Wasted World: How Our Consumption Challenges the Planet

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As with sugar, beef was a luxury turned into an everyday item. Posted Friday, September 07, The banana industry in Latin America and the Caribbean also touches many other issues. Rainforest destruction is one effect of the banana industry. Dependent economies is another, where bananas are grown not to feed local people and meet their demands, but to create exports for Europe and America.

The recent trade disputes between those two regions have received the most attention. However, the focus of the debate is limited. It continues to leave both dependent Latin American nations, and the Caribbean nations in poverty and hunger, while Latin American nations, large multinational American banana corporations and the American government seek to destroy the Caribbean banana economy, via the World Trade Organization, in order to gain dominant access to the European markets.

So many resources are poured into the banana industry, and like the sugar and beef examples, there is a lot of unnecessary use of resources that could otherwise be freed up to help local people in a way that is also less degrading to the surrounding environment. Last updated Sunday, September 23, We are beginning to get just a hint of how wasteful our societies are. Sugar, beef, and bananas are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of examples of wasted industry and waste structured within the current system.

Not only are certain wasteful job functions unnecessary as a result, but the capital that employs this labor is therefore a wasteful use of capital. As a result, we see waste and misuse of the environment, as well as social and environmental degradation increasing. Our industries may be efficient for accumulating capital and making profits, but that does not automatically mean that it is efficient for society. However, with such wasted labor what do we do? Well, as J. Smith points out, we should share the remaining jobs.

This would also reduce our workweek. Something technocrats have kept promising us in rhetoric only! With kind permission from J.

Wasted World: How Our Consumption Challenges the Planet

That part is titled The Mathematics of Wasted Labor. It is a vivid example of wasted and unnecessary labor using the United States as the case study. While the book was written back in and the numbers, facts and estimates are hence based on data from the early s, the pattern and examples shown here are still very valid. His calculations suggest that with the elimination of wasted labor in the U. Last updated Sunday, May 15, Energy security is a growing concern for rich and emerging nations alike.

The past drive for fossil fuel energy has led to wars, overthrow of democratically elected leaders, and puppet governments and dictatorships. Leading nations admit we are addicted to oil, but investment into alternatives has been lacking, or little in comparison to fossil fuel investments. As the global financial crisis takes hold and awareness of climate change increases, more nations and companies are trying to invest in alternatives.

But will the geopolitics remain the same? Posted Sunday, March 30, This makes it one of the largest businesses in the world. Some believe in strong prohibition enforcement. Others argue for decriminalization to minimize the crime and health effects associated with the market being controlled by criminals. Are there merits to each approach? Posted Sunday, October 03, Pineapples are nutritious and popular. You wo incredibly find any more for learning not. You can primarily use unconscious vegetables! You can trigger us at any world! Our study stimulus colleagues will read all the use you are.

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At some later stage, it became possible to form carbohydrates from carbon dioxide and water. At this stage, however, the electron-pulling capacity of the newly introduced element carbon was not enough to obtain sufficient hydrogen directly from the environment. Another process happening in special structures found in the membranes surrounding the cells was added to the existing processes, namely, the splitting of, first, hydrogen sulfide HS , and then water HO by light energy from the sun.

Hydrogen was now obtained from an inexhaustible sourcewaterwith the help of an equally inexhaustible source of energythat obtained from the radiation of the sun. This process generated the hydrogen needed, rather than using up the hydrogen naturally available in the environment. The direct result was that oxygen was released as waste into the water of the oceans, from where it escaped into the atmosphere as a gas. With the hydrogen available from water, and by a biological mechanism using the inexhaustible source of solar energy, the early structures and processes could now form sugars, a special kind of chemical compound for storing energy.

When these sugars were broken down, their hydrogen became free and reacted with the oxygen again, forming water. This reaction released the energy that initially came from the sun and was used in the splitting process, making it available for use in further reactions. The sugars thus developed into temporary storehouses for solar energy. This energy could be released in times of energy shortage, for example, during the night when no solar energy can be captured.

The first sugars, however, were still nonreactive because of the very strong binding capacity of carbon, and so they were expelled as useless waste into the environment. Only later did a set of suitable enzymes evolve to break them down, molecules specifically facilitating certain chemical reactions, speeding them up or making them possible. Throughout the process, reduction processesthe binding with hydrogen, or more precisely, the binding with its components protons and electrons remained of central importance in the cells.

Reduction involved binding elements and chemical compounds with hydrogen, eventually with the help of energy from the sun. Throughout the history of life, the ancient life processes depending on reduction were therefore maintained with the. Moreover, this remained possible because enough hydrogen was available in the water within the cells in spite of the fact that gradually the supply of hydrogen in the environment outside these cells had diminished.

In a way, plants on the one hand and fungi and animals on the other are complementary life-forms: plants take up carbon dioxide and water as part of their food from the air and the soil and expel oxygen as a waste gas back into the air. Carbon dioxide forms their gaseous food, and water, their liquid food food here being taken broadly as material taken up by some living system.

Meanwhile, plants make carbohydrates, such as the starch in wheat, rice, and potatoes, as chemical energy that is stored in their cells. In contrast, fungi and animals, including you and me, take in those plant carbohydrates by eating and digestingburningthem. For this to happen, they take up the oxygen the plants expel and use it as a feeding gas, and they expel carbon dioxide as a waste product.

Oxygen as a gas is actually an essential part of animal food. Therefore, we use as our food the starch of plants directly, as in the case of potatoes and rice, or processed, as in bread and pasta , we breathe in oxygen, take in water by drinking our coffee, soft drinks, or beer, and expel carbon dioxide and water as waste products. Meanwhile, we dissipate heat from our body that has been generated by all the chemical reactions that have taken place. This heat is the energy we release by breaking down chemical compounds from the plants, binding the hydrogen from the hydrocarbons with the oxygen the plants expelled earlier.


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The plants extracted it from the solar radiation and stored it as starch in their cells, which is the main constituent of our bread, pasta, and so forth. And before releasing this energy this way, we use it for walking and talking, for maintaining our bodies, or for begetting and educating our children. Of course, this isnt even the end of this amazing story. Biology has more in store. The animal-like cells, as Ive already explained, produce carbon dioxide as waste products by breaking down the sugars.

They burn them in some way, using oxygen. This is similar to what our cars do. But our cars use gasoline instead of sugars, and this gasoline was formed long agotens of millions of years ago, in factfrom the same sugars. Similar to todays algae and plants, those ancient plant-like cells needed carbon dioxide to build up their sugars, thereby producing oxygen.

So, in this respect, these primordial animals and plants complemented each other perfectly. Thus, taken together, both carbon dioxide and oxygen were produced as waste products, but were also needed as chemical resources. And hydrogen, going backward and for-. Talk about recycling in nature! Primordial plant and animal life-forms became mutually interdependent, supplying each other with food via their waste and protecting each other against the deadly accumulation of their waste gases.

Thus, they began to recycle oxygen and carbon dioxide, which from then on were found in the atmosphere and the oceans as waste products and resources. These recycling processes form very large cycles, present throughout all parts of Earth where life can be foundcalled the biosphere. They are therefore known as biospheric nutrient cycles, the word nutrient having to do with to nourish, to feed.

It will be obvious that there are more than these two types of nutrient cycles. Other crucial cycles are the nitrogen cycle, sulfur cycle, phosphorus cycle, iron cycle, and water cycle. In all evolutionary stages and at all levels, recycling became basic to life. Plants and animals therefore perfectly complement each other, each using the others waste as food. The flow of their matter forms a cycle running from plants to animals and back again. Thus, matter is recycled again and again for long periods of time in the more or less closed cycle of nutrients formed by plants and animals.

Matter has flowed through this cycle for millions and millions of years. The carbon dioxide in your sugar has gone through the stomachs and bodies of billions and billions of previous animals and plants. Thats the chemical reincarnation of life. The fact that this cycle is more or less closed means that, in principle, hardly any matter gets wasted or lost. What does get lost eventually forms thick geological layers, strata of limestone, oil, gas, and coal.

However, what is continually and irretrievably lost in a few steps from plants to grazing animals, and from these to their predators and parasites, and ultimately to the decaying bacteria and fungi, is energy. Plants receive the energy they need from the sun and transfer this to animals, fungi, and bacteria, which eventually release it into the air as heatuseless, spent energy. Energy cannot be recycled forever; as Ive already said, it degrades in the process, getting lost in the great material cycles of life.

It is only the matter that goes around in those cycles. And it is energy that drives them by degrading into worthless heat. The large carbon cycle in the biosphere is not really perfect; part of the matter, which still contains energy, always leaks away into the environment. For example, some plants and animals are not eaten or do not decay completely; instead, they are preserved in the form of peat, or they fossilize in sand that has blown over them.

Their material waste, therefore, is not recycled but rather accumulates, resulting in the thick, continent-wide layers. The oil or gasoline you use for driving your car is no less than ancient fossil material from which you extract the necessary energy to get moving. But some fossil material cannot be used as a source of energy or minerals for plants or animals.

For example, most of the oil and gas found deep in the earth cannot be used as fuel unless subjected to a very special set of geological conditions and processes. And oil can also be locked up in asphalt lakes in which long-ago large animals, such as mammoths and saber-toothed tigers, could become trapped. Moreover, peat, coal, oil, and gas cannot be taken up by plants and animals themselves; they can be decomposed by fungi or molds, which transform them into carbon dioxide, or by bacteria, which turn them into another gaseous waste, methane.

Ultimately, methane reacts with oxygen in the atmosphere, forming carbon dioxide and water, which in turn can be taken up by plants as part of their food. Shells and bones that accumulate to form huge strata of chalk and limestone cannot be used as energy sources, either. The chalk and inorganic limestone cannot very easily been taken up by organisms as a mineral, calcium.

And plant and animal remains in topsoil take manyoften thousandsof years to decompose before plants can take them up. We can access only a small part of the ancient organic waste products and burn them for energy. When they are burned, the carbon dioxide and water vapor that are formed are released, warming the air as greenhouse gases.

Methane, a gas produced by cattle and from peat by certain bacteria, is also a greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gases all have the same effect on the energy budget of the atmosphere: they raise its temperature. How this happens is simple. The relatively high-energy radiation coming from the sun loses some of its energy by warming the soil and ocean water of Earth, but another part bounces back into space. After warming the soil and water, the first part leaves Earth as low-energy, infrared radiation.

That part, the infrared radiation, can be absorbed by the molecules of the greenhouse gases, which become more energy-rich, that is, warmer. All those individual, energy-rich molecules together form a warmer atmosphere. In turn, this warmer atmosphere warms up the terrestrial environment and the oceans. The total process is known as climate warming.

The carbon compounds that are not burned but, instead, are separated from the fossil material before burning are used in industries for making nylon, plastics, fertilizers, herbicides, pharmaceuticals, asphalt and so onall essentials of our modern society. Most of these products, however, cannot be.

Many plastics known or advertised as decomposable can be decomposed only to a certain point; the small particles still remain in large, invisible quantities in the environment, often choking microorganisms. Therefore, they remain as human waste. As we turn ancient, natural waste into present-day human waste, our own personal and societal waste is gradually heaping up, as pollutants in the soil and in the water, and as greenhouse gases in the air. This is happening because the world population is growing, and the technology used for enhancing our quality of life is expanding.

Moreover, our products are not intended to be recycled but, instead, to be kept. We dont make a staircase such that it can be recycled, either by natural processes or by our own. Its intended to be used as long as possible. The difficulties created by these kinds of nondecomposable waste will peak at more or less the same time, as most of these wastes are the result of the utilization of fossil fuels.

And the peak will roughly coincide with yet other problems arising from too many humans on Earth. How are we going to cope with this? Finding another energy source is feasible, but without finding a new supply of material at the same time, it wont be an option. And merely reducing the amount of carbon dioxide released as human waste into the atmosphere wont help us out either.

Dwindling energy supplies and increased carbon dioxide emissions are epiphenomena of the growth of our global population. Instead of myopically focusing on finding new energy sources and reducing carbon dioxide emissions, we should take two steps. One is to reduce production, in the sense both of our own reproductionthat is, the number of humansand in the sense of reducing consumption and industrial and household productionthe average produced by us and for us, in terms of products and waste. Production is the prime cause of both problems. These two process components form the forces driving our resource exhaustion and waste production; they are processes whose rates we can influence to some extent, which eventually could bring the relief we are looking for.

And the second essential step forward in finding a solution to approaching global disasters to humanity and the rest of the natural world is to replace our linear, exhaustive system of resource utilization and waste production with a rigorously maintained cyclic one, keeping all the matter we need in circulation.

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There are no alternatives. How exactly does chemical and biological recycling work? Let us for a moment consider chemical equilibriums.

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When you put two chemical compounds into a flask together, they either do or do not react. If they do, they may react either explosively or slowly. In both cases, at some point they stop reacting altogether when one or both of the reactants are used up. Explosive reactions end very soon, whereas slow reactions end after longer periods.

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The figure below shows these various possibilities in a very simple diagram. The arrow pointing to the right in the first figure shows the process when the two compounds react: they are used up totally and replaced by the reaction product, the new compound s. Conversely, when the two initial compounds refuse to react, the arrow points in the opposite direction below. And somewhere in-between these two possibilities there is yet another process, represented by the arrow with heads at both ends.

This indicates that the reactions go both ways at the same time, forming a new compound at a certain rate but also continually breaking it down again into its two initial components. And, on average, the rate at which the new compound is formed balances the rate of breakdown.

Two of these three possibilities are interesting for us at this moment; the second actually is irrelevant for our purposes, since nothing happens in that case. As Ive already said, in other respects the failure to react can be interesting, as in the case of waste products and many pollutants. In fact, this is no more than the extreme case of reactions in the first possibility.

This kind of reaction is interesting because it indicates the existence of a stable equilibrium in which ultimately nothing happens anymore. At that point in the process, a nonreactive compound has been formed, either locking up some useful energy or depleting it altogether.

If no other organism can digest this compound, it is lost forever as a resource for any other organism. That is, no other organism can break it down and release its energy or matter for further use. Thus, the resource concerned shrinks and eventually runs out. In some cases, only a large amount of energy can break the bonds of such a stable compound, making the matter available again for further use. This happens, for example, with carbon dioxide, water, and simple nitrogen compounds such as the metabolic products of animals.

These can be recycled only if there is abundant solar energy available to power the process in which hydrogen or some molecular groups can be attached to them. Thus, plants bring carbon dioxide into circulation again, and some bacteria can do this with certain nitrogen compounds. For this to happen there must be not only a superabundance of energy, but also many specialized moleculesproteinsto reduce the amount of energy required.


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Therefore, because they all produce stable end products that is, waste , living systems have developed several mechanisms to bring these stable waste products back into circulation again, and these prevent them from dying out early because of resource depletion. After all, the natural end of all matter and energy is the stability of chemical waste and degraded energyheat. The biological mechanisms that developed over eons prevented this from happening; wasted matter could be taken up again into the production process, but only with the help of a large amount of energy coming from an external source the sun.

The last possibility, where the reactions going both ways, is biologically the most interesting from the viewpoint of biological recycling. This is because long ago, life developed reaction cycles in whole systems of interdependent reactionsrecycling processesin which elements and molecules are continually returned to the production process. As I mentioned, the forward and backward reactions balance each other: as many bonds are formed as are broken down again at the expense of energy.

On average, the same chemical compounds are always found, forming a mixture: the initial reactants together with the reaction products. Thus, contrary to a reaction leading. This may suggest that nothing happens; it seems that the reactions have reached some end point, but in fact they have reached an equilibrium in which the processes of building up average out those of chemical breakdown.

But below the calm surface of this average result is a dynamic world in which lots is going on continually. We therefore call this equilibrium a dynamic equilibrium: its not a still, dead world, but a bustling one because of all the forward and backward reactions that are going on nonstop.

Because the equilibrium is dynamic, if any of the newly formed compounds is used up in another reaction, it is immediately and continually replenished by its renewed production, reestablishing the equilibrium value. Biologically, this is highly important, because this new compound can be tapped as long as there are sufficient resources available for the replenishing reactions to occur. If the reaction products are continually being removed by C, the system remains out of equilibrium and keeps producing the compound for as long as it is being tapped for another reaction.

This is the essence of the nonequilibrium state in which living systems permanently exist: the possibility of tapping a reaction product guarantees the continuity of the flow of matter and energy. Most intriguingly, in the almost four billion years of life on Earth, chemical equilibrium has never been reached in living systems, despite the fact that many reactions last only a few seconds or even much less than thatone millionth of a second, for example.

The next step in our reasoning is a seemingly simple one. Imagine not only the existence of one reaction mechanism connecting the reactants at the left in figure 2c with the reaction products at the right. In a way, this shows a primitive cycle of two chemical components emerging. Now, we can also insert yet another compound into one of the reactions: the backward reaction, for example as the top figure on p.

As above, compound B is being tapped by C, but C is in turn being tapped by A. The result is a primitive cycle of three components. In fact, this remarkable representation contains the essence of a biological cycle: a dynamic, nonequilibrium reaction in which reactants and products continually swap roles. Life could.

Of course, overall, energy is continuously being lost as heat in these reactions, and during all this time, this loss has to be compensated for by a nonstop inflow of energy below. Energy loss. In biology, we can say that the cycles are driven by external energy, that is, by energy originating from other reactions outside the systemfrom the environment or from the sun. This nonstop stream of external energy drives all cycles of life. A stream that enters the system, drives it, and leaves it again as degraded energy; and the chemical compounds mostly remain behind, in principle cycling around and around forever, being built up, broken down, built up, broken down, and so on in perpetuity.

Within organisms, certain compounds within these cycles are continually tapped, resulting in a permanent flow of matter and energy, because this maintains a chemical disequilibriumone that has existed for almost four billion years. But between organisms, these compounds are brought back into circulation again, which gives an overall equilibrium in which hardly any matter is lost.

How much material would life had to have used up if it hadnt developed such an elaborate system of cyclesinternal, biochemical cycles and external, biospheric ones? Would all the material in the entire planet have been sufficient? But life only scratches an extremely thin film of Earths surface. Living bacteria have been found in rocks at a depth of three kilometers, while the radius of Earth is six thousand kilometers. Thus, from early on, under the stresses of finite resources and the pollution of the environment by biological waste, the waste of the one life-form.

This happened first of all within cells, then between them, then within them again, and then between individual cells and their multicellular successors: the animals and plants around us. And the cycles were all driven by energy external to each of these levels, and soon originated from outside the immediate surroundings of the earthly environmentfrom the sun.

And the energy dissipates from Earth back again into outer space as degraded energy, as heat, never to return again as usable energy. This kind of organization of flows of energy and matter is essential for the persistence of life; without recycling systems, life would either soon have run out of its supplies, or it would have been smothered in its own waste. And now think for a moment of what we as Homo sapiensthe only knowing and understanding speciesare doing. How long can we survive by applying a linear flow of matter? Or are we, in fact, the only stupid ones?

But, of course, biological systems are not perfect either. Even the earliest life-forms, however primitive and tiny they were, must have sucked up hydrogen and electrons from their immediate surroundings to live, so that, locally, at a minute scale, the environment became depleted of electrons. Compounds with the weakest bonds must have formed the stuff of life. Their bonds could not only be readily formed, they could also be broken relatively easily, so that atoms and parts of molecules could be kept in circulation perpetually rather than becoming fixed in stable, nonreactiveand therefore unusablemolecules of biochemical waste.

Stronger electron pullers and donors could also break up the waste of earlier systems. Step by step, everstronger electron pullers and donors were included into the living structures, as the easily available electrons in the mineral resources of Earth were used up, and as waste accumulated in which these electrons were bound. Being stronger, these strong electron pullers were able to extract the much scarcer electrons from the environment, inserting them into the system to form molecular bonds. In these stronger, more stable bonds, they could also retain those electrons longer.

In contrast, metals that easily donated or exchanged their electrons were increasingly being utilized by developing early lifeforms. Sometimes, stronger pullers and donors replaced the former, weaker ones in the same reaction mechanisms. Thus, the overall evolutionary trend was toward using elements that form increasingly stronger bondsthat is, toward lesser reactive, more stable molecules. Such molecules, however, often constitute the waste of living systems as well.

So because their waste products are nonreactive, living systems produce more and more chemical waste. This applies to each organism individually, but its waste serves as food for another organism, which means. The componentsthe species to which the individal organisms belongare interchangeable, whereas the flow of nutrients and energy persists. Therefore, the species do not necessarily keep each other in numerical balance, as is often presumed, nor do they necessarily adjust a specific carrying capacity that they together establish.

Species come and go in space, rise and decline over time, or evolve and die out independently of each other over the ages. As we will see, their numbers can grow and then crash without any regulatory control. And despite part of the nutrients is scraped off from the biospherical cycles, forming thick geological strata and mountains of biological waste, the grand flow of material and energy kept running uninterruptedly over billions of years, even intensifying over the eons. We can also look at the problem in a different, more general way, now contrasting human resource use with the biological use described above.

One point that Ive mentioned several times is important in this respect: the energy flow is continuous and linear, whereas the flow of nutrients forms cycles. I have shown why we can say that the energy stream shaped the molecules, the chemical systems within cells, and therefore the organism. If we combine these two observations, we might say that actually our food is not about the nutrients themselves but about the energy the nutrients contain. The chemicals, the nutrients, are carriers of the energy. They go around in cycles as long as possible, so that as little as possible is needed to keep the flow of energy going.

And they are conservative energy users; the chemicals are kept within the system as long as possible. Thus, the energy flow is primary, and the flow of chemical nutrients is secondary, subordinate to it. This contrasts with our use of chemicals and energy; when we want to build something, we use some energy to achieve that end, and produce some unusable waste, which, in principle, is chemically stable.

This puts our own processing schemes in a completely different perspective: all our efforts are directed toward material resource use and, consequently, toward the production of material waste. We want the energy and dont bother about the chemical waste. In contrast to what happens in biological processes, in all our efforts we use energy as a means to an end, the end being a nondegradable structure. We would not dream of building a skyscraper or an airplane or even a chairfrom easily degradable materials. This means that the destruction of such structures requires energy, often the maximum amount possible.

In contrast, in a biological process, the continuation of an energy stream requires molecular structures and processes releasing as little energy as possible and which, moreover, fit into some material recycling scheme. Therefore, the very stable compounds we make later require huge amounts of energy in order to be reincorporated into a recycling scheme below. So in this way we lose both materials and energy, whereas biological processes are very economical with both. Cradle-to-cradle schemes usually omit this aspect of the energetics of the process, concentrating on its material side.

Exactly the same processes of resource depletion and waste production as those seen in the biological world have been going on in the last few centuries of human historyonly much worse. As a result, we are now on course to exhaust the fossil fuels that supply us with energy and many petrochemical materials, such as plastics, pharmaceuticals, paints, and herbicides, without which our society cannot function.

And by using up the minerals, the soils, and the forests, we have produced a vast amount of waste in the form of garbage and pollution of all sorts and sizes in our immediate environment and the oceans, and of gases such as carbon dioxide in the air. Although adaptation has often taken millions and millions of years to happen, life has been able to adapt by evolving new life-forms, always utilizing new resources and reusing natural waste.

And we cant. Part Two Ongoing Processes in the Human Population The origination and maintenance of any system requires energy, biological or societal. In order to feed, our most basic activity to which all others boil down, we need a sufficient agricultural system. This system itself depends on a large supply of energy for pumping up water, for the production of fertilizers and other chemicals, as a trading and a transport system, as a financial system for making payments, for keeping the value of money under control, and so on.

All these systems individually require energy and material, as do the necessary interactions between individual people. Moreover, they show a dynamic of their owna dynamic beyond the control of humans. I Population Growth and Its Limitations Populations tend to grow, and they do this at the expense of their environment by exhausting their resources and by polluting them with their waste products.

Eventually, shortfalling resources and pollution can result in the population crashing to low numbersor to their total extinction. In chapters , I describe a number of these processes. In the chapters in the section The Growing Problem of Mankind, I concentrate on population growth itself and put this in the context of responses that are meant to cure the effects of the higher numbers but that both stimulate further growth, often even enhancing the rates of numerical growth.

These responses are improvements in agricultural production and the beginning and expansion of industrial production. Recently, both processes have come together and have also fused with financial systems forming agribusiness systems, even at the corporate or the state level. The chapters in the section Exhausting and Wasting Our Resources describe direct exhaustion and waste, whereas the following section, Exhausting and Wasting Our Environment, does the same for our environment on which we more loosely depend.

Making this difference does not mean that the latter processes are unimportant, but they can operate over longer periods of time. For example, consequences of a shortage of energy make themselves felt as soon as its sources finally run out, whereas air pollution and its consequence, climate warming, builds up over. Still, at present, climate warming is of major and growing concern and can destroy large parts of Earth so that the persistence of human life and of life in general, if not the whole Earth, is at stake.

And deforestation, though covering centuries or millennia, can speed up this process of climate change. A The Growing Problem of Mankind A pivotal factor for the future of humankind is the number of humans present on Earth; as this number is already too high, any countermeasures against future threats should concern this number in the first place. As it is pivotal to anything else, we will concentrate in this section on population numbers.

Imagine, you go into your bathroom one morning and see some water on the floor. And you find a tiny little hole in one of the pipes. Not too large, but still, it has to be fixed.

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Luckily, you know a handyman, and yes, he can come over immediately. Unfortunately, he doesnt have a piece of replacement pipe with him, but hell think of something. After some time, you go and see what he has done so far, and you find a real mess: water all over the place, spouting out of big holes, the man splashing around desperatelyat the very moment you come in, hes sawing into one of the few remaining parts of your pipes. What he has done was take out a piece of good pipe to replace the part with the tiny hole with it.

But this left him with a bigger hole in the other part of the pipe. Hed repeated this procedure several times, each time taking out a bigger piece of good pipe from some other part to make good the hole hed made himself in the first place. He was fixing a hole by creating a bigger one. A similarly disastrous repair job has been going on during the last couple of centuries of human history, or, perhaps, throughout our whole history. And, worse, in our case, the holes in the pipes kept on growing while the handyman worked. Two growth processes, one on top of the other: the growth of the size of pipes needed as replacements, plus the growth of the holes.

A plumbers worst nightmare. The handyman must have been desperate indeed. And so should you. You can find what has been happening in any book on the history of agriculture. As always, when you take something out of a bowl, say, less remains in the bowl. So, when you harvest your crop of wheat over a good number of years, the soil becomes exhausted, and the next harvests are somewhat The remedy is to put back some nutrients into the soil by manuring. But the livestock need to be fed in order to produce the dung you need, and so you have to add on some grazing land to your plot of arable land.

Each animal, however, needs more land than one member of your family. This land, in turn, also becomes exhausted over the years, because you are removing the nutrients from it to put them on your arable land. One of the next measures you can take is to leave the land lying fallow for one or more years, but this means that youll harvest less. So to harvest the same amount of food you and your family need, you have to extend your arable and grazing land. And then theres another problem: only some of your livestock can be kept over the winter, because all that time they have to be fed on hay, which requires more land to grow it in a favorable season.

So, in the fall, some livestock have to be slaughtered. At some point in history, farmers found they could plant their fallow land with fodder crops beets, clover, and grass, for example so that the livestock didnt need to be slaughtered in the fall. Actually, more animals can now be kept grazing on the former fallow land, producing more meat, as well as more manure for the arable field. And this means that more people can be fed. But all these extra people also have to work the land and have to be fed, and so on.

Youre filling one hole but creating another. The system adopted is a growth system, and we are still applying it. We need both population growth as well as material and energy growth to survive.


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