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Humans Vs. The Environment - A Thought Experiment

By: for Natural News on June 24, 2010
World News
Protecting the environment isn't a "liberal" idea; it's everybody's business. Liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, the environment provides life support for us all, and if we fail to recognize that, we are truly doomed as a civilization.

To help explain this, I've put together a simple thought experiment. It begins with three undeniable truths about humans and the environment:

Truth #1 - The Earth's resources are limited.

This should be self-evidence, but some people still don't get it. The Earth's resources -- oil, forests, water, energy, and so on -- are finite. They do not exist in infinite quantities. If they did, they would obviously be larger than the Earth itself (and would, in fact, fill the universe). But they don't fill the universe. They are contained within the boundaries of planet Earth, and therefore they are limited.

Of course, many of Earth's resources can be either regenerated or recycled, but that only happens over time -- usually a long time. In the case of oil, it's hundreds of thousands of years. For fossil water it's much the same. The rate at which modern human civilization is using up these resources is orders of magnitude faster than the rate at which they can be naturally regenerated. This holds true for oil, water, topsoil, forests and more.

Truth #2 - Each person living in modern civilization consumes some amount of the Earth's limited resources.

This should also be self-evident: People consume resources. When you drive your car, you're obviously consuming limited natural resources. When you buy a car, you're consuming many other natural resources (all the elements that went into making a car), too. This is true even when you buy a solar panel.

Every time you turn on a light switch, or open a package of food, or swallow a piece of food, you are consuming some amount of the Earth's limited resources.

The sum of your consumption is called your "ecological footprint," and your ecological footprint is much larger than the immediate space you might call your home. The things you consume in your home require the resources of a much larger area far outside your home.

A human child born in America today, for example, will consume 45,000 pounds of metal in their lifetime (through the products they purchase). That's 45,000 pounds of metal that must be mined, processed, transported and manufactured into consumable products, and metal mining is a very dirty business, by the way, even if that metal goes into making clean energy devices such as wind turbines.

Truth #3 - Humans are altering the environment

You can't argue with this (although some people ridiculously try). Human activity is altering our environment in a huge way, from the massive deforestation of the planet to the release of gases into the atmosphere. We've poisoned the rivers, destroyed natural habitat, polluted the oceans (Gulf of Mexico, anyone?) and altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere. These are undeniable scientific truths. No sane person can reasonably argue that human beings have not radically altered the environment of our planet over the last 200 years.

If you visited North America 200 years ago, for example, you wouldn't even have recognized it as the same continent dominated by human beings today. A few hundred years ago, North America was teeming with life, with huge old-growth forests, pristine rivers and abundant plains. Today it is relatively dead, having been over-developed, over-paved and over-population to a point so extreme that our ancestors would largely consider it "dead".

Truth #4 - Humans really like to have babies

This is also self-evidence: People like to procreate. Every family, it seems, wants children, and those children want their own children, too. In general, human beings want to procreate without limitation. This, of course, leads to an explosion in population growth. We've seen this explosion over the last two hundred years as the Earth's population has grown from less than one billion people in 1800 to nearly seven billion today.

Human beings do not consider their impact on the global population when they procreate. The decision to have children is made privately, selfishly, without regard to the impact on the planet. One more child seems like no big deal from the point of view of a couple that wishes for another son or daughter, but multiplied by billions, these decisions to procreate en masse lead to overpopulation, which leads to over-consumption of the planet's limited resources.

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