Sustainable – the condition of utilizing or consuming resources without ever overwhelming or depleting them.
All living organisms on earth with the exception of man unknowingly obey Darwin’s theory of Evolution. All other organisms are self regulating. Each organism consumes a narrow range of resources useful to it within its range of travel. As these narrow resources become over-consumed the species starts to starve resulting in higher mortality rates and lower reproductive rates due to unhealthy conditions thus pruning its population. Other species which depend on different resources are marginally affected unless they happen to be the resource consumed. Thus no other organism has widespread impact on the environment due to their limited mobility. Total extinction of species are rare except for sudden changes to their environment such as catastrophic natural disasters as occurred when a large asteroid struck earth some 10 million years ago and caused the mass extinction of the dinosaurs or is now quickly happening at the hands of man. Otherwise organisms slowly evolve to adapt to subtle changes in their environment over thousands or tens of thousands of years.
Man on the other hand has global impact due to his mobility and enormous need resources. That is because of man’s ability to create his own environment by consuming an enormous variety and amount of global resources just to build and maintain these communities. In the process he produces polluting byproducts which poison the environment locally and often globally due to its shear volume killing off organisms that inhabit those environments including, to a certain extent, himself. In addition to this double whammy medical science has made it possible to reduce the mortality rate of young, defective, and weak human beings to such an extent that his population continues to increase from 1 billion in 1800 to over 7 billion today in a little over 200 years and there is little letup as it increases by almost a billion every 15 years (see Graph below). This is both phenomenal and alarming as each additional person requires more resources to be harvested producing polluting byproducts. In three generations into the future the population will double resulting in not be enough resources on earth to sustain such growth likely triggering something catastrophic to happen.
It wasn’t until the middle of the last century before the concept of sustainability was developed when a few scientist realized the consequences of population growth upon the earth’s resources. The problem is that not everyone believed these scientist. More than 60 years later the concept of conservation of energy and resources to improve the sustainability of our existence has gained border support but it is by no means universal. Political conservatives in the United States still do not believe that sustainability and green house gas emissions is a problem or anything man can control. So as a nation the U.S. has not made sustainability or greenhouse emissions a national priority.
But there is another far more sinister factor that needs to be dealt with, that of the relentless and unsustainable population growth. I have written previously about it in the posts The Mother of All Problems that No One Wants to Deal With and The Ultimate Superbug. Regardless of how mindful we are about the consumption of resources we will always need more resources. If we do not get it from some other extraterrestrial source then it will have to come from earth. We also take up space on this planet. We can go underground or build tall structures to inhabit but again these all utilize earth’s resources.
Because of man’s relentless ability to procreate and sustain life far more than his ancient ancestors his population is growing out of control. In 100 years the population will at least double. Something must be done to curb this growth. As medical science and sanitary conditions advance globally our population growth will continue to accelerate. Defying the laws of nature as we do will, in the end, result in our demise. The problem is that it might also mean the end to most, if not all, life on earth. It is a problem that we must start facing now as unpleasant as it is and it must be viewed globally.