by Gerry Barker
No matter what our philosophical or political leaning, there are changes coming that we cannot avoid. For example, global warming is real. Whatever the cause, it is here. It is going to change our lives, whether you are liberal or conservative. To deny that is simply deliberate stupidity. If we are to make intelligent plans, we have to have a clear picture. I am looking at global warming, peak oil, over population, pollution, globalization and outsourcing. The changes are interrelated. What we need is to examine current trends and what they tell us about the future.
Having mentioned global warming, let’s start there. A graph of temperatures for the last three centuries shows that since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution our world has been warming. The reason is immaterial. So is the question of whether this is a natural cycle that has happened in the past. What is important is what this is going to do to us. It will lead to more violent weather. Hurricanes and typhoons will increase in frequency and severity. We will see a greater number of disasters in the future. It is going to alter agricultural patterns. Deserts will enlarge. Droughts will occur in areas previously well watered. The locus of food production will probably change. Food prices can be expected to increase. In under developed regions, look for growing starvation. This could overflow into developed nations through destabilization, wars, and political extremes such as dictatorships and fundamentalist theocracies. Famine will assuredly fuel the current waves of migration from third world nations. Look for more, not less, illegal immigration. Pestilence would be another result, with a resurgence of epidemics originating in famine stricken areas. The sea level will rise, displacing people and it will certainly endanger most of the world’s most populated cities. This is not a future thing. This is ongoing, but the disasters will grow in severity.
The world is depleting its energy resources while the demand is increasing. Those who believe in “peak oil” think we have a real crisis on our hands. The Central Intelligence Agency published an unclassified study analyzing the probability and effects of decreasing oil supplies. Some estimates are as drastic as forty years of oil remaining, a century of coal, and twenty years of uranium. I make no estimate on time, but in the very near future the price of oil, and therefore everything that is affected by oil prices, will increase dramatically. The increased price of gas at the pump is only the tip of the iceberg. In the last gas crunch, consumer prices for foods and material goods increased by a greater percentage than gas. It is not simply transportation costs. The food we eat has been engineered to rely upon fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides that are petroleum based. The plastic packaging we are addicted to is made from oil. Our clothing, polyester, is an oil product. It is hard to find a part of our lives that is not tied to oil. People look to alternative energy sources to fill the void. However, we had a clear wakeup call in the 1973 Oil Embargo. Forty years later, we are more addicted to oil than ever. When oil prices do rise drastically, we will see a major change to our economy. Food is going to take a higher percentage of the average family budget. There will be a decrease in the demand for material goods, especially capital items like automobiles. The series of recessions we have seen in recent years will congeal into a true depression. Unemployment will rise and property values drop. We do not have more than a couple of years before this is a major factor in our lives.
The other resource that we are going to find in short supply is fresh water. Certainly this is a crisis tied to locality, but it affects large numbers of people and can have a destabilizing effect on a much larger population. At present, water is being brokered by a number of multinational corporations. This may not be a wise way to manage it.
Our planet currently hosts six and one half billion people. Based on availability of food and other resources, waste disposal, disease, and quality of life, some scientists believe the carrying capacity of the Earth is about two and a half billion. We are experiencing a population disaster and seem oblivious to it. One huge result of this is the drain on resources, exacerbating our other problems. We are engaging in wars to secure oil fields. There are more people in the way of hurricanes. There are more people starving. This is the root of the present mass migration. The demographics of the world’s nations are changing, with attendant problems such as social unrest and extremism. We see this in the United States today, but this is not just a North American problem. The developed nations of the world are being swarmed by immigrants, legal and illegal, from the third world. Overcrowding and famine have destabilized their home countries. The result is they look for a safer place. And, we make it worse. Exporting our chemical based agricultural technology is forcing out Mexican farmers who then become illegal immigrants here. Under the Bush administration, all international aid that supported birth control in any form was eliminated. We can expect to see immigration continue. Already the course is apparent. The United States will become a white minority country in just a few years. A result may be that unless we develop another political party, we may have a one party political system. The Republican Party has so alienated the non-WASP population that their days may be numbered.
We pollute. If we do not stop, we will poison ourselves out of existence. Overpopulation contributes, but our technology produces huge amounts of industrial waste for the products we consume. For example, the cinder piles at coal fired power plants are toxic. There is nothing that can be done with them at this point that will not harm the environment, especially water sources. The waste, largely carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, poured into the atmosphere daily is astronomical. Our thin atmosphere cannot absorb it. Something as nonessential as packaging is a major contributor. We now pack everything in plastic of some kind. This uses countless barrels of oil that we need elsewhere, and then the plastic become a problem in waste disposal. You cannot walk in a national park or forest without finding a windblown shopping bag. We do not reuse, our recycling is primitive and we will tear a building down and replace it rather than maintain it.
Globalization means many things. There is an interdependence now that has not been there before. Worst, we have an immense capability for mutual destruction. We need a United Nations. Our race is violent, and it is only a matter of time before some maniac detonates a nuclear device. Hopefully a more united world will limit the destruction. With the other challenges facing this planet, the probability of a series of small wars in the foreseeable future is high. How long before one of these escalates into a nuclear exchange. We are a part of this planet, and we need the support of the majority of the other nations.
Americans have a misconception on our role in this world. We are a cultural and military leader, but we no longer are the richest nation on the planet. We are not the largest donor nation in the world and have not been for some time. We have alienated most of our support through our belligerence and crude attempts to control other countries. Our position of world leadership is declining, and we have done this to ourselves in just ten years. Now that it has started, we will see this trend continue.
There are other sides to globalization. The world is becoming westernized. People in almost every culture in the world copy our model. They want our creature comforts, music, art, freedom, and material culture. To some religious groups this is a threat. Certainly this fuels some of the animosity toward us by Islamic fundamentalists. We cannot discount the possibility of a world Muslim/Non-Muslim war.
Another alert should be on outsourcing. We created this by our belief in free trade and unregulated business. Our industry sought outsourcing to make greater profits. Our consumers support it because we get cheap “Wal-Mart” goods. It is destroying us economically and eventually we will not be able to pay for even the Chinese imports. This will eventually kill the very businesses that have outsourced because countries like China and Pakistan will not continue to export profits to American corporations when they can take the businesses over and make the profits themselves.
What we are looking at is not the end of the world. It is a changing world. It is going to be a tremendously more expensive world. There may always be gas for cars. But only the very rich and the governments will be able to get it. Our personal economic structure is about to drastically change. I think we could see terrible internal unrest. The suburbs will become slums. We may be a hungry country. We must reinvent public transportation. And, I am afraid we are going to see even more violence, wars over oil and destabilized nations such as Somalia. The longer we delay preparing for these changes the worse we will be hurt by them.
We are destroying this world. Our Judeo-Christian attitude and abuse of this planet and the species placed on it is horrendous. If God made us stewards of his creation, we should be ashamed of ourselves. We have willfully destroyed it. This is going to severely impact our ability to adjust to the changes. Our soil, water, and air are being depleted and poisoned. With our factory produced, plastic wrapped diet; we are going to have a hard time just feeding ourselves if oil becomes more expensive. This may actually be the most dangerous of all our problems.
Willful ignorance seems to be the order of the day. Apparently our plan is to ignore the problems until they overwhelm us. Conservatism is ridiculous under the present circumstances. We cannot go back in time. If we are to survive, we have to find ways of coping, adjusting and using the present trends. Liberal doesn’t work either. Maybe we need a new term, perhaps Realist. There are ways to make the best of these challenges, but they need a complete change of mindset. We cannot do as George W. Bush said and go out and spend for the good of America. We need to go back to the frontier ethic of doing everything for ourselves that we possibly can. We need to have a subsistence economy that recycles and reuses everything. We need to be realistic about our energy use. But, most of all we need to get our heads out of the sand.