There are simply too many of us
Yángshuò (China), January 30th 2010

Humanity has the characteristic to think that everything can be managed in the way it wants. The past proved that this is often true, but the problems regarding the climate change could be an issue that is too large and complex for humanity to handle. There are still hordes of climate experts, often connected to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC; official advice organ of the United Nations), that still have the opinion that eventually, humanity will get the climate change under control. By using complex software systems to model and predict the climate, they hope to develop some kind of a dashboard with buttons and levers to manage the climate on our planet. For the world leaders there is enough confidence that it will succeed to justify the decision that large-scale actions are not necessary yet; as we saw at the Climate Summit 2009 in Copenhagen where no significant agreements were made to tackle the problems.

The problems we have are simply said bipartite. The first issue is that the prosperity we have nowadays is completely ‘financed’ with the non-renewable resources that the earth supplied to us. You can think about the oil, gas and coal, but also the fresh water. In theory, these resources are renewable because the earth will eventually replace them, but not in the speed as they are used by us. So in the end, we have the problem that the resources on which our societies float will be gone. The other side of the problem medallion is that during our development since the start of the Industrial Revolution, we gave preference to our own welfare at the expense of the welfare of the planet we live on. Primeval forests are massively cleared to create agricultural land, our seas are over fished, pesticides destroyed many ecosystems, wildlife still exists thanks to active protection, and because of the massive emittance of Carbon Dioxide, we have the acute problem of global warming. The worst thing that the prosperity of the Industrial Revolution has brought to us, is the explosion of the world population. At the end of the 19th century there we less than a billion of us, around the end of the 20th century we crossed the six billion and by the year 2050 their might be nine or even ten billion individuals on earth. And that is the greatest threat of humanity; there are simply too many of us.

The impact of humanity on the earth since the Industrial Revolution is disastrous. Wherever you go on the planet, you will see the effects of human interference. We saw it already in the countries of Southeast Asia, but here in China the story isn’t different. People migrated in huge numbers to one of the many multi-million urban centres to work in one of the many factories that prosper thanks to the ever growing worldwide demand in consumption. The rural areas are cleared from their original ecosystems and serve mainly as food production centres for the still growing population, who are expected to consume more in the near future as their welfare increases; putting even more pressure on the food supply chain. The remaining pockets of nature are developed to nature amusement parks where ladies on high heels and noisy phoning men are coming to watch monkeys; as long as they still exist. The entrance fee is absurdly high because nowadays even a national park must be economical viable.

In the perhaps naïve thought that the earth can be brought back to the former state, governments are inventing programs and subsidy schemes to stimulate more durable energy sources. ‘Green energy’ is big business and especially the traditional energy companies jumped on top of these schemes to pocket the huge amounts. They are ‘invested’ in green projects, of which already is known that they will never be a full and economical alternative of the traditional energy sources. But the energy firms don’t mind, because being green improves their image and their traditional money generating business goes on as usual. It is amazing to notice that even today, nuclear energy isn’t considered as an option. And that is remarkable because nuclear energy is reliable, safe, cheap and green. However, mainly thanks to the media, nuclear energy has a bad image, often based on the wrong assumptions or exaggerating figures. It is often said that nuclear waste uniquely deadly and will always stay with us, threatening the environment. However, all pollution of chemical elements persists, which means that also the lead pollution as result from mining or the process of using the lead in consumer products will always be with us. The same is true for a handful of other often used chemical elements, and for some reason nobody seems to worry about those. Besides that, the waste of a nuclear power plant is limited (yearly waste of a 1000 MW plant fits in a car) and is for that reason easy and safe to bury. Another threat often mentioned is the possible number of victims in case of an accident. Nuclear power plants are nowadays very safe, and besides that, we have to compare the possible number of victims in the improbable case of an accident, with the thousands of certain deaths every year in the oil and mine industry. And if you also take into account the indirect deaths caused by the emittance of CO2 by the conventional power plants, the use of nuclear energy is a missed chance. It is difficult to ignore the possibility that the traditional oil companies have a significant influence in the political decision making process regarding the investment in nuclear power plants.

The human interference probably means that the earth is going to move to a new equilibrium. The previous equilibrium is not sustainable anymore because the ecosystems that supported this equilibrium are destroyed or damaged. How this new balance will look like, is not certain. Most experts agree share the opinion that the earth will be hotter and that the sea levels will rise, and that as a consequence of that, many parts of the earth won’t be inhabitable anymore for people. Parts of these predictions are already visible. The Sahara is moving up and will eventually also threaten southern parts of Spain and Portugal. Also China has its own problem. The Gobi desert is also advancing and it is just a matter of time before it reaches the outskirts of the capital city Beijing. We are also still limitlessly using scarce and non-renewable resources. India for example, is for its fresh water dependent on the massive aquifers (under ground water reservoirs) that are in theory non-renewable. It doesn’t need a lot of imagination to realise what will happen if a billion people, including their much needed agricultural activities, will have a lack of fresh water. That will not only be a disaster for India, but also for the rest of the world because these people will certainly try to migrate to more inhabitable regions, regions that probably already have their own environmental problems.

The problems are much bigger and more complex that the present discussion about the CO2 emittance alone. The core of the problem stays the same and is insoluble: there are simply too many of us to sustain the way of living as we have done so far, especially when you realise that billions of people are living in developing countries and that they can’t wait to start consuming in the way we already do for decades. And that is understandable. We have to get used to the idea that the life that we lived so far, will change. Especially, because there aren’t any signals that countries are seriously starting to deal with the problems. And also that is understandable, because writing an election program in where a pessimistic outlook is described and in where you ask people to give up a part of their welfare in favour of the welfare of the earth, won’t bring you the election victory.

© copyright - / 2010