I hope that the previous sections have provided some clarity of a range of impacts related to our use of fossil fuels. I know that in general, I brushed over various subjects, rather than explain the cause and effect to any great degree. This is because a number of other blogs has already done this work. I also included all the references, so that it’s easy to venture back for further detail. In this way, although I developed an argument of a world in trouble, I didn’t want to dwell too much on the bad, for there are many opportunities for a prosperous and bright future. The following section is the heart of this series. Gaskins et al. (2007) found that people who were already ill were more likely to have a better diet than those who were not. I guess in the same way, I hoped in the previous sections to demonstrate that we are sick, ecological systems that we rely on are sick and ignorance in the face of a changing world is likely to exacerbate the illness. The first issue I’d like to address is very much like an overweight patient sitting before the GP, who has just been told that their high energy, heavily processed diet is leading them straight to type two diabetes and chronic illness. Does the patient refute the GP’s qualification on the advice of the questionable Monckton (for instance) and continue an unhealthy diet (ie. “you can’t prove beyond a doubt that I’ll get sick”) or does he take the message on board?
New heavy consumers
Recently I asked a question on a blog I’ve been following for some time now which alone caused an unexpected backlash. I totally agree with many points made (largely that the next phase of mass energy will come from generation III and IV reactors), however, the point was made that environmentalists believe that the best low-carbon solution is to simplify to a less consumer orientated society; that this was unrealistic. I certainly don’t disagree – the way forward is not to head backwards. However, (this being the point that caused the explosion of attacks) why shouldn’t efficiency remain part of our future, even if the power supply is abundant without the environmental impacts of fossil fuels?
The anger that I faced largely came in the form of, “don’t force you’re ideology on me and force me to use less energy… Why should I? There’s an amazing amount of radioactive material to exploit?”
Around the point I was “ousted” as a “hairshirt green”, I figured that I was unlikely to get a reasonable response and moved on. Later on, I’ll look more into my reasoning for this question, however, at this point, I want to focus on the reaction I received and a look at the consumer.
The weight of the situation
The World Health Organization (WHO), projected that, in 2005, over 1.6 billion people over the age of 15 where overweight. This, WHO suggests, could double within a decade . The reasons WHO associate this with are both poor diet (heavy in sugars and fats while low in vitamins and minerals) and increasingly sedentary lifestyles . While this used to be a concern of more affluent societies, it is a rising problem among all socio-economic groups , which would suggest that poor diet is the cheap and readily available. In other words fast food.
It is natural to assume that the energy consumption per capita would relate to the general standards of living of people within that society. However, in the US, the consumption of energy per capita is roughly twice as the average of a country within the European Union (EU) and yet this does not equate to greater standard of living – using a number of socio-economic indicators, the US actually falls behind the EU nations average standards of living (Smil, 2009). It was argued (in the discussion mentioned above), that this is the result of how different the transport system is in both regions and modifying them would be improbable. It is clear that in many people in cities of the US spend more than 30-40% of their yearly income on transportation , however, this is certainly causes by a combination of urban-city travel (cheaper housing, but increased travel costs), unnecessarily large vehicles and frequent solo travel.
Water too has been treated as an all too abundant commodity, where copious amounts of energy are used to pump it from location to location, treated to drinking standard from where it is as likely to be drunk as it is to be flushed .
The criticism thrown at me largely regarded such things as trivial when the nuclear age takes true hold; as energy will be lead to many generations of cheap and abundant without the pesky issue of CO2 emissions. We can expend the extra energy to make nitrogen fertilizers by other means, water security will no longer be an issue, high product turnover rates seem more viable, etc.
I argue, how far does this go? Will processing food and liposuction be so cheap an easy that we won’t need to worry about agriculture and fitness? Will the ecological services we obtain from nature become relics of a simple past; so much so that concern over biodiversity loss becomes at best a hobby? Will our ability to condition the atmosphere be so great that forests in general can finally be cleared to make way for more human habitation, with nothing by parks as distant reminders? Will we be become so complacent that when the day finally comes, however centuries hence, that this wonderful material is finally spent, that we are unable to use the grey matter in any imaginative fashion to find a solution to a world so fundamentally changed and deplete of useful energy?
If efficiency can only marginal at a personal difference, that still a bonus. The real goal of efficiency should be to keep on our toes and keep wondering how we could improve or do things differently. Constant improvement could mean the difference of a millennium of nuclear power or much much more. It could also lead to the development of technologies unimaginable at this point in time. It would almost certainly address a need to relate with our local flora and fauna for the sake of mental and physical health.
When you have a man in his 30 using a personal scooters as transport, solely because his lifestyle has led to him being unable to walk further than to his letter box and the sheer bulk is enough to cause stress to his heart, or technology with an average lifespan of a few years you cannot help but wonder what the real costs are with the cheap and easy energy supply and how we tend to use it without thinking.
The, “just ‘cos it’s there and easy,” is without a doubt the root of unsustainable lifestyles.