In my first post, I stated that the future would look very different to the way it does at the moment, but pretty much skimmed over the why.  In this post, I will examine some of the factors that are going to bring about that change.

Peak oil

The first of these issues is peak oil.  If you’re not familiar with the concept then peak oil states that at some point in the future, we will reach a peak in oil extraction, after which point, oil extraction will decline.  What this means is that at some point in the future we will not be able to extract oil any faster and after this point, oil extraction will fall.  More information explaining peak oil can be found at the oil drum or wikipedia.

An important point to note is that oil is used in everything – we use it for transport, plastics, fertiliser, energy and so on.  When the extraction rate falls, oil will become more expensive and so will everything else that depends on it.

Energy

Closely related to peak oil is the problem of where our energy will come from? As fossil fuels are depleted (oil, natural gas, coal), we will increasingly have to turn to other sources such as renewable energy and renewables.  The trouble with this is that it takes time to bring these alternatives on-line so we really need to have already started (currently, it takes at least 10 years to bring a nuclear plant on-line in the UK).  This means that we may soon be in a position where we do not have enough alternatives available to cope with the fall in conventional energy production.
Another problem is that these new sources will need fossil fuel sources to be available to be brought online in the first place (solar panels are made from plastics made from oils)!  If there are no longer sufficient fossil fuels available to maintain the existing demand, how is it going to be used to also create a new energy infrastructure?
Climate change

Whether you believe in man-made climate change or not, there seems to be very little doubt that the climate is changing – and, from a human perspective, not for the better.  Weather systems are becoming more severe and unpredictable, our agricultural regions are getting warmer with less rainfall and sea levels rising.  This is resulting in more natural disasters (i.e. flooding, hurricanes etc…) combined with an increasingly stressed food production infrastructure.  A useful overview of climate change can be found here.
The economy

I’m sure you’re aware of the economic crisis that the world is currently going through – but how aware are you of the fact that this was predicted, it is no ordinary recession and is going to force massive changes in the global economy?
This crisis was inevitable due to the way our financial system was set up.  A fantastic resource that explains this far better than I could can be found at the crash course.
We are looking at a future where our financial system will crash without fundamental reform so one way or another the economy will be drastically changed.
Water

There are currently two issues the world is facing regarding water.  The first is the number of people who do not have access to clean drinking water, even though the technology to achieve this is simple – according to wikipedia only 46% of people in Africa have access to safe drinking water.
The second, and potentially far more dangerous, issue is that of the falling water table.  Throughout the world water is being used from existing aquifers faster than it can be replenished.  This means that it is becoming harder and harder to get any water at all.  As access to water becomes more difficult, this will lead to increased conflict over the remaining resources, as well as problems in agriculture, which uses a vast amount of water.  If agricultural regions fail due to lack of water, this makes mass famine a very real possibility.  Some information about water table depletion can be found here and here.

Soil

Current agricultural practise involves rapidly draining the topsoil that plants are grown on.  This is then compensated for by using vast amounts of (oil-based) fertilisers.  We have reached the point now, that if we did not use these fertilisers, we would be unable to grow crops in anywhere near the quantities that we require.

Fishing

A large proportion of humanities protein requirements are met by fish.  Unfortunately, large numbers of fisheries face collapse due to overfishing.  Already we are seeing fish becoming more expensive and less palatable fish species replacing those species that have already been overfished.  If this continues then not only will the oceans face an environmental catastrophe, but a major source of protein could be lost.

As you can see, there are massive risks in continuing as we are.  It might have been possible to deal with any one of these factors, but combine all of them, and we are looking at a situation that, barring a miracle, will result in a far harsher environment and lifestyle for everyone.  It is not all doom and gloom however, there are a lot of things that can be done to mitigate the effects of the problems we are facing

In my next post, I will look at what the future might look at.

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