Monday, April 20, 2015
Evan Conley H1 - Global Resource Depletion, Post #1
This section of this report will introduce the topic of resource depletion, as well as its ties to overpopulation. The application of philosophy to this topic will come more into play in later posts that will address possible options for dealing with this problem.
When considering the problem of global resource depletion, there are two categories in which the problems can be placed. The first is a depletion of natural sources of raw materials and resources, such as fossil fuels, minerals, fertile topsoil, freshwater, and forests. The second factor is known as “sinks,” or areas/processes that absorb and detoxify industrial waste products. While a lack of sufficient sinks is inarguably an obstacle to growth, this report will focus more on the depletion of sources.
Before delving into this problem, it must be noted that the world contains a finite amount of non-renewable resources, which, once depleted, will be gone for good. With this in mind, we must question whether the human use of these resources will be sustainable long enough to develop technology that can relinquish us from our dependence on these non-renewable resources. It must also be noted that there is a minimum amount of both renewable and non-renewable resources needed for the survival of current cities and towns. This is important, particularly when addressing possible fixes for global resource depletion as we cannot expect that any practically applicable solution to this crisis would involve the dissolving of cities and towns, as the effects of this would be devastating to their populations. Instead, this dissolving of current communities would more likely be a result of a global economic collapse that results from a lack of sufficient resources.
There is a common misconception regarding the use of renewable resources. Often, when people think of renewable resources, they imagine that the name implies that an infinite amount of these resources can be used without repercussions. However, an important factor in this situation which is often neglected is the amount of time it takes for the sources of these renewable resources to replete themselves. Because of the amount of time this process of renewal takes, it serves as a limiting factor in human/economic growth. What this means is that the supplies of these renewable resources can only be sustained if the rate of consumption of the resources is less than the rate of their renewal.
For years, the most pointed to cause of the depletion of resources has been the size of the population. While the population size is indubitably a factor in the global depletion of resources, as it obviously would require more resources for many humans to survive than it would for just a few, the role of overpopulation in the overall global consumption of resources has been greatly overstated. Politicians addressing the issue of resource consumption have commonly called for provisions such as the use of birth control in poorer countries to reduce their populations and thereby reduce the amount of resources that they require to live. While the control of the populations in these countries may be helpful to the individual economies in which birth control is widely used, this would actually do very little to mitigate the global depletion of resources. An observational study performed by World Bank calculated the use global use of resources vs. income to determine whether the control of the populations of poorer areas would sufficiently manage global resource depletion and returned with shocking results.
From this data, you can see that over 75% of the resources consumed globally are consumed by the richest 20% of people and companies, while the fraction of resources consumed by the poorer populations is almost negligible in comparison. While it may make sense that the richest businesses use the most resources, produce the most goods, and are thereby the richest, this data clearly shows that a simple reduction in the populations of poorer areas will do little in terms of slowing the global consumption of resources.
The point that this information draws out is that, as far as the global consumption of resources goes, the population size is much less a factor than is the modern way of consumption in rich areas. It is not an issue of resources required for survival nearly as much as it is an issue of overindulgence in luxury. There is a minimum amount of resources that humans require for survival. It is not entirely unreasonable that humans might want to make more for themselves to help them better enjoy their living experience. However, the current methods of consumption appear to only be benefitting around 20% or so of the population, while the rest of the world is left with little in terms of available resources for consumption. This brings into question the importance of this widespread use of resources, as the idea of a small group of people devouring most of the available resources for profit and in the process damning the future is sickening. This mode of consumption by the rich is environmentally unsustainable, and the consequences of overshooting the Earth’s capacity for resource production in the name of indulgence in luxury are dire for all of the planet’s inhabitants.
The amount of time before a total collapse due to widespread resource depletion could, in theory, be calculated from information such as expected use of the resource, availability of recycling, the amount of the resource currently remaining, as well as a few other variables, but because of the changing nature of the market and overall consumption, no predictions made from these types of calculations could be firm. However, it is undeniable at this point that, without some massive changes in the mode of consumption, we will drill our planet dry. There are a few questions here. Do we need an entirely different system of production, or can our current methods simply be modified to bring our resource consumption to a sustainable amount? Would these changes greatly limit personal freedoms? Would those possible limitations to personal freedoms be worthwhile overall? Finally, how long will it take for us to kick our asses into gear and start making changes to save the future?