society more able to support a larger retiree population, on the contrary. Depopulation, on the other hand, would do so and offer several other advantages.
The last part of the book deals with various issues relating to resource depletion and population growth, including popular arguments, approaches to population control, and a look at the future.