Our North American way of life has been created and is dependent upon cheap fossil fuels, in particular, oil. As predicted by M. King Hubbert, we have now reached or will soon reach “peak oil” - the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline. The rush to “peak oil” will increase as world demand increases. The potential ramifications of “peak oil” will dramatically change the global economy and our way of life - transportation, agriculture, habitation and industry.
Concurrent with “peak oil” is the dramatic effect that burning fossil fuels - oil, coal, propane and natural gas - is having on the global climate. Human activity is raising the overall temperature of the planet with undeniable effects. Living in Canada, the signs of global climate change are obvious in the reduction of arctic sea ice, increasing melt of the Greenland ice sheet, increased release of methane from the permafrost, and warmer winters as temperature rise is greater than at the equator.
As population increases, the amount of productive farm land decreases due to urban expansion and fertility depletion. The planet offers a finite amount of resources to sustain current human activity. Finite limits have not yet been met only because of the economic disparity between nations. Wealthier nations are increasingly consuming larger amounts of resources while poorer nations live on meager and diminishing resources. The resources of the planet are not adequate to allow all nations on the planet to consume resources at the current rate of the most developed nations. Human “sustainability” has already been surpassed, yet we still talk of the need for continued growth.
The economies of the western countries - both Europe and North America - have experienced significant instability beginning with the 2008 United States housing bubble implosion (how far behind is a housing bubble in Canada?) and now the Euro crisis in Europe. Governments have shown an inability or unwillingness to confront the imperatives of peak oil, global warming (Europe doing better here), increased exploitation of natural resources, and inequality between nations.
As individuals, we may not be able to significantly impact the world on the macro level, but we do have the ability to affect our impact on the planet within our local communities, neighborhoods and homes. In order to survive as a species, we must live our lives in harmony with the natural parameters of planet Earth.