Friday, November 26, 2021

When I was in college, I thought we were running out of natural resources

In my college years of the mid 1970s, I thought civilization's biggest problem was that the earth was running out of resources. The 1970s energy crisis was in full swing. Gas lines, the OPEC oil embargo and US oil wells running dry.

I thought we were also running out of minerals. Mines being depleted.

I thought my future would require a lot of innovation, some of it making life healthier; such as bicycling and public transit. Some of it technological; such as solar power.

I underestimated the ability of us to develop new mines for minerals, use technologies; such as fracking, to continue oil production, use conservation and substitutes to keep prosperity going.

I still remember a lecture, I went to, with some off campus expert. He was talking about the future and I brought up a question, from the audience, about us running out of resources.

The person giving the lecture answered that that we could find a way. New deposits of minerals would become economically viable, depleted forests could be replanted and so forth.

Then he pointed to his bald head and said, "the main thing we have to worry about running out of is the will to innovate and a belief in the future."

To a large extent, he was correct. Shortages of the 1970s gave way to more surges in global prosperity.

Back then, I wasn't thinking about climate change, however. Climate change is the main worry we face today, rather than running out of resources.

Back in grade school, I saw a film, about weather, named "Unchained Goddess." It had a segment on polar icecaps melting due to our carbon dioxide emissions and Florida being under the ocean. That movie and that one segment is on YouTube today. Film made in 1958. I saw it several times in 1960s.

The problem must have been pretty far in the future, back then, so it was more of a theoretical topic. I didn't make the connection, or worry much about it till the 1980s, when Al Gore started talking about global warming.

We'll see if we can innovate our way out of this problem along with the other limits on planet earth that are still here. Limits that are somewhat like movable boundaries.

One of our problems is simply running out of land. Yes, there is still plenty of open space in places like Wyoming, but some of that land is needed for things like bird migration, watersheds, mining and so forth.

Our cities and infrastructure keeps getting more crowded and taxed. Traffic seems unsolvable, unless maybe we have a radical change toward embracing public transit, or something like more work from home.

We seem to be gridlocked in many ways, including the rise in real estate prices near cities. In my college days, I would have never imagined that single family homes, in so many places, would be around a million dollars apiece.

Part of this problem is pushed by low interest rates making land purchase too profitable. Also our lack of densifying neighborhoods in our metropolitan areas to accommodate the population growth.

Population growth was seen as a big problem, back in my college days, as well.

Maybe we can still point to our heads and say, like that lecturer in my past, the answer and the limits are up here.

Better late than never, we still, most likely, need to curb things like greed and population growth. We also need to be open to change and innovation.

No comments: