It's the end of the world, once more...
March 30, 2005 2:05 AM   Subscribe

Two-thirds of world's resources 'used up' according to a preliminary report(PDF) from the royal society due out later today from the millennium ecosystem assessment project started by Kofi Annan of the united nations.
posted by cytherea (56 comments total)
 
I thought it would be more.
posted by fshgrl at 2:10 AM on March 30, 2005


The selfsame project has a nice collection of materials for which one has to log in as a journalist. Eeek. are we allowed to read this?
posted by cytherea at 2:22 AM on March 30, 2005


I don't think anyone is going to care until three-thirds of the worlds resources are used up.
posted by JamesToast at 2:53 AM on March 30, 2005


Maybe all those alternative fuel companies that car manufacturers have purchased throughout the years will have a positive impact. I doubt it however. Wonder how long it'll be before the US Government feels the pressure from high gasoline prices and taps into its strategic reserve.
posted by grahamux at 3:00 AM on March 30, 2005


The "strategic reserve" stores only a few months worth of consumption at current rates. Tapping into to it to smooth out market prices would be utter folly -- a prudent government would use it only to maintain the military, emergency services and distribution of food rations. But then I expect anything but prudence from this government.
posted by randomstriker at 3:08 AM on March 30, 2005


Randomstriker :: Yes sir. They do talk about it quite a bit though. I've never really understood why.
posted by grahamux at 3:21 AM on March 30, 2005


Malthus shakes his fist from beyond the grave.

One can only hope as technology continues to advance that production and extraction methods will improve enough to lessen the environmental impact while supporting the population. I'm no scientist, so maybe that's a pipe-dream. It would be helpful if the article had offered solutions, since its not just talking about fossil fuels and air pollution.
posted by tweak at 3:35 AM on March 30, 2005


I don't think anyone is going to care until three-thirds of the worlds resources are used up.

and probably not even then jamestoast.
posted by three blind mice at 3:39 AM on March 30, 2005


I don't think anyone is going to care until three-thirds of the worlds resources are used up.

Certain people care. The U.S. isn't in iraq just so they can swim uday's pool. Major military bases in the world's richest oil region and within striking distance of China & India will come in very handy in the coming resource wars..
posted by srboisvert at 3:52 AM on March 30, 2005


One can only hope as technology continues to advance that production and extraction methods will improve enough to lessen the environmental impact while supporting the population.

That is already happening. Bigtime. If you so much as gas up a truck up in Prudhoe Bay you have to put a drip pan under the nozzle in case you spill any. Worldwide, marine oils pills are down 50% since the 1970s (per the EU). Concentrations of heavy metals and older organochlorines in organisms (lindane, DDT) are all decreasing. Gross pollution of freshwater is practicaly a thing of the past in developed countries. There are still huge, enormous problems but wealth and education certainly brings the means and often the desire to lessen environmental impacts.

Of course then someone comes along and builds McMansions on two acre plots all over everything and, really, you wonder why you bother.
posted by fshgrl at 4:00 AM on March 30, 2005


It would be helpful if the article had offered solutions

Unfortunately there isn't one. Well there is, stop using the resources... but that's never going to happen.

I'm a total hypocrite, I've been really worried about where we are headed, environmentally. It's not good, but I still drive a car, buy from , sit in front of a computer 16hrs a day.

The only solution I can see is one provided by Nature, not us. I have no problem with the human race being wiped of the face of this planet.

posted by twistedonion at 4:01 AM on March 30, 2005


wierd, after the buy from text there is supposed to be *insert brand here*
posted by twistedonion at 4:07 AM on March 30, 2005


Sustainable world population - 2 billion
Current world population- over 6 billion

Proposed solution - reduce world population and thus reduce demand for resources
posted by nofundy at 4:39 AM on March 30, 2005


This has happened before. People overuse their resources, cause ecological degredation and then the power and population of the civilization declines and disapears. The Greeks are a good example. They stripped their mountains of trees, which caused flooding, which caused disease and erosion of farmland.

This example is a bit oversimplified, but my point is that we will destabilize our civilization just as others have before, albeit on a much larger scale. And we aren't going to be wiped clean from the face of the globe. We'll just decline slowly, with a few plagues, some tsunamis, and a massive war or two, over a couple hundred (give or take) years. But there will still be humans, just none that write novels for a living.
posted by recurve at 4:57 AM on March 30, 2005


Proposed solution - reduce world population and thus reduce demand for resources

Can we pick who we get rid of? I say bible thumpers first. It would sure cut down on the reproduction, ignorance and brainwashing. Go forth and multiply has done its job, as of 4 billion people ago.

It's [almost] April. Do you know where Earth is?
posted by yoga at 5:07 AM on March 30, 2005


More scary reading: excerpt from James Howard Kunstler's new book, The Long Emergency.
posted by barjo at 5:26 AM on March 30, 2005


"We are all Easter Islanders." - Zippy the Pinhead
posted by fleetmouse at 5:26 AM on March 30, 2005


The Long Emergency. What's going to happen as we start running out of cheap gas to guzzle? Here's a nice article from Rolling Stone magazine. As to what we can do about it, I think we should go back to the Y2K freakout. Some pretty good solutions for the individual can be found there and nobody is gonna think you a fool this time. Then all you have to do is fight all those happy gun stashing Americans. Piece of cake.
posted by acrobat at 5:57 AM on March 30, 2005


But there will still be humans, just none that write novels for a living.

Sounds a bit like the Golgafrinchian Ark B.
posted by ed at 6:09 AM on March 30, 2005


Oups… sorry
posted by acrobat at 6:13 AM on March 30, 2005


Global overpopulation used to make me incredibly depressed. It's obvious to anybody with the guts to look the issue square in the face that there are at least twice as many of us as is good for us; it's equally obvious that any "solution" involving killing people is utterly abhorrent.

The only reasonable fix is for that increasing proportion of us who can see the writing on the wall to do voluntarily what the Chinese Government has imposed on its populace by force: cut our birthrate. We need to make it unfashionable to make more people, at least until the global population has declined enough to make that a reasonable thing to do again.

As occupants of wealthy countries, we ought to cut our own birthrate to the bone, fill the resulting demographic gaps with immigrants, and work on building global political and economic structures that work to eliminate the gross poverty that keeps birthrates high elsewhere.

I live in Australia, and for the above reasons I am surgically sterile and a foster carer. That way, my contribution to the solution is commensurate with my existence's contribution to the problem.

I think kids are fantastic, and I wouldn't for a minute discourage anybody from raising them; it's the most rewarding thing you can do, bar none. But raising and making are different things, and should be thought of as such.

If you're at the stage of your life where you're thinking it's about time you had kids: have a long, serious think about fostering instead. At present, there is a chronic shortage of foster carers everywhere; and if you're motivated by a desire to do something positive about overpopulation, you'll make a good one.

If you absolutely can't bear to do without reproducing, just have one between you - and foster a couple more.
posted by flabdablet at 6:19 AM on March 30, 2005


Stuff and nonsense. We have been through round after round of doomsayers before--recall the Club of Rome? The Erlichs and their population bomb?

What is going to happen when we run out of cheap gas to guzzle? The same thing that happened after we ran out of cheap whale oil to light our lamps--we will find another way of doing things.

What makes something a "natural resource" (a misleading phrase if there ever was one) is human ingenuity. Which is not finite. This is why Malthus has proven so spectacularly wrong. Over most of the world, people are enjoying better nutrition, less poverty, and longer lives than ever before, with the sharpest improvements in the last 20 years.
posted by LarryC at 6:21 AM on March 30, 2005


LarryC, I hope you are right, but as far as I can see our "ingenuity" has destroyed us... Your blind faith in humanity is depressing because it's what the majority honestly believe.

Me, I believe we are so undeniably intelligent but unbelievably stupid with it.
posted by twistedonion at 6:30 AM on March 30, 2005


oh, btw, we never ran out of cheap whale oil AFAIK. It's still out there... it was simply superceded by cheap oil.

And no, we can't go back to Whale oil... not enough to go round, unless Jesus was about... he could make it feed the 6 billion I'm sure
posted by twistedonion at 6:33 AM on March 30, 2005


LarryC, I hope you are right, but as far as I can see our "ingenuity" has destroyed us

That's quite sad, but also not at all true. Ingenuity has not destroyed us. It has brought us cures for diseases. It has brought us power generation methods that cause much less pollution than those previously used (much of London's "fog" in the 19th century, which is now mostly gone, was actually smog from all the coal burning factories, which have been replaced). Furthermore, this isn't the first time that society has faced shortages based on lifestyle. In the 19th century, city governments were concerned that the horse shit from commuters would make cities unlivable, speading stench and disease. In the 20th century, experts worried that overuse of the phone system would require more telephone switchboard operators than could possibly be made available. None of these things came to pass; they were prevented by finding new ways to do things.

I'm not saying that there isn't a resource problem. I'm not saying that it might not cause hardships, or that people aren't right to be alarmed. What I am saying is that eventually, people will find solutions to the problem, and they'll do it through "ingenuity", not by commenting on the sorry state of humanity.
posted by unreason at 6:40 AM on March 30, 2005


Humanity is the problem. There doesn't seem to be an end to human consumption and waste. One solution is to have individuals manage there own garbage and waste. That would cut down on needless consumption and excess packaging. No more shipping it off to some far away place (Toronto's garbage is dumped in Michigan). All your garbage and waste stays in your own backyard. We should all go back to being farmers with the exception of scientists, doctors, architects, those professions that actually advance a society. Get rid of all the marketing and advertising professionals who's only purpose is to get people to consume more.
posted by disgruntled at 7:08 AM on March 30, 2005


Twistedonion, there is nothing "blind" about my beliefs, they are based on 1) historical precedents (including past doomsayers), and 2) extrapolating from current trends. Nearly every measurable data concerning human welfare is improving worldwide--health, life spans, education, democracy, minority rights. What is blind about recognizing that?

Unreason: thank you.
posted by LarryC at 7:19 AM on March 30, 2005


'When China starts living like the West, we're gonna run out of resources real quick." – Gwyn Dyer
posted by disgruntled at 7:26 AM on March 30, 2005


LarryC: Here's a Unicef report you should read. While you're doing that, bear in mind that there have never been as many children on Earth as there are now; if half of them are suffering what Unicef says they're suffering, your "never had it so good" claim strikes me as difficult to support.

Unreason: As well as ingenuity, access to resources needs to be bootstrapped. It doesn't matter how ingenious you are if you are restricted by force of arms to a godforsaken patch of dirt in a shithole where it never rains and what little you can grow is periodically stolen from you anyway.

Commenting on the sorry state of humanity strikes me as a worthy use of time, if it serves to raise the awareness of a few more rich and comfortable Westerners that our way of life is not at all typical.

We, the rich and comforable, suffer an almost total lack of perspective. Why is Terry Schiavo's precarious grip on life - or Paris Hilton's precarious grip on reality - worth so much more public attention than any one of the millions of people who die of malaria every year?

We have plenty of ingenuity. We have more ingenuity than we can use. What we're short of is compassionate leadership with enough simple horse sense to realize that the billions of dollars we're currently pissing up against the wall to maintain our existing oil addiction would be better used to supply mosquito nets and quinine to people who can't afford to buy them.
posted by flabdablet at 7:26 AM on March 30, 2005


"Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realize that we can't eat money." --- Cree proverb.
posted by SPrintF at 7:28 AM on March 30, 2005


Unreason - you are right in saying it has "brought US cures"

It's time we stop being so unbelievably selfish though, start thinking about them (you know, the other living things we co-exist with).

LarryC, you mention historical precedents. Please show me the precedent whereby 6 billion parasites raped the planet of it's resources. This is on a GLOBAL, not provincial scale.

Again, you talk about human welfare, the issue here is planetary welfare (God I sound like a right tree hugging hippy). At the end of the day the Earth is our home and our lifeline.
posted by twistedonion at 7:30 AM on March 30, 2005


SPrintF, couldn't agree more. Some of us are realising, albeit waaaay to late.
posted by twistedonion at 7:32 AM on March 30, 2005


LarryC, you mention historical precedents. Please show me the precedent whereby 6 billion parasites raped the planet of it's resources.

I don't think rape is a good analogy, too egocentric. We aren't damaging the earth THAT badly. I'd liken our presence and stupid wastefulness to excema or something. Oh sure, we can generate enough pollutants to make the earth uninhabitable for US, but if we are wiped out, the earth would recover in no time (geologically speaking). A few million years is nothing to a planet. That's why the phrase "Save the Earth" cracks me up. It's humanity that needs the saving.
posted by Scoo at 7:43 AM on March 30, 2005


And what do you do Disgruntled?

Take you Marxist crap somewhere else
posted by CCK at 7:44 AM on March 30, 2005


Bear in mind, on the other hand, that the world is also coming to grips with the problems related to ageing and shrinking populations. Even in poor countries, birth rates have fallen or are projected to very soon fall below replacement levels. It seems that, given the contraceptive means, people prefer to have the fun of sex without the bother of the offspring that used to be consequent. Whether or not this world population will recede quickly enough to reach resource equilibrium remains to be seen, and who knows if this end state can be reached easily or not. We live in interesting times.
posted by randomstriker at 7:51 AM on March 30, 2005


Sounds like someone lies for a living.
posted by disgruntled at 7:54 AM on March 30, 2005


The problem with relying on ingenuity to solve resource problems is that it assumes that a solution will come quickly, which isn't always the case.

There are some huge issues that aren't being addressed properly and will lead to problems in the US in the next 20 years. For example, for the longest time cities were built next to large sources of water such as lakes and rivers. But do to flight to the far suburbs, neighborhoods are springing up that are bigger than that areas water supply. The neighborhoods are tapping their aquifier and now their drinking water is becoming contaminated with radon.

Where I live, this has already become a problem for a neighboring county, and their proposed solution is to truck in water from Lake Michigan, which could easily lead to a greater draining of the lake (Lake Michigan is shrinking because some rivers that lead to it were dammed).
posted by drezdn at 8:06 AM on March 30, 2005


Our only hope is nanobots.

I'm totally serious.
posted by Freen at 8:34 AM on March 30, 2005


"Me, I believe we are so undeniably intelligent but unbelievably stupid with it."

Man, I hate blanket statements like that. Who is stupid? The people whom you believe have a controlling interest in the forward movement of our species? Politicians (no argument), Scientists, Human Rights activists, People of faith??

Some people are undeniably stupid, many are not. Everybody calm down. It is the nature of humans to exhaust a resource until the right side of the brain comes up with a way to either invent a new resource, locate another one or improve the usage of the current one. Yes, it may be correct that given today's understanding, we probably have more people than those resources can withstand but it's a bit ridiculous to start calling 'game over'. The will to live is much stronger than the will to perish.

I expect anyones 'perfect answer' to the problem is fraught with unforeseeable fallouts that would ultimately end us up in this same discussion again. I have faith in humans, I really don't have a choice. I'm not saying let's not talk about it but cool it with the suggestions we're just no better than the monkeys.
posted by j.p. Hung at 8:42 AM on March 30, 2005



Our only hope is nanobots.

I'm totally serious.
posted by Freen at 8:34 AM PST on March 30 [!]


I was just about to ask a nanotech-as-savior question. Isn't nanotech a proposed solution for a more economical tar-sand oil extraction solution?
posted by jikel_morten at 8:45 AM on March 30, 2005




LarryC, you mention historical precedents. Please show me the precedent whereby 6 billion parasites raped the planet of it's resources. This is on a GLOBAL, not provincial scale.

Birds don't use Oil. Nor does any other living thing. Only humans. The "resources" are only useful to us.

Anyway, by modern standards every single person (except the truly rich who had servants) lived in poverty. Slave owners were as likely to die from cholera as their slaves.

It's sad that modernity hasn't spread around the whole world, but in the places that it has not, that is mostly due to bad government in those places, not overpopulation. The place with the highest population density in the world is the Island of Manhattan.

Look around. Our inginutity has not destroyed us yet it's just that people are always thinking that it will. Running out of oil won't kill anyone, we'll just move to ethenol or hydrogen made at nuke plants. Once oil gets to expensive, those things will start right away.
posted by delmoi at 9:15 AM on March 30, 2005


Delmoi,

I think it's a catch-22 of sorts, if everyone in the world modernized their consumption patterns, no one group could maintain that level of consumption.

And it's not simply about oil (though oil is used heavily in the food supply, see pesticides and fertilizers). We humans are using an astounding amount of the photosynthetic capacity of the earth. That puts out all the ecosystems that rely on photosynthesis.

The result is that we become more, and more reliant on "strip mining" for food. Depleting the resources to the point that the land becomes barren.

And the population increases....
posted by kuatto at 10:43 AM on March 30, 2005


(much of London's "fog" in the 19th century, which is now mostly gone, was actually smog from all the coal burning factories, which have been replaced).

Sure. And those coal factories were replaced by oil and electricity, and the smog went away, because Britain, like the rest of Europe, was in the process of becoming incredibly rich through plundering its colonies, and could afford to upgrade.

As an example: the cholera epidemics and the stench from the Thames-- which forced the closure of Parliament more than once during the mid 19th century-- was remedied by the fantastic investment in infrastructure made by the Victorians, an infrastructure is still in use throughout Britain, and one paid for by the unprecedented wealth commanded by the British Empire. Because that's what we in the First World owe our standard of living to: it's historically what we've taken from, say, Africa, in terms of human labour and the natural resources taken from North America, and, currently, what we siphon from the rest of the world in terms of material resources. The problem is that there isn't another New World to take and use to fatten the coffers. China's hungry for our standard of living, and they are going to attempt to duplicate the rise in standards of living which Europe experienced over the last 150 years. And I don't think it can be done: there just isn't enough to go around for everyone to drive a car, live in a large detached house, and all the other things we tend to take for granted. (And a caveat: I know that there's enough food and medical care and other resources to go around, and it's criminally wrong distribution of all of these which makes some go hungry and others throw away half the food they buy... but the standard of living of middle-class America is not sustainable by the entire world's population.)

And I don't think that one could call the One Child policy in China a success in terms of its social costs and the way it's disrupted the traditional family structure (not to mention the selective abortion of female fetuses, which has caused a skewed male to female ratio, which will have who knows what kind of consequences). The way to reduce population growth is to educate women and provide access to contraception (and remove the social stigmas against female education and contracaption) and there's ample evidence of that. But I don't reallyt know if that's occuring in China.... We live in a world with limits, not a fantasy world, and there is not much in the way of political will to try and remedy the notion of continual growth, which is a product of our imagination and our wishful thinking. It's all about who gets to profit from what's left of the world's resources, and I see us blindly sinking into greater and greater social disruption and conflict, over water, over oil, over food, over movements of desparate populations... I imagine our descendants (if we're lucky) shaking their heads and saying, "Didn't they see? Wasn't it obvious? Why didn't they do anything? How could they be so selfish? So shortsighted?"

So sorry, no answers here, just a lot of bad dreams about Easter Island. It's the metaphor of the year, for me.
posted by jokeefe at 4:15 PM on March 30, 2005


....aaaand apologies for not using spellcheck in the above.
posted by jokeefe at 4:18 PM on March 30, 2005


It's our rush (throughout history) to "improve" things that is the problem.
posted by deborah at 4:33 PM on March 30, 2005


well first thing we need is leadership that is less ignorant and stupid than the average person on the street. that , i think would be a step in the right direction.
posted by nola at 4:37 PM on March 30, 2005


We need less forward progress and more lateral progress.

We need a philosophical shift in perception-and on a global level.

it's a small thing really
posted by kuatto at 6:03 PM on March 30, 2005


Anthropologist Jared Diamond wrote an interesting article on the fate of the Easter Islanders. They used up all their resources and paid dearly for it. Their story serves as a good example of where the over consumption of resources can lead.
posted by honeyx at 11:32 PM on March 30, 2005


It's our rush (throughout history) to "improve" things that is the problem.

This statement, and the one about each person living entirely on their own plot of land, suggest we should just go back to medieval peasant-farmer toil and drudgery. Or better yet, the hunter-gatherer model. Have you stopped and thought about what you are proposing? If you want to go out and live like this, good on ya. Move to some third world country and have at it. These people did not live "fun" lives. They live much closer to the brink of life / death than you or me. Starvation, natural distater, disease, criminals (politalal and local) etc, any of these can and will bring a quick end. It is the human will to improve that condition that has led us down this road, yes, but it is not the problem. Rather, the will to improve is the solution.

Have we made mistakes? Of course, and more will be made. This is the nature of progress. We are never satisfied with what we have. We will continue to grow, expand, and use up natural resources. We might be able to continue this practice indefintinely with advances in renewables / alternatives / nanotech / etc. Maybe we will run out of crucial supplies such as oil and fresh water and hundreds of millions will die. This is not God's voice telling us to go back to the old ways. This is nature's system of checks and balances. To throw up our hands and go back to the ways that we abandoned thousands of years ago is foolhardy, because I gaurantee as soon as the dust settles some bright kid will figure out how to harness an ox and start farming.
posted by sophist at 1:25 AM on March 31, 2005


honeyx: You post that as if you were the first one.
posted by sophist at 1:29 AM on March 31, 2005


We have been through round after round of doomsayers before--recall the Club of Rome?

What was there in the famous "Report to the Club of Rome"

Its sole strong conclusion is that perpetual material growth will lead sooner or later to a "collapse" of the world that we live in, and that, even with very optimistic hypothesis regarding the development of efficient technologies to come, the ability to recycle or to save natural resources, the mitigation of pollution, or the initial stock of non renewable resources that we begin with, this collapse will happen before 2100.

So we're pretty much on schedule.
posted by sfenders at 5:24 AM on March 31, 2005


Delmoi: "Birds don't use Oil. Nor does any other living thing. Only humans. The "resources" are only useful to us."

If you read the linked article, you'll find that the resources under discussion are not only those things we usually think of as "natural resources" i.e. extractables; they include things like air and water filtering services currently provided by things like rainforests.

Contrary to earlier claims in this thread, these are resources we rely on that are not the result of human ingenuity; and contrary to your claim, other living things also rely on these resources.

The Easter Island comparisons are most apt; and for the first time ever, we now have enough people on Earth to make the whole planet go the way of Easter Island - except instead of huge stone statues, we're making roads and cars.

What we are looking at is an absolutely massive loss of biodiversity, and the ecological instability that goes with that. Anybody who thinks human ingenuity is a worthy match for these kinds of influences is simply not thinking clearly about the sheer amount of energy embodied in a flood, tornado or tsunami.
posted by flabdablet at 5:48 AM on March 31, 2005


jokeefe - The problem is that there isn't another New World to take and use to fatten the coffers.

I don't know about that - instead of pissing several billions dollars landing a human on Mars (a huge waste of money for no benefit whatsoever...) why not get some interest going in snagging some asteroid with all the natural resources that would entail. Humanity needs to claw it's way into space and to be quite frank profiteering would be about the only thing that will give us direction in the first world, at least for the forseeable future.
posted by longbaugh at 6:07 AM on March 31, 2005


Sustainable world population - 2 billion
Current world population- over 6 billion

Proposed solution - reduce world population and thus reduce demand for resources


So who volunteers to suicide for the well being of the rest of the population? I suppose we (us?) depressives could start it off.
/dark humour
posted by deborah at 10:49 AM on March 31, 2005


Or we could just implement birthrate control policies and try to curb rampant consumption in the first world.
posted by sophist at 10:49 PM on March 31, 2005


« Older Keystone Kops Nick Numerals   |   Never say say never ! oops. Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments