Saturday, January 12, 2019
And That's Why We Can't Have Nice Things
Imagine you have one of those "people movers," a three-row seat mini-van that's advertised to fit seven comfortably. So you put a bum in every one of those seats and then you load another ten people into the van. Then you set out to drive across country, all 17 of you.
Now, substitute humanity for the passengers and Earth for that van. You wind up with close to eight billion people on a planet that has room for about three billion. That's what accounts for most of the predicament we humans and most other lifeforms on this planet are now in.
There are loads of stories coming out exhorting us to change our diet. Meat is out, veggies are in. If you must have creature protein, go for the insect options. Put a little salt on them, a touch of cayenne, lightly fry them up and, voila, dinner.
With everything in short supply, the meat diet has to go. The livestock industry requires too much energy, uses increasingly scarce resources and those farts, don't get me started. That end product, if you get my drift, pure methane.
Why insects? Why not switch to fish? Same story. Too many mouths, not enough fish to fill them. This leads the industry to "fish down the food chain." We're collapsing fisheries, species by species. That can't end well.
Even our farmland isn't up to the population challenge. We have tried. We figured that with enough agricultural chemicals (fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides) and enough ground water for irrigation and plenty of energy for mechanization, we could produce bumper crops that would allow our numbers to increase threefold in just a single lifetime. It was good while it lasted but now much of the world's farmland is seriously degraded, intensively farmed to the point of exhaustion. This brings on a double whammy - desertification and the loss of aquifers drained for irrigation. Think that's a Third World problem? Check out America's Ogallala aquifer.
Energy, you can't do much without it. Over at ourworldindata.org, you'll find a chart that shows how our appetite for energy has grown since 1800 and, especially, since 1950. In the post-war era, global energy consumption has soared seven fold, about 700 per cent, and the International Energy Agency expects demand will grow another 30 per cent by 2050. Most of that is fossil fuels, the energy that produces all those awful greenhouse gases. Crazy, man.
The weird part and, I promise, this is really weird, is that we're still all about growth. The planet can't support us. It's tapped out. We don't care. Just like a malignancy, we cannot stop growing. We may understand the limits but we will not, repeat not, let them get in the way of our pursuit of growth. We're not going to stop this train until we come to the collapsed bridge over that deep gorge.
And that, kids, is why we can't have nice things any more. There's just not enough to go around. It's becoming a net sum game. Some, a few, will get plenty. Some, a whole lot more, will get just enough or near to it. Some will be left out, left to fend for themselves. The more we grow the uglier this is going to get but that's a decade or two off, maybe, and, for now, we really don't care.