With the celebration of Earth Day this last week, attention was focused on concerns of humanity’s exploitation of earth resources and was demonstrated in many parts of the world. Most of the demonstrations occurred in first world countries, while the actual issues are mostly in developing or third world environments.
Earth Day and Climate Change are becoming synonyms and is always referred to as: what mankind has done to the earth through the use of fossil fuels. However climate change is not even close to the worst of the potential calamities of the future. The following potential catastrophes are ordered in a sequence of what I think might cause the next logical events to occur.
1) Population Explosion: The earth is 4.543 million years old. Life forms began 4.1 million years ago. More than 99% of all species that ever lived are extinct. Modern humans only evolved 200,000 years ago and modern civilization is just 6,000 years old.
With 7.2 billion people today and 9-10 billion estimated for 2050, resources like water and food will become strained and people will die, by the millions, maybe even billions. The ever increasing population is continually putting a strain on the natural resources of this planet and is the root cause of all potential environmental catastrophes. What is the earth’s capacity if we continue “as is” before it starts to self-adjust on it’s own?
2) Water and Food Scarcity: The lack of clean water availability will eventually start the cascading effect of purging the over-population. Technology can help with producing clean water through desalination and purification systems, but will it be able to keep up with the population explosion? In a lot of locations, the lack of a disposal infrastructure needs to be resolved before water purification will be effective. Luckily, the oceans and seas are a source of new clean water through desalination technology.
Mankind has always eaten meat, fish and grain as a food source. However, to keep up with the demands of a larger population, raising food products had to be industrialized. This has also caused a shift in grain production to provide more for livestock consumption over human consumption. Fertile landscapes will have to expand for this increased food production at the lost of the natural ecosystem, such as deforestation. Note: Without trees, there will be less photosynthesis which absorbs CO2.
In order to meet the demands of more grain products with limited land, more products per hector has to be harvested. This has been addressed by genetically modify the seeds to fight off infestation and increase the harvest. Most of this GMO tainted grain is used for livestock feed. At some point in time these modified strains will need further modification to continue on this synthetic path.
Would clean water and available food be a concern if the population were limited to a sustainable amount? If so, how would we go about determining what that amount would be? One obvious way to curb the population increase is though the availability of electricity. Unfortunately, after 130 years since the discovery of electricity, a quarter of the population is still without it. Replacing wood and coal with electricity could help reduce poverty and pollution in the fastest growing population segment.
3) Energy Poverty: There are two definitions for energy poverty: unaffordable energy or no energy at all. Again, a quarter of the world population is without electricity and their source of energy is from wood sticks and cow dung. Beside all the residue pollution, the smoke from burning this source leaves them very ill and short lived. Affordable electrification is the only way to overcome energy poverty. Unfortunately the cheapest source of energy is also the form the world leaders say we have to stop using. The third world nations are already the poorest and need the cheapest energy, which is coal.
4) Global Warming and Climate Change: The developed nations are responsible for the climate change that has occurred in the past, but now the developing nations are the major contributors to climate change pollutants. After the recent Paris Climate Conference most national governments have agreed to limit the world temperature increase at 2 degrees or less through 2030. CO2 is mostly talked about because it contributes to atmospheric pollution, as well as ocean acidification. The oceans have always been the major consumer of CO2, but can only handle so much until the PH levels weaken the already exploited fishing industry.
5) Pandemic Fear: In a global society with migration from everywhere you always run the risk of spreading viruses, bacteria and fungi. Just recently we were able to fight back Ebola, only to be confronted with Zika (a parasite) which we will also fight back through advances in medical technology. These were new viruses, but even the many virus eliminated in the past are returning because of human migration. The latest news is that the world’s favorite, the Cavendish banana, may be in danger from a deadly untreatable fungus.
Of all the potential catastrophes, the one I fear the most is the heroin epidemic because it is not something we can control with technology. Can it be called a pandemic when very large populations willfully and wantonly use heroin, derived from morphine which is the addictive principle of opium. It is definitely a man made epidemic and is spreading everywhere in this mobile global world. The only defense for heroin is education.
These are just my personal short list of concerns about the future of humanity here on earth. There are technical solutions to these issues but I am not sure there is the ‘will’ to solve them on a global scale or is this all part of evolution?
By the way, I did plant a red bud tree in my back yard this year.