Is a Future Possible?
Posted by edro on November 20, 2007
The Death of Homo Sapiens Sapiens (Part 3)
Reality Check: Is a Future Possible?
The culture of exponential growth is destroying the biosphere. [The biosphere is the part of our planet’s shell within which life occurs and includes air, land, water and surface rocks. It consists of ecological systems, or ecosystems, which are the life support organisms that integrate all living beings, without whose continued service humans and other life forms could not survive. The biosphere evolved, it is widely believed, about 3.5 billion years ago.]
What is Ecological Footprint?
Nature provides us with food, fuel, forest products… and various systems to absorb our waste, especially carbon dioxide. The ecological footprint (EF) is a measure of our impact on Earth. EF is the amount of land and water area that we use to extract resources to support our lifestyles and to absorb our waste using prevailing technology.
Humans EF grew by about 160 percent from 1961 to 2001, whereas the population only doubled over the same period, crossing the threshold of sustainability in the 1980s [or the 1970s if we set aside 12 percent of the bioproductive land to care for other species, following suggestions in the Brundtland Report.] The global EF was 13.5 billion global hectares (GH) in 2001, or 2.3 GH per person [GH is a measure of land or sea area with biological productivity equal to the global average.] Earth’s total biocapacity, based on its biologically productive area, however, was only 11 billion GH, which provided an average of only 1.8 GH per person. Humans EF exceeded global biocapacity by 0.5 GH per person, or by 22 percent [In fact, the deficit for 2001 rose to 38 percent, when reserving at least 12 percent of the available bioproductive area for other species.]
According to the projections, the world population has now reached 6.67 billion [February 2007]. The projected global EF for 2007 is 15.34 billion GH, whereas the available global capacity is about 9.8 GH, with only 1.46 GH available per person, resulting in a deficit of 0.8 GH per person. It means in 2007 humans consume 57 percent more than the nature could provide continuously.
The overshoot of global biocapacity means spending natural capital faster than nature can regenerate it, which is reducing the ecological carrying capacity permanently: Ecological crash becomes unavoidable.
According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), a comprehensive UN report backed by 1,360 leading scientists from 95 countries released in March 2005, at least 15 of the planet’s 24 ecosystems were on the verge of collapse including fresh water, fisheries, air and water purification systems, and the systems that regulate climate, natural hazards, and pests. It takes only a fractional increase in our ecological footprint to destroy the remaining ecosystems—a scenario which is unfolding before our eyes.
1. The above calculations do not include the reduction (erosion) in the Earth’s biological productivity. The EF calculations also exclude activities that fall outside the boundaries of sustainability, but accelerate the collapse of ecosystems including release to the biosphere of radioactive materials, CFCs, crude oil spills, chemicals and biohazards, heavy metals, persistent organic and inorganic toxins and other industrial/municipal/agricultural wastes.
2. MSRB has created a new index called Index of Human Impact on Nature (HIoN) that calculates the full human impact on the Earth’s ecosystems including consumption, deterioration to Earth’s biological productivity and the rate of collapse of the ecosystems. As of March 2007, the HIoN index stands at a terminally high level of 171.40. That is, the full human impact on his living environment for the 12-month period ending March 2007 was 71.4 percent higher than the planet in its current state can cope with.]
Damage to Environment
The damage humans have inflicted on the environment is irreversible. The greenhouse effect is here to stay. The earth is heating progressively resulting in the onset of many catastrophic climate events (and onset of new and old mosquito-borne and airborne infectious diseases exacerbated by global heating and dust storms from desertification). The mounting climate problems are just beginning to surface, however, there is a 30-year delay between the cause and effect: the exponentially growing human activities that release greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide, CO2; methane, CH4; chloroflourocarbons or CFC’s…) into the atmosphere and the warming of ocean waters.
Water, Land and Food
Planet’s supply of fresh water is simply running out. The water quality continues to deteriorate globally from pollution, rising temperatures and overconsumption. Globally, at least one person in five has no access to safe water, according to the UN. The exponential growth culture is irreversibly depleting also our natural food reserves resulting in collapsing fisheries, disappearing species…
The world’s arable land and top soil are shrinking. The pressure to produce more food is degrading the soil productivity resulting in desertification. About 6 million hectares of arable land are lost each year, blown away by the wind. The problems are further compounded by the eroding soils, mudslides… as well as contamination of the food chain by fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, synthetic chemicals, disease, harmful radiation, antibiotics…
More and more of the tropical rainforests are cleared, usually by fire, to provide land for grazing and cultivation resulting in the loss of innumerable plants and animal species. We are loosing more than 10 million hectares of forest and possibly as many as 27,000 species that inhabit them, each year.
In addition to greenhouse gases, industrial activities release more than 15 billion pounds (about 7 million metric tons) of toxic pollutants into the environment each year. The deadly cocktails of pollutants include several thousand toxic substances, but only 667 are reported. [Toxic pollutants like perchlorate—rocket fuel— found in every breast milk sample taken from 18 states by the Texas Tech University researchers in 2005 are not on the list.] Our bodies contain about 500 measurable chemicals that should not be there.
We convert 57 trillion pounds (26 billion metric tons) of raw materials to garbage, which are rapidly engulfing our living space like giant quicksands.
Exponentially increasing inventories of municipal waste, industrial pollution, farm waste, pesticide and fertilizer runoffs, pollution from industrial accidents, automobile pollution, and toxic and radionuclide waste released to the environment have poisoned our air, water and soil, resulting in more acid rain and more dead zones in coastal waters.
Atmospheric ozone shield, which protects life against harmful radiations, is depleting. Without ozone, life on Earth is not possible. Ozone depletion allows higher levels of UV radiation (UVA and UVB) reaching Earth’s surface and poses the biggest threat to life and the ecosystems. Increased UV radiation impairs human immune system, causing genetic mutations and increasing the risk of various diseases and incidents of skin cancer. Increased UV radiation retards crop growth by altering the physiological and developmental processes of plants and contributes to eco-feedbacks that increase the buildup of greenhouse gases, and reduces ozone. During the Antarctic ozone depletion season, the amount of UV radiation reaching Antarctica increases by at least 50 percent seriously affecting animals (including humanoids) and plants in New Zealand and Australia. In addition to Antarctica, ozone depletion now affects North America, especially Canada, as well as Europe, Russia and most of South America.
Exposure to UV reduces the survival rates of phytoplankton that form the basis of aquatic food chains. According to estimates, ozone depletion of about 16 percent could result in a disastrous loss of about 7 million tons of fish per year – almost 10 percent of the current annual global catch.
American Chemist G. Tyler Miller, Jr. wrote (1971): “Three hundred trout are needed to support one man for a year. The trout, in turn, must consume 90,000 frogs, that must consume 27 million grasshoppers that live off of 1,000 tons of grass.”
Warning: Do Not Eat More Than Zero Fishmeal in Your Lifetime!
Those, of course, were last of the golden days when you could eat more than one fishmeal a month and hold on to your sanity, unaffected by mercurialism (mercury poisoning), to talk about it the next day. Today, the Environmental Defense Network’s recommended intake of the Spotted-Seatrout is zero (meals per lifetime) due to the very high levels of PCBs and mercury contamination.
While the life habitat, natural food supplies and nonrenewable resources on Earth continue to shrink or disappear entirely, the world population keeps on growing at a phenomenal rate of about 100 million people each year.
In 2006, we pumped to the atmosphere more than 16,000,000,000,000 pounds of carbon [7.4 billion metric tons—about 30 times the combined weight of the entire world population—corresponding to 27.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gases, CO2e.] In the past 30 years, the burning of fossil fuels and cement production emitted nearly one and a half times as much carbon (180 billion tons) to the atmosphere than the preceding 224 years (1751 – 1975). The gang rape of the environment must stop!
Human and Financial Costs
Natural and human-made catastrophes claimed about 97,000 lives worldwide and resulted in financial losses of more than US dollars 230 billion in 2005, according to the re-insurers, Swiss Re. Their figures for 2004 were 300,000 lives lost and a financial loss of USD123 billion.
The commitment to the exponential growth culture that encourages unsustainable lifestyles pumped with adrenalin, hyperconsumerism and overconsumption is tearing apart the fabric of life on Earth. This psychosis must cease!
Mother Nature made, depending on whose figures we believe, total deposits of 1.8 – 2.2 trillion barrels of [conventional] oil. Since the discovery of oil as a popular fuel, humans have consumed about one-half of the deposits (~ 950 billion barrels). In 2006, about 31 billion barrels of oil were pumped out of the ground.
It seems deceptively simple to calculate the remaining years before the oil runs out. Divide the deposits left in the ground by the total oil supplied in 2006 to arrive at 29, the number of years left before the supplies run out. In reality, however, the calculations are somewhat more complex because various dynamics kick in.
1. World oil demand is exponentially increasing (more people, more oil to make food, more consumer goods, more possessions, more cars, more roads, more car journeys, more flights…). The annual growth rate for oil consumption currently stands at 2% (cf., 1.4% in 2001, and 1.8% in 2006). A forecast by International Energy Agency suggests a rise of 47% by 2030. The forecast seems peculiar, however, because at their suggested rate of increase the known oil reserves would have effectively run out before 2030.
2. In the early days, large oil fields returned more than 100 barrels of oil for each barrel invested in the discovery, extraction, transportation and refining. This high ratio of the Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROEI) is no longer achievable. Currently, the average EROEI is much less than 10:1 (MSRB estimate for the average EROEI is about 4.5:1). As the EROEI of a resource approaches 1:1 (this happens long before the resource is physically exhausted), the net energy gain approaches zero, in which case production is no longer viable as a net energy source.
United States has 2 percent of the known global reserves but uses 25 percent of the world’s oil supplies importing about two-thirds of its entire consumption. This unworkable balance is unsustainable as a long-term formula and poses a serious threat to the world security and therefore to the welfare of the Americans as well as other nations.
The old well-established relationships between, on the one side, the US and EU and, on the other side, the minor tyrants that rule the oil-pumping countries are becoming increasingly untenable and pose a risk to the world security. Time is finally up for the depraved ‘Royals,’ ruling families and otherwise puppet regimes whose only purpose is to safeguard the interest of the cabal (that rules the US, EU…). Between them, the ruling classes in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Arab States of Persian Gulf act as guard dogs to some 50 percent of world’s (known) oil reserves on behalf of a small minority of world population, while the combined populations of China and India has risen past the 2.5 billion mark.
For a Fistful of Dollars: Monetary Exchange Value; Not Wealth
Nothing preoccupies the human race more than creating wealth. The general understanding of wealth is the transforming of natural resources to usable goods through work. In the economic sense, wealth increases when labor assumes specialized roles and employs capital (energy and machinery). Theoretically, the wealth increases as labor, capital or both are increased.
In reality, however, there are physical limits to how much wealth can be created or how far the economic growth can expand. The economic system is a subset of the ecological system and the ecology, Earth, is not growing. Any forced extension beyond the natural limits imposed by the biosphere would destroy the ecology, as previously noted.
‘Experts’ tell us, however, without exponential growth (growth with a fixed doubling time) the poor would always remain impoverished and the rich couldn’t make anymore money, that we cannot even begin to set aside enough money to meet our future needs and that the economy cannot provide full employment. They say, unless we continue with the economic growth and create wealth exponentially our welfare would be in grave peril.
What the exponential growth creates, however, is monetary exchange value, not wealth. As discussed earlier, preludes to the mounting ecological deficits and environmental casualties are already lain victim to the exponential growth culture.
Human welfare is not limited to economic welfare alone. It includes a host of other welfare, which are noneconomic in nature and with nonmonetizable values.
Total Human Welfare = Economic Welfare + Noneconomic Welfare
The above equation remains valid only when the sum total of all welfare is positive, i.e., no conflict of interest can arise between the economic welfare and the noneconomic welfare. Having exceeded Earth’s ecological carrying capacity en route to maximizing economic welfare, however, we have inflicted serious damage to the environment, which provides most of our noneconomic welfare. Consequently, the assault on nature has invalidated the equation. Any activity that raises the economic welfare affects the environment reducing the noneconomic welfare. In other words, our perceived economic welfare is now working against our noneconomic welfare. Any rise in economic activity precipitates our total welfare into negative territory.
There are two means of reversing this critical trend. First, by drastically reducing economic activities (to near zero), we would reduce the harm to the environment and, in turn, help the recovery of the noneconomic welfare thus hoisting our total welfare from the negative into the positive territory. Second, by switching to an entirely different system of economy that neither plunders Earth’s natural resources nor destroys the ecosystems in favor of increasing the monetary exchange value-to the detriment of all life forms including human beings, but to the perceived benefit of a small cabal of moneychangers.
[Note: Shareholders of the top 10 banks in the world held combined assets of about 16 trillion dollars in 2006.]