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Forget Peak Oil-Think Instead About Peak Everything

The world is heading for an “ecological credit crunch” far worse than the recent financial crisis. We humans are over-using the natural resources of the planet. The Living Planet report[1] calculates that humans are using 30% more resources than the Earth can replenish each year.

This results in deforestation, degraded soils, polluted air and water, as well as dramatic declines in numbers of fish and other species. According to the report’s authors, led by the conservation group, WWF International, formerly the World Wildlife Fund, we are running up an ecological debt of $4 trillion to $4.5 trillion each year—double the estimated losses of the world’s financial institutions as a result of the credit crisis.

The report also calculated the economic value of services provided by ecosystems destroyed annually, such as diminished rainfall for crops or reduced flood protection. The report concludes that by the year 2030, we will need two planets to sustain our consumption. Unfortunately, we have only one.

“The recent downturn in the global economy is a stark reminder of the consequences of living beyond our means,” says James Leape, WWF International’s director general. “But the possibility of financial recession pales in comparison to the looming ecological credit crunch.”[2]

In an article in Scientific American titled “Forget Peak Oil, We’re at Peak Everything [3] published in March 2013, the journal claims that apart from oil, we are running out of forests for paper production; the demand for water is 40% higher than sustainable levels; and fish levels in the seas are dropping due to overfishing.

Minerals are also starting to be in short supply. In his book, The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources[4], Michael T. Klare concludes that global shortages are forcing us to look for resources in more and more difficult places, at an increased cost.

Shortages of oil and minerals, such as silver, zinc, antimony, indium, hafnium, terbium, platinum, gallium and many other rare, but exceedingly important resources, forces us to search under the sea, in the Arctic regions, and in other hostile places.

While doing so, the cost of extraction increases, and we are increasingly running into diminishing returns by having to spend more and more resources to get the same amount of oil, gas, and minerals as before.

At the same time, we are damaging the ecosystem, providing us with a complex array of services needed to sustain life. Therefore, while we are desperately trying to delay the time when these resources finally will run out, our unsustainable economic system keeps us on a pilot course of continued destruction of nature and our natural resources—the very foundation of our existence.

[1] World Wildlife Fund (WWF), ”The Living Planet Report 2012,” http://awsassets.panda.org/downloads/1_lpr_2012_online_full_size_single_pages_final_120516.pdf

[2] WWF, “Living Planet Report 2008,”  http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/all_publications/living_planet_report/living_planet_report_timeline/lpr_2008/

[3] http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=forget-peak-oil-were-at-peak-everyt-2013-03.

[4] Michael T. Klare, The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources (Metropolitan Books, New York, 2012)

 

Published with permission of Roar Bjonnes and www.growinganeweconomy.com

Forget Peak Oil-Think Instead About Peak Everything