Consumerism - vs - Survival

At the NASA Visible Earth website I found this public domain satellite image of Europe and North Africa taken at night. It made me think about how much energy is being used keeping towns and cities lit up at night. The original image was much too large to fit the width of this column, so I created a smaller version.

Every single day of the year, towns and cities are using nuclear energy or oil to generate electricity. Already, major oil companies have stopped large expenditures on exploration because no more reserves exist which can be extracted economically. Ten out twelve oil industry analysts expect the peaking of world oil production to occur sometime between now and 2020 (see a chart of the reports).

How many alternative fuels are available for powering motor vehicles? All alternative power systems for motor vehicles rely ultimately on electricity, alternative gases or biodiesel. Methane and ethanol are viable, but they don't produce as much power as gasoline or hydrogen. I haven't heard of solar cells being used successfully for large scale energy production, but electricity can be produced from wind or hydro-electric sources. The United States Navy is conducting a research program to generate electricity from the Gulf Stream near the coast of Florida.

So far, established methods for producing hydrogen as an energy source require expensive technology. In a report on an exhibition of new environmental technologies, Globe 2004, the Environment News Service said:

"...there are technologies that governments and multinationals are boosting, such as hydrogen, which is not the most efficient and cheapest technology but fits nicely into oil and gas companies' strategic plans..."

Destruction of forests & soil erosion

The fact that oil production will decline during the the first quarter of this century is not the only environmental problem facing the world. Much has been written about the destruction of rainforests, but deforestation has been taking place in Europe and North America for centuries. An image similar to the one below was available at one time on the website of Caltech's Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, showing the deforestation of America. This version shows the region which became known as The Dust Bowl (see photos) in the 1930's.

The dust bowl covered farming areas in Colorado, Kansas, north west Oklahoma, north Texas and north east New Mexico. Aggravated by the worst drought in US history, the dust bowl lasted for almost a decade. In 1935, the federal government set up the Soil Conservation Service to promote appropriate land management strategies.

Another large-scale environmental disaster has occurred in what was the former Soviet Union. In the 1930s, rivers flowing into the Aral Sea were partially diverted to irrigate agricultural land. As a consequence, the Aral Sea had shrunk to a quarter of its former size by the end of the century. The fish died as it became more saline, ending the fishing industry that once thrived. As the sea bed became exposed to the sun and wind, salts and toxic chemicals were blown as dust into nearby towns, resulting in a dramatic increase in respiratory diseases.

Biodiversity crisis

In addition to five mass extinctions in the distant past the world is currently undergoing a sixth mass extinction. Most people are aware by now that many animal species are close to becoming extinct, but few seem to realize how severe the biodiversity crisis has become. This one has been caused by human activitities. Research at the University of Florida indicates that during the last Ice Age giant creatures were wiped out not by the change in climate, but by hunters.

Consumerism is anti-survival

Many people believe commercial competition will provide the stimulus to find answers for pressing environmental problems. Unfortunately, at the same time, the market economy will keep on promoting a materialistic consumer lifestyle. Until that changes, corporate greed is likely to undermine the best efforts of enlightened environmentalists.

In 2004, a documentary film, The Corporation, made the case that the operational principles of global corporations give them a 'personality' which corresponds to "anti-social personality disorder" according to standard psychiatric diagnostic criteria.

Population explosion

Most people are aware of the population explosion currently underway. If deserts expand due to global warming, a likely scenario is that powerful nations will invade and purge weaker nations to steal fertile land. On the other hand, plants might thrive with more greenhouse gasses and a warmer climate. However, rising sea levels will gradually reduce the land area available for human habitation. The worst case scenario will involve famine and resource wars before the end of this century.



Population data collected by the United Nations is available online.

If the leaders of all the world's major religions had advocated birth control during the second half of the 20th century the looming problems of environmental disruption and resource depletion would have been a lot less severe.

Article date : 8/09/2006 | Home >>