Long Term Environmental Crises

Today’s blog post is dedicated to what I see as the major issues in the environment as they stand today. The qualifications for this list are global and systemic issues. They don’t include point pollution or isolated cases. Here are the problems:

1) Agriculture and the coming population crash. Chemical farming methods are based on the use of massive inputs from petroleum. Conventional oil has peaked, or better put: the easy oil is over. Unconventional oil takes a great deal more energy to produce. The equation is clear, more energy for less oil. Since our current population is dependent on oil for food, that means some kind of population crash. How soft (more extensive use of birth control and organic farming) or hard (famine) the crash is will depend on our actions. Things can be improved by reducing our number one petroleum use: transportation via privately owned cars.

2) The easy oil is over. This is the source of problem one, but I preferred a concrete example first. Everything in our economy is in one way or another dependent on oil. The machines that make our stuff, the machines that make those machines, the machines that extract the fossil fuel which run those machines, and unfortunately the machines that produce large solar panels and windmills. This is not to mention the stuff we make from oil, plastics, pesticides, etc. Ever increasing energy prices thus pulls the rug out of the industrial economy. How soft (a gradual industrial decline on a more sustainable basis.) or hard (complete economic collapse) this problem is will be our dependent on our actions. Circumstances might be mitigated if we cut back on the number use of petroleum: transportation via private vehicles.

3) Climate change. Notice climate change as opposed to global warming. Though the scientific consensus maintains that it has been going on and will most certainly continue, many are convinced this is a hoax or not a big deal. The real concern isn’t the warming of a few degrees. The concern comes because temperature fluctations will hit certain areas particularly hard. The even bigger problem is that agricultural society’s entire life span has happened during an unusually great degree of climate stability. The worry is that one (and possibly many more) of the factors that keeps climate stable and 21th century life possible will be knocked out by the warming. How soft (a collection of adverse new weather problems) or hard (agricultural failure because weather is unpredictable) this problem will turn out is dependent on how well we curb our fossil fuel use.

All these problems are pretty much locked in. I think our future is going to consist of a lot more people not knowing how to feed themselves (even moreso than at current poverty rates), unable to maintain a lifestyle based on fossil fuel personal transport, and more extreme weather of all kinds from stifling drought to torrential floods. Civilization’s ability to cohere will be put to the test and relatively soon.

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