Sufficient resources – now and in the future

Our society is totally dependent on fossil energy and fossil raw materials such as oil, coal and gas. We need petrol for our cars, diesel for our buses, gas for our cookers, coal for our power plants – and industry is dependent on chemicals and plastics from fossil sources. Food is not free from this dependency; many foodstuffs are derived from fossil sources (vinegar, for example).

GirlThis not only affects the climate, but is also directly linked to an energy and commodity crisis: the resource that has brought us to today’s level of development is about to run out.

The concept of Peak Oil implies that oil production reaches a maximum level and then decreases. Some analysts believe that this point has already been passed; others believe that we will soon be there. Either way, it is urgent. A decreasing supply of crude oil will increase market prices and the competition for resources will intensify.

We cannot replace oil

We will never be able to replace oil. Instead, we must find new sources of energy, new materials, and above all we must learn to use less energy. Vehicles must use less fuel and energy must be derived from renewable sources. We must find new ways of manufacturing plastics and the world’s coal plants must be replaced. We must learn to conserve our resources.

This is an enormous adjustment that will take a long time, especially considering that – while small steps in the right direction are being taken in some places – large areas of the world are moving towards higher energy consumption and more general economic consumption.

How did this happen?

Fossil energy made its inroads back in the 1600s, when man began to burn coal for energy. This reduced the need for wood for heating and cooking. Consequently, large forests became less important larger areas of land were cleared to cultivate more food.

The new source of energy laid the foundation for the industrial revolution. Fewer people were needed to run the farms, freeing up more people for industrial work and spurring rapid advanced in technological development. Thanks to oil, penicillin, modern health care and the green revolution, the Earth’s population exploded. The Earth’s population today is over seven billion and growing. The question is: how will we be able to sustain ourselves when one of the prerequisite for our prosperity is gone?

Resources are insufficient even today

We who are members of today’s richest population group live far beyond our means. Due to our lifestyle and high energy and resource consumption, the planet is basically unable to support us. The Footprint Network organisation illustrates this every year with its Earth Overshoot Day campaign, the day by which we will have exhausted all of the resources that the planet can regenerate in a year. In 2012 this day fell on 22 August, meaning that in eight months’ time Earth’s human population consumed the amount of resources that it takes the Earth one full year to regenerate.