13 November 2012

The end of the world?

How long can we go on treating the Earth as an endless provider? There are limits to our resources and we're in the middle of an explosive increase in their rate of use. Are there too many people on this planet? What will happen if we go on like this?

Too many people using too many resources?
Well, maybe not the end of the world, but perhaps the end of the world as we know it.

Hurricane Sandy and other natural disasters around the globe make us ask the question, 'Why?' We want to know why things like this happen. It's a natural enough question. It's tempting to think it's not our fault, that disasters happen randomly.

Storms like Sandy do indeed happen randomly, but their frequency and severity are increasing because of human-induced global warming. But where will it all lead? That depends, and it depends on you and on me.

The size of the problem - To get to grips with this we're going to need a broader and more thorough view of the damage we are currently wreaking on poor old planet Earth. Indeed, we've already gone beyond the planet by making a good start at messing up low Earth orbit, now so littered with everything from flakes of paint to spent rocket stages that it could easily become unusable.

We need to grasp that we have not only messed up but that we are continuing to mess up faster and faster. And the almost inevitable result will be an enormous population crash from disease, lack of food, ecological collapse, war, severe climate change or some other catastrophe, or more likely a perfect storm of several major issues in synergy. And the longer we go on doing little to make things better, the more serious the disruption will be.

It's comforting to think that somehow, sooner or later Papa will reach into our world and repair it. But it's more likely that he foresaw the mess and is waiting for us to fix it; he gave us the responsibility and he's warned us repeatedly. But we weren't listening. And we're still not listening.

I'm 65 next birthday and have begun to think of my life as something that will soon be winding down and ending. This is natural, of course. But I am also starting to think of human society as we know it in much the same way. And, not unreasonably, we can even see the universe itself like that if we choose to.

The way forward - We're in a far bigger pickle than most of us realise. And our biggest problem (because to a large degree it causes all the rest) is overpopulation. That's the dark picture painted in outline.

After the crash there may be an opportunity for something new and better. But that is not something to consider right now. Instead let's begin work right away. What is needed? Why, the fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

It doesn't sound much of a solution to global warming, does it? But if we truly loved one another we would not be willing to leave such a mess for the next generation. And if we had a little more self-control we might walk and cycle instead of taking the car, demand fewer gadgets, waste less food. If we were really patient, kind, faithful and gentle how might that affect the way we behave?

What we can do - We do have a choice. If we start now we can make some major changes. It's far too late to prevent global warming but it will warm faster and to an even more dangerous level if we delay still further. I would identify population growth and industrial growth as our largest enemies. They are the root cause of pollution, carbon dioxide release, loss of habitat and natural diversity, species extinction and the rest.

The alternative is to carry on as we have done before, stopping our eyes and ears to the signs of looming disaster. Let's leave it for another generation...

Let's be clear. Advances in technology can help us but we will need to be careful about our choices. Where technology can reduce wastage and support more people for less impact that is a good thing. But we need to use this good thing as an opportunity to reduce our impact, not as an excuse to increase our numbers and consumption.

In the longer term there is only one route for further expansion - outwards. There is still room for growth in space - perhaps on the asteroids, Mars, or the Moon. But Earth is more than full already.

We're demanding far too much of our planet. Stop it! Now!

Questions:

  • What do you think will happen if our population and consumption continue to grow?
  • Many small changes make a big difference. Are there ways you could save a little energy, food or other scarce resource?
  • Are there ways you can apply pressure to your local or national government to be less concerned about growth and more focussed on reducing our impact?
  • If we don't act today, how long should we wait?

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