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Archive for the ‘Peak oil’ Category

It is increasingly obvious that American suburbs – as well as the suburbs of other nations – are environmentally and socially unsustainable on many levels.  As such, an immediate mass-retrofitting and greening of American suburbs must begin in the coming years due to the increasingly unsustainable American transportation system, food production system, and so on; this retrofitting must begin to transform suburbs again in to centers of production instead of solely centers of consumption.

Each suburban neighborhood must begin to think of itself as a village of sorts, as a semi-self-contained town within a town.  Suburban neighborhoods should immediately begin to incorporate a certain amount of walkable retail space as opposed to solely residential space — a few houses from each neighborhood could be removed to build a few shops or a neighborhood mall of sorts which carry the basics and essential goods and services needed for each neighborhood, i.e. food, tools, childcare, local shops and places of employment, etc.  Each house ought to plant to a garden – or the neighborhood as a whole should have a well-kept community garden or gardens – to supply a steady amount of fresh local produce.  Land surrounding the neighborhood, if available, could be used to raise a certain amount of livestock, thus supplying fresh local meat.  Additionally, as solar panels and wind turbines come down in price due to increased production in the coming years each house ought to also become as self-sufficient as possible in terms of energy production, producing a certain amount of energy on-site via solar panels, windmills, water wheels, and so forth.  The cars found in suburban driveways in coming years ought be filled with electric cars, electric-gas hybrids, 2-seater smart-cars, and other fuel efficient automobiles.  All of this would serve to create jobs and also stimulate lagging local and regional economies.

It is especially essential that suburban retrofitting occurs in the USA in the coming years due to the possibility of shortages of gasoline and fuel as well as the unsustainability of shipping essential foodstuffs thousands of miles for consumption.  Again, it is imperative that each suburban (and urban) neighborhood begin to think of itself as a village of sorts, with consumption at least equaling production as much as possible therein.  This would not only help to revive local and regional economies by producing many millions of local green-collar jobs which are unable to be outsourced but would also increase community cohesion.

The concept known as agriburbia (written about here numerous times before) is beginning to take steps in this direction, though it is not nearly enough in a rapid enough time frame.  The founders of the agriburban movement ought to also focus on retrofitting and greening existing neighborhoods instead of solely building new developments.  Overall it is clear that suburban retrofitting and greening must begin as soon as possible to provide jobs and increase local/regional socio-environmental sustainability.

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A temporary fix to buy time with the precarious gasoline-fueled auto system in the USA and elsewhere: all – and I mean ALL – of the auto companies in the world need to immediately start mass-producing 2-seater cars (sometimes called ‘smart cars’) because they are much more fuel efficient than other types of autos.

People can still own and use full sized autos, but they can use the 2-seater cars when going back and forth to work, for running simple errands, and in all other situations where only one or two people are in the car. Look around every day at rush hour and nearly every car only contains one person; that is a huge waste of fuel to transport one person back and forth to work daily, hauling all of that extra auto weight around for no reason. But if nearly everyone used a 2-seater smart car for trips where only one or two people were in the car (especially for going to work every day) it would save huge amounts of gasoline daily. The 2-seaters are just a step above motorcycles or mopeds in terms of fuel usage, and if large numbers of people used them it would make the roads safer and also majorly cut air pollution.

We need to mandate this in the USA and elsewhere, despite its implications as being ‘fascistic’ since it would save massive amount of fuel daily. People could still own regular sized autos for when they are needed to transport multiple people, but for all those trips where only one person is in the car (i.e., the daily drive back and forth from work) the 2-seater should be used.

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A few recent links about the possible future course of humankind on Earth if we do not begin to change our unsustainable ways:

+ “Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?” by Lester Brown (in Scientific American – May 2009) – this article posits that the increasing fragility of the world’s food supply could lead to shortages that would further destabilize many developing (as well as developed) countries
– Also see: “RETHINKING FOOD PRODUCTION FOR A WORLD OF EIGHT BILLION” by Brown (July 2009)

+ “What the future looks like” by Martin Rees (in The Guardian – May 2009) – a rather gloomy assessment of the socio-environmental situation that could lead to major problems by 2050.  In relation to the burgeoning world population and the impact that this is having on the environment, the article states:

“But there are some trends that we can predict with confidence. There will, barring a global catastrophe, be far more people on Earth than today. Fifty years ago the world population was below 3 billion. It has more than doubled since then, to 6.7 billion. The percentage growth rate has slowed, but it is projected to reach 9 billion by 2050. The excess will almost all be in the developing world where the young hugely outnumber the old.

If population growth were to continue beyond 2050, one can’t be other than exceedingly gloomy about the prospects. And the challenge of feeding such a rapidly growing population will be aggravated by climate change.

The world will be warmer than today in 2050; the patterns of rainfall and drought across the world will be different. If we pursue “business as usual”,

CO2 concentration levels will reach twice the pre-industrial level by around 2050. The higher its concentration, the greater the warming – and, more important still, the greater the chance of triggering something grave and irreversible: rising sea levels due to the melting of Greenland’s icecap; runaway release of methane in the tundra.”

+ ABC News ran the TV special “Earth 2100” back in early June 2009 – it also paints a grim portrait of Earth overwhelmed by major economic, political, and socio-environmental problems by the year 2100 if humanity does not soon change course and begin upon a more ecologically/environmentally sustainable path. I didn’t hear about or get to watch the program when it first aired, but I hope to watch a rerun of it on the internet sometime soon when I find the time.
– Also see the following related links:
“Earth 2100: the Final Century of Civilization? – Planet At Risk: Experts Warn Population Growth, Resource Depletion, Climate Change Could Bring Catastrophe in Next Century”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth_2100

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If we do not begin to change course within the coming decades and start taking better care of our Earth, we might face problems which may eventually become insurmountable and or even fatal to our species. Some areas or regions could be forced to confront a full or partial environmental/ecological collapse, which may trigger even more widespread chaos outside of the affected area(s) as people flee the desolation they have wrought in search of new habitats.

Resource depletion/exhaustion is another distinct possibility, with humanity eventually running out of resources with which to ‘keep the motors of civilization running’ so to speak. This would surely cause human culture as we have come to know it to grind mostly to a halt as we find ourselves mostly stranded or marooned in our local areas which may not provide all that is needed to maintain life. Rising nationalistic and/or ethnic-racial tensions will likely reach a fever-pitch as different groups fight non-stop for the scraps of a gradually more resource-scarce planet. Regional, continental, or even worldwide wars over scant resources could also break out, leading to further interruptions of human civilization.

In the worst of all scenarios, a major population crash could occur, causing the death of untold millions or billions of humans and thus the utter decimation of our evolutionary success as an advanced species on Earth. Even the near-total extinction of humanity might result from this catastrophic chain-of-events, meaning all of what we humans worked so hard for in the last few hundred thousand years of evolution might all come to naught. This is clearly unacceptable and must be prevented. Therefore, as stated, we must start now in order to build a more secure and sustainable future for humanity on planet Earth.

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Many obstacles, hurdles, and setbacks will confront humankind in our quest to build a better world. Foremost among these is going to be social, political, and economic disorganization, which is obviously no surprise considering it was/is rampant disorganization that has likely contributed the most to the modern socio-environmental crisis. We are going to have to do much better in this regard – no more excuses or dissimulation, no more procrastination or lollygagging, no more avoidance of difficult decisions, no more arguing and disagreeing over petty and ultimately inconsequential issues. In some respects we are going to have to force change upon ourselves whether we are willing to accept it or not. We must realize that the environmental future of Earth is at stake, and thus to continue to delay the inevitable changes we must make could spell the end of modern human civilization.

Removing language-related hurtles would help to expedite the processes of planning and enactment of the agreed-to plans – a universal world language or global lingua franca (likely English given its current international ubiquity) will need to be utilized as much as is achievable so that as many people as possible can remain on the same linguistic wavelength in terms of the widely accepted vision, as well as stay united during the planning and enactment stages. This would in no way necessitate people abandoning their local language(s) or dialect(s), only supplementing them with a universally-recognized global language so that all can listen as well as speak and be heard during the planning and enactment/execution stages.

We must not let political, economic, religious, and/or other socio-cultural complications stand in the way of ultimate success. All people must be made to understand that the health of our planet, which is so vital to the continued existence of the human species, depends on accepting the non-debatable primacy of our environmental requirements, i.e. the maintaining of a stable, clean, and sustainable Earth capable of supporting and nourishing the permanent survival of our species. All must accept the fact that without a livable Earth to support a healthy humanity no other issues matter…not cultural beliefs, or political opinions, nor even religious doctrines – for who will be on Earth to support various political parties or follow certain religions if we eventually render the Earth uninhabitable?

Humankind must come to the blunt realization that nothing else matters if we do not have a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment in which to live and thrive – to repeat: without a decent/habitable environment in which to live nothing else matters because without the environment humanity has nothing. Must it be stated again? To wit: all of the secondary and/or tertiary issues which so preoccupy us will not mean anything unless we have an environment in which to live because our environment (the Earth) contains all other things.

A major complication is that humans seem to have not yet to evolved quickly enough (both mentally and possibly even physiologically) to cope with the radically different living conditions we now find ourselves in ever since the dawn of the Industrial Age and the spread of its associated socio-environmental shifts. Many of us in the most technologically ‘advanced’ nations have become little more than over-consuming automatons almost completely dependent upon the hyperindustrial and hypertechnological system for our most basic/everyday needs. This overdependency clearly reveals a major weakness of these most ‘advanced’ nations, for we have slowly become too far too reliant on unsustainable forms of technology to support and maintain our way of life. It is still going to take quite a bit more time for humans to evolve the necessary skills and coping-mechanisms that will help us to better deal with our drastically changed world.

Over-competitiveness, non-cooperation, and the ongoing tensions/ belligerence between all of the various peoples, groups, regions, and nations will have to be minimized as much as possible in order for humanity to move forward and work fruitfully together in the formation of a better world for everyone. As stated, the spread of a universal or near-universal language will likely assist in bringing people together much closer than they have ever been before and should help to resolve many of the issues which will arise between all of the groups and nations which inhabit the world. We should have faith that the creativity, resourcefulness, hardiness, and intelligence of our species will help to lead us through these problems.

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Despite the dire need to de-centralize and re-localize many aspects of modern human life, we must work together on a macro-level in order to implement national (or even global) programs and form organizations that would work assiduously to conserve, preserve, clean-up, and reverse the environmental damage that we have already inflicted upon our Earth.  We need everyone to begin working in some capacity toward combating the widespread degradation of our water, soil, air, forests, and so forth.  Organizations working toward these goals should be created first in local/regional communities, and then later linked up with others at the national as well as international level in order to better coordinate their activities.

We need to train many more people in ‘green-collar’ fields like sustainable/organic agriculture, soil science/erosion control, water conservation and protection, sustainable forestry, landscape/ecosystem protection and restoration, sustainable animal husbandry, protection of air quality, and so on.  If everyone was allowed adequate time/opportunity to educate themselves in one or more of the aforementioned fields and then encouraged to constantly apply the valuable skills and knowledge that they have gained therein, not only would environmental awareness be much higher in general amongst everyday people but we would all be demanding a better, cleaner, and sustainable environment and working together toward that goal.

We obviously must continue to press and work for major initiatives in energy conservation, waste reduction, and recycling.  Many countries have already made huge strides toward those goals in recent decades, and this is an encouraging development.  However, much remains to be done.  We should begin to retrofit as many old buildings as possible to be much more energy efficient; additionally, all new buildings should be constructed to be very energy-efficient and eco-friendly.  Reducing the amount of everyday waste we create can be massively reduced simply by reusing things more than once (if at all possible).  The overpackaging of goods (which is all too common in modern times) should be majorly reduced, and all packaging should be made to be recyclable.  In fact, everything should be made or manufactured with the goal in mind that it could eventually be recycled or reused in some capacity.  The amount of waste that occurs in all modern industrially-advanced nations is incredibly irresponsible and unsustainable, and it must be reversed.

In terms of the use of oil as an energy source, incredible waste is evident there as well.  A rather simple and quick (yet only temporary) solution to this problem could be to mass-manufacture very energy-efficient small ‘smart cars’ or ‘greencars.’  The widespread adoption of these very energy-efficient automobiles by a large percentage of the population would lead to a huge and almost instantaneous slashing of the overall consumption of ‘dirty energy’ like oil until cleaner transportation technologies can be invented and utilized down the road.  This would immediately improve our air quality as well as partially end the horrible environmental destruction wrought by the constant pumping of oil out of our Earth.  These small cars could quite easily be mass-manufactured cheaply and quickly using current technologies, and thus they would be simple and very inexpensive for nearly anyone (even the poorest people) to obtain and use.  However, even this would not be enough solve the energy crisis in the long-term and thus we will have to constantly keep working toward finding cleaner energy alternatives.

Learning to better utilize different forms of solar power is surely our best hope due to the fact that all forms of energy found on Earth originally came from the Sun to begin with.

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Is it not at all possible to accurately predict (or even roughly formulate) an exact timeline and/or likely scenario as to when all of the socio-environmental problems facing us will become too much for humanity to bear and thus threaten the continued existence of our species here on Earth.  Attempting to merely synthesize or systematize all of the problems we currently face is a daunting task unto itself, never-mind trying to actually get enough people to work together toward solving them.

However, one issue that sorely needs to be dealt with is the question of globalization.  We need to have brutally honest discussions and debates as to whether globalization and internationalization is sustainable and in the best interests of humanity and the global environment as a whole.  Far too many unanswered questions and perplexing problems have popped-up ever since the world started to become economically globalized, and thus far no adequate answers or solutions have been forthcoming – in fact, the problems and questions keep piling up deeper and higher as a result of the staggering mega-complexity of our current globalized economy, gnarled transportation systems, confusing supply chains, overtaxed communication networks, and so on.  This ‘massification’ of the world economy, while a major advantage for some nations and/or regions, has left others far behind.  Moreover, the seemingly never-ending shipment of resources, raw materials, and finished goods around the world has contributed to near planet-wide degradation of the environment on a scale never before seen.  As such, globalization is a major unresolved issue that deserves far more critical examination.

The danger of over-contentment, procrastination, neglecting to act in time, and general human laziness also present major problems which will likely delay our adoption of a better and more sustainable socio-environmental system.  Too many in the most ‘advanced’ industrialized countries are suffering from a rather severe epidemic of over-contentment due to our recent material successes and seeming triumph over much of nature.  Many have clearly forgotten how to best live in balanced harmony with our environment (neither asking nor taking too much from it without putting enough back in to it).  We have been led astray from the path of sustainability.  Socio-environmental harmony must be restored lest we slowly start to lose the very environment which has allowed us to progress so far and on so many different levels.

Though it is very unnerving to ponder, humanity could eventually be confronted by sudden environmental catastrophes and/or slow-motion ecological disasters that could possibly lead to the wholesale environmental/ecological collapse of certain ecosystems, various regions, specific nations, or even the entire world if the degradation went deep or far enough.  The collapse of varied cultures and societies have of course happened numerous times throughout human history, but what sets the current possible collapse scenario(s) apart from all the others is the sheer scale and size of the modern world as compared to the comparatively sparsely-populated civilizations of times past.  A socio-environmental collapse/dissolution in modern times has the horrific potential to be incalculably more destructive, disruptive, and unsettling to human civilization overall than those which occurred in the past.  The stakes are clearly so much greater nowadays due to the sheer interconnectedness as well as dense settlement of the world.

It is tempting to think that there is likely no hope of a bright future for humanity on Earth, that the problems are just too great, too unfathomable, too convoluted, and almost entirely insurmountable.  However, humans are an extremely intelligent and adaptable species that has proven itself able to survive (or sometimes thrive) in even the most difficult of environments and circumstances.  The raw human will to survive, combined with our collective intellect as well as the ingenuity and resourcefulness that stems from that intellect, will likely see humankind through even the harshest of times.  The next section will offer some possible solutions to the current socio-environmental crisis.

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