The environmental impacts of increasing human population, consumption, and technology are now widely recognized and global in scale. Humanity is now bumping up against the limits defined by earth’s carrying capacity. Rising costs of many natural resources reflect the combined effects of shrinking supplies and increasing demand. Global production of oil has peaked and is now declining, portending long-term cost increases for fuel and food. Global production of other resources such as marine fish are also declining. Global warming threatens supplies of food and water and may make many locations uninhabitable. Overconsumption and pollution have led to water shortages in many countries. The global reserve of grain has shrank for the last eight years, and during that time the price of grains has increased 2-4x (*check). The global ecological footprint is now 1.3 Earths, meaning that the growing human population and economy have overshot the capacity of earth to regenerate resources and absorb waste by 25%. Humanity was last sustainable in the 1980’s, and most global human welfare indicators have declined since the 1980’s. The only solution to these multiple threats is for humanity to adopt sustainable living practices that help to preserve People, Prosperity, and the Planet and guarantee that future generations can live as well as we do today. First, we must switch energy production from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. This soft approach of decentralized use of renewable resources that do not emit CO2 is preferred over the hard approach of centralized energy production using non-renewable resources because it is sustainable and increases our energy security, and it would make the use of electric and hydrogen-fueled cars truly CO2-free. A drastic reduction in the number of coal-fired power plants can reduce the problems of CO2 emissions, acid rain, and unsafe fly ash and coal slurry ponds. Power plants that continue to burn fossil fuels could capture and sequester CO2 in the ground. Water conservation and decentralized purification or privitization can help ensure adequate, safe drinking water supplies.
In the last 100 years, cheap oil has fueled rapid global and particularly U.S. economic growth and helped us to produce the food needed by an exploding human population. As oil production drops, oil prices will rise, and so will the cost of food and nearly every product on the market. Of greatest concern is the potential increasing cost and scarcity of food. Current agricultural practice requires 10 calories of oil energy for production of one calorie of food energy. Global warming, decreasing biodiversity, and water scarcity will compound the problems of energy and food shortages. In this declining world, people will need to adapt to living with fewer resources and less wealth.
The changes that are required to make our society sustainable may be too great to achieve through action of a centralized government, particularly because the U.S. government relies on continuous economic growth and is beholden to corporate interests. On the other hand, decisions made collectively by individuals can greatly reduce the ecological footprint of societies. High prices will force people to make sustainable lifestyle choices, including purchasing fuel-efficient vehicles and decreasing miles traveled by moving to high-density housing close to the workplace. This will lead to a reversal of the decades-long migration from cities to the suburbs, eventually resulting in the rebirth of cities and decay of the suburbs. Anticipating these changes can help individuals make smart investment decisions.
The goal of this book is to convince you that change is coming. You can try to ignore or deny change, but you will be better off if you anticipate change and adapt to it. Because the change will involve resource shortages, you can best adapt by limiting your resource use. Stop living large! Reduce your consumption, and reuse and recycle everything. By reducing your ecological footprint and living sustainably, you can be happy while living on less, and because you will incur less damage on your environment, it will be able to provide you with more. On the other hand, if you continue to take more from the environment, it will have less to give you in the future. You can be happier if you simplify your life and live sustainably. Once you have reformed your own lifestyle, you can help to reduce the ecological footprint of others. Protest the opening of any new coal-fired power plants. Convince your community to switch to compact fluorescent lights or even ban incandescent lights. Try to move your workplace toward sustainability by starting recycling programs and discouraging the use or sale of disposable products such as bottled water. The more positive changes you make, the better chance our society has for survival, and the better life will be for us and our children.