Sunday, January 10, 2010

Game Changers

From the novel, Grotesque, by Natsuo Kirino:

“In the farming villages of China there are over two hundred and seventy million people, more than the arable land can feed. The farms produce only enough to support a hundred million, fewer than half. Of the remaining hundred and seventy million people, about ninety million work in local factories. The other eighty million have no choice but to head to the cities to look for work. At the time this influx of surplus labor was referred to in China as the Blind Flow. Now of course it’s known as the Pool of the People’s Workforce. But blind flow better captures the reality of a desperate people groping about in darkness, struggling to follow the beacon of light glittering off the money available in the city.”

To one degree or another, this same scenario plays out in every nation on Earth. It’s the reality of an increasing global population and too little of everything to go around. Consider these sobering facts:

According to the Earth Clock, in the first 10 days of 2010 (ending at 12:00 midnight on Sunday), the global population increased—at a rate of about two people per second—by over 2 million, pushing the total global population above 6.8 billion people. During this same time period, CO2 emissions continued to spew into the atmosphere at roughly 1,000 tons per second, for a ten-day total over 750 million tons.

In the first 10 days of 2010, more than 700 species went extinct, roughly 350,000 hectares of forest were cleared, and global desertification increased by more than 160,000 hectares.

The oil depletion timer (shown in the Earth Clock’s stats column) tells us that known oil reserves, declining at a rate somewhat faster than 1,000 barrels per second, will run out in slightly less than 40.8 years. What it doesn’t tell us is that, for all practical purposes, oil (read transportation fuel) will become unaffordable for most people in less than half that time. What this means is that most people who now drive will soon be walking, riding a bike, or taking public transportation; it also means that most people who now fly commercial air will soon be making other transportation arrangements. Any way you want to look at it, oil depletion is a game changer.

Another game changer is global climate change, which will bring about food and water crises as it makes its presence felt in all areas of the world. Water is the lifeblood of our planet, and everything depends on its availability. Sudden—or even gradual—changes to local weather patterns will have devastating effects on agriculture and many other economic activities, and cause mass migrations (or die-offs) of most species living in the affected areas. Future wars won’t be fought for access to oil; they’ll be fought for access to water. And food. The coming food fights will make anything you did in your high school cafeteria look well mannered and positively civilized.

These, then, are the game changers that all of us must learn to live with—or die with, as the case may be.

Welcome to the future.

Q >>>