A meandering blog with no clear topic. You will find me talking about knitting, building, kids, social and economic issues, Alaska, and lots of other stuff.

Monday, November 12, 2007


There is a lot going on in the world recently, and much of it has me worried. On NPR on Friday, one expert stated unequivocally that if the world remains on the path it is on, in 30 to 50 years, no one will live in a first world society. (http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2007/11/09/consumed1_pm_3/) There are many issues confronting us as a society right now. There are so many, in fact, that I do not think we will have the ability, or maybe just the political will, to solve them. I decided to start a list. Bear with me. Or not.

Global warming. I know you all have heard me preach about this before, but I think it is becoming increasingly obvious that it is going to have a much larger effect that most of us expected, and in a much shorter period of time. Global warming has many side effects, including increasing drought in places like Australia and the US Southwest, Midwest and South, rising sea level, which threatens many coastal cities worldwide, decreasing arctic and Antarctic ice cover, migration of species away from the equator, and so on.

Peak oil. Peak oil, for those of you that haven’t heard of it, is the point at which the production of crude oil is at its highest point. The idea is that there is only so much oil in the ground, and when you get about half of it out, the rest becomes harder and slower. More expensive too. There are many websites out there that talk about whether peak oil is coming sooner or later (my guess is sooner), and what the effects will be. The biggest problem is that at some point, whether it is actually at the peak of production or not, is that demand (which is still growing globally) will at some point begin to outstrip supply. This makes oil both scarce (think gas station lines and rationing) and more expensive (anyone notice the price of crude oil lately????) If we have not found acceptable, workable alternatives that can be ramped up in sufficient quantities to replace our thirst for oil, we are going to be in a huge crunch. The concept of peak also applies to natural gas, coal, and other energy sources.

Water. As a side effect of global warming, there is increasing drought in many areas. Also, it causes more of the rain that does fall to be lost to evaporation. Snow packs in many mountain ranges, which supply fresh water to many cities and agricultural areas, are decreasing. Meanwhile, many of the cities that depend on this snowpack are expanding rapidly, such as Las Vegas. The Ogallala aquifer, the main water supply for the plains states, is declining rapidly. It is being used up much faster than it is being recharged, in some places being used 100 times faster than it is being recharged.

Financial problems. As you may have noticed watching the news recently, things are not looking so good for the financial sector. With the mortgage mess, which seems to be expanding in scope, and affecting much of the rest of the credit market, the downturn in real estate generally, stocks faring terribly, inflation running rampant (although the core inflation rate doesn’t count those necessities, food and energy, that are quickly becoming noticeably more expensive), etc. I think we are in for a nasty recession. Apparently, much of the world agrees, if you notice how valuable our dollar is to the rest of the world right now. This would not be an insurmountable problem by itself; we have had money problems before. But it makes it harder to address the things that need to be addressed.

Agriculture. This is related to many of the items above, but important enough to talk about it by itself. Agriculture, at least the way most US corporate farmers practice it, is heavily dependent on two things: water (duh) and oil. With one farm having acres and acres of corn, wheat, etc. to care for, tractors and other mechanized equipment that run on some derivative of oil, are essential. Also, most people don’t realize this, but natural gas is a necessity for the production of fertilizer. Natural gas has also peaked on this continent. Researchers have found that it takes an average of 10 calories worth of petroleum to get one calorie of food to our plate. Then there is the effect of global warming and water shortage, which also deeply affect our ability to produce food. And then there is top soil loss adding into the problem. Our ability to produce enough food to feed us all is becoming seriously compromised. And then we go and send who knows how much corn to the ethanol plants.

Oceans. They are becoming acidic, thanks to the excess carbon they are soaking up. Their dead zones, courtesy of fertilizer and topsoil runoff, causing algae blooms that deplete the oxygen from the water, are making more and more of our oceans uninhabitable to the species that normally live there. Oil spills, such as what happened with the Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound, and more recently as the San Francisco Bay spill over the weekend, and the spill in Russia last week, although thankfully relatively rare, are damaging to the oceanic ecosystem when they occur. Also, studies are showing that we are overfishing, to the point of depletion, many of our fisheries. By the middle of the century, scientists report that the current global trend projects the collapse of all species of wild seafood that are currently fished by the year 2050 (collapse is defined as 90 percent depletion). Even Alaska’s wild salmon fishery, which is closely regulated, and receives awards for sustainability, cannot continue if the other species are fished out, as the ecosystem becomes so damaged as to be unable to sustain them.

Other natural resources. Many minerals, metals, and other natural resources are becoming increasingly difficult to mine, with progressively smaller concentrations of the needed substances in the ore. Phosphate, necessary for fertilizer, uranium, copper, and many more are becoming increasingly scarce and difficult to mine. If we are to make the shift away from fossil fuels, it will be increasingly difficult, for example, to build solar panels without the silicone and other minerals they require. This simply compounds the problem.

In a nutshell, we are simply using too much of everything. I think I could make a much longer list, but that is enough to give me a headache. We have completely outstripped the ability of our planet to sustain us. Unless we make immediate drastic changes, our kids are looking at a much less hospitable world than the one we grew up in. And you know, I like my kids. And I have a feeling I will like my grandkids. I don’t want them to suffer because of our choices. But that is where we are headed. So I am worried.

1 comment:

Gil said...

I popped over from runningonempty2 to have a look at your post. Grim stuff, there and here, but just the kind of thoughts that fill my mind nowadays.

My latent doomer and prepper tendencies have been revealed in recent years. Moved the family from urban southern California to a college town in Oregon. Invested in PMs, TIPs, SKFs, and other bets against the economy. Bought stores of food and other supplies. Put some Tamiflu in the fridge. Traded in an SUV for a Prius and a bike.

So...here we are, enjoying the beauty of the Northwest, occupied with daily responsibilities and pastimes, troubled by the news, feeling somewhat prepared for the first few months of whatever is coming, but dreading what might follow.

We live in interesting times.