A Context for Personal Action in a World of Pressing Climate and Environmental Issues

What if, by some miracle, the problems of global climate heating are solved, and harmful greenhouse gases are eliminated. If so, the nearly universal goals of the nations of the world remain to increase goods and services everywhere, to...

support healthier and longer lives, and to make it easier to travel more and farther--even to Mars. But all these activities still require energy, whether sourced from fossil fuels; nuclear fission or fusion; hydro, solar, or wind power; or hydrogen cells.

Ah, there’s the rub. All useful energy, whatever its source, ultimately leads to the consumption of earthly materials. Additionally, the extraction and disposal of the waste both for producing energy and of providing more goods and services, places huge demands on the Earth’s land, waters, and biota. This results in greater disruption of already endangered natural ecological networks such as biodiversity and oceanic pollution.

An even greater problem is that human population now exceeds 8 billion and is projected to reach nearly 11 billion in 2100  (It was only a little over 2 billion when I was born. It reached 4 billion--half of today’s number in 1974, 6 billion in 1999.). However, no untapped agricultural lands and irrigation waters are available; and new agricultural technologies which temporarily refuted Malthus’s gloomy projections have run their course.

The most dramatic agricultural innovation of the last decades has been the “green revolution,” which depends on fossil fuels as fertilizers and results in the depletion of the organic character of natural soils and in extensive monoculture of a few crops. Thus, we must again consider Malthus’s major thesis today. Can food production and distribution keep pace with continued population growth? Can 11 billion people be supported by new agricultural technologies? Are, grazing lands, water and soils for growing food still adequate? Possibly more important, is there still time to implement new “green” technologies before millions, maybe billions, of people starve?

The big question remains: How will we face the future? I believe that within the next two or three decades, catastrophes of a magnitude and frequency, almost unimaginable today, will occur. And the lives of every person on Earth will change radically in unforeseen ways. Ultimately, each of us must ask our self how can I express my deepest human feelings when the world’s ecosystems, in which I am deeply embedded, are collapsing around me? 


Al Urquhart

Al is an Emeritus Professor of Geography and was a founder and director of the Environmental Studies Program at the University of Oregon.


Editor's Notes: 

  1. In addition to Malthus's gloomy projections, the book Overshoot also helps explain our food growing and population crisis.
  2. This page at Job One for humanity explains the challenging future we and all ecological life face. It describes all climate emergency issues, and the 11 other major global challenges humanity must resolve.
  3. Potash is needed to make fertilizer to grow food. The primary world supply comes from Canada. It has about 1 billion tons accessible in its mines. It also ships about 70 million tons a year. That means they will run out in 14 years! After that, no viable options for potash for globally manufactured fertilizers are known.
  4. Another somewhat related article by a Texas professor also speaks to the tumultuous challenges before us on the climate and ecological front. This article is not for everyone because it uses some religious terms to frame the emergency we face in new and interesting ways. While the Job One climate change think tank does not have anything to do with any religion or religious terminology, the surprise terminology used in this article cleverly expresses the predicament humanity faces in new, both encouraging, and discouraging ways. If you want to see the world's climate and environmental emergency from a unique and intriguing perspective, click here for this article. This article has helped motivate essential volunteers at Job One to keep plodding along on the near-impossible task before us: fixing the global climate change and ecological extinction emergency. If you get by the first 1/4 of the article, it gets quite good.

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