Is our civilization doomed?

imagesA new study by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center argues that a combination of socio-economic stratification (haves vs. have-nots) and resource consumption are likely to lead to the collapse of our civilization.  Other studies (like this and this) have come to the same conclusion, putting the timeline in the 15 year range.  Can we avoid this?  The SESYNC‘s study states that,

Collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion.

Given how our current society is doing the exact opposite, forgive me if I’m a bit pessimistic…

You can read more about this latest study here.

Unsustainable shark fishing

The BBC reports that globally, around 100 million sharks are being killed each year.  This is a mind-boggling number and anyone who thinks we can deplete the numbers of an apex predator at that rate without consequences is a fool.  I’m scared of what the future brings to our society when we are so blatantly altering the ecosystem that future generations will depend upon, without being able to really understand what these changes will actually mean.  It’s stupid and selfish.

Making fuel from air

A British company is working on a process which makes a hydrocarbon fuel out of CO2 and water.  Cool idea, but at this point it’s a lab experiment and nothing more (though they’ve produced about five liters in the lab, so it’s proving itself).  The big question is, is it scalable, what’s the efficiency, and what’s the source for the energy required to power this process.

The most important point here though, is that this is just one of many such projects in the works, trying to find more eco-friendly fuel sources.  If just one of these can be successful, it can make a real impact on the sustainability of our lifestyle on this planet.  Our current fossil-fuel-dependent lifestyle is most definitely NOT sustainable and we need to transition to an alternative quickly.

Read more here.

Emergency Preparation – Food

I’m going to start a new series of posts here, about preparing for emergencies.  It’s not that I expect an imminent zombiepocalypse, but it’s just a good all around idea to have the ability to be self-sufficient for a short period of time without advance notice.  Earthquakes, wildfires, power outages, and hurricanes are just some of the events that can disrupt our very complex support system.

The topic for today is food, and there’s really one clear winner here – freeze dried food in #10 size cans, such as the one pictured here from Mountain House and available with free shipping at Amazon.com.  First of all, food in cans lasts longer than any other food storage option – 25 years or more, in fact.  Second, after doing much research, Mountain House stood out as one of the highest quality options available, and given my aversion to any sort of highly processed food, that was a big plus (some of the other options looked downright scary!).

Keeping in mind that these cans of food, once opened, need to be used up fairly quickly, it’s also a good idea to have smaller packs on hand, in individual serving sizes.  For example, a Mountain House 72 hour emergency meal kit (~$55 at Amazon).  This set includes three breakfasts and six lunch/dinner entrees – so note that this would really just be a 24-hour emergency meal kit for a family of three, so order appropriately.  The downside to these smaller food pouches is a lesser, seven year shelf life.  Still, it can make for great camping or backpacking meals as it nears the end of its shelf life, at which point you can just replace your inventory with some new packs.

So how much food should you buy?  That’s a more personal question, you need to estimate what sort of disaster you’re planning for, evaluate how much food you typically have on hand in your pantry (assume your refrigerator will be un-powered and the food there will spoil fast), and how many days you’d like to be eating well (we CAN go weeks without food if needed!).  And, of course, budget comes into play.  Personally, I think a month of ’emergency food’ is not a bad start.

Peak Metals

You’re reading this on a computer or other electronics device.  Have you ever thought about what it took to build that device?  Materials were dug up from the Earth and processed into this amazing form you’re staring at.  Great, but this planet is finite in size…just how many more iPads can this planet provide the raw materials for?  How long until the metals we take for granted run out?  The infographic below attempts to answer that question, using data from the US Geological Survey.  Naturally, there are a lot of assumptions in this and the exact numbers may be off…but the underlying point is the same, that the metals and fossil fuels that we depend on for our first world lifestyles are running out, and we’re talking about a matter of only decades before we face critical shortages.  We cannot continue on this path of vast consumption…it simply isn’t sustainable.  Shown here are just a few examples, the more critical ones…though the same idea applies to anything we dig out of the Earth to use…resources are limited.

Bleak outlook for Earth

Things aren’t looking good for this planet.  The well-respected group of scientists known as the Royal Society is concerned about the combination of excessive consumption and population growth, and is suggesting increased birth control and global redistribution of wealth to combat that.  Two things that are politically untouchable in this country at least.  This is the problem I see…scientists look at the path we’re on and have recommendations for how to fix it, but the political and social reality is not guided by science, it is guided by other influences.  Scientists, in general, just don’t seem to get this…they keep talking about what should be done to solve the world’s problems, without recognizing what can be done.  We don’t need talk about ideal solutions, we need talk about practical, realistic solutions.  Changes that you can possibly expect might be implemented.  You can read more about the Royal Society’s position on these issues in Scientific American.  And no, I don’t have the answer…I’m just really pessimistic about global governments’ abilities to enact change, and get frustrated when the best answer I hear from scientists is to let global governments solve these problems.  It’s not going to happen, we need new ideas.

In separate, but related, news, the executive director of the International Energy Agency is warning governments around the world that, globally, fossil fuel consumption is increasing and we need to shift our focus to renewable energy sources.  On our current path, we’re looking at a global temperature increase of 6C by the end of the century, triple the international ‘goal’ of 2C (though I’d argue that the goal should be zero!).  We’re just nowhere near where we need to be, and there’s no real drive for change.

Bleak news, but then, it’s not really news…it’s just more of the same.  We recognize the problem but instead of taking responsibility for our actions, we’ll pass this off to the next generation and make them deal with it.  This is our legacy, but I hold out hope that we can find technological solutions to these social problems before it’s too late.

Peak Helium?

Bad news, kids…we’re approaching ‘peak helium.’  This rare gas is obtained as a by-product of the petroleum industry, and thanks to huge stockpiles this country set aside after WWI, supply has been plentiful.  However, those helium reserves are dwindling as demand exceeds production…once gone, expect prices to skyrocket faster than, well, a helium filled balloon.  The days of cheap helium party balloons are numbered…enjoy it while you can!  On the more serious side, this gas is incredibly useful for extreme refrigeration needed in many science and medical applications, so the impact will be far-reaching.  Read more over at the Guardian.