An easy, affluent life means taking la dolce vita for granted. This is especially true when it comes to the basic necessities, such as food, water and medical treatment. All are accessible to most people with moderate incomes in the Western world.
Many people living in advanced nations don’t consider the consequences of their inconsideration, freely throwing away food and wasting gallons of water by allowing leaky faucets to drip. Or, perhaps, spraying down driveways and sidewalks to clean a few dead leaves instead of breaking out a rake.
The population of humans around the world has risen considerably over the past few decades. The human race now numbers around 7 billion. Many of these new world citizens want the same things that their parents had. In some cases, such as denizens of India and China, a wave of sudden prosperity has resulted in a burgeoning new middle class that clamors for the luxuries that the richest countries on earth have enjoyed for nearly a century.
This new, all-time high demand for fine food, drink and other commodities have resulted in an impending scarcity of certain products that appear to be difficult, if not impossible, to prevent.
The agave plant is the source of tequila. It’s a liquor that already tends to be a bit more expensive than other comparable types of spirits.
But in recent years a variety of crop failures, as well as a shift in the economics of farming in Mexico, have reduced the amount of agave cacti available to be turned into the delicious alcohol.
Unfortunately, solving the shortage isn’t as easy as planting a whole bunch of agave cacti. In addition to being notoriously difficult to plant and grow, agave plants can only be turned into tequila when they reach their twelfth year. Thus, a recovery would take more than a decade to complete.
One of the great mysteries surrounding bees is the colony collapse disorder. The phenomenon results in the complete disappearance of any trace of adult bees in a colony… Including the bodies of any deceased bees.
Instead of a healthy hive, there are only immature bees, some honey and a queen bee that rules over a rapidly unsustainable queendom.
Beekeepers have reported a reduction in their colonies of up to 90%, which not only affects their livelihood, but results in a devastation of crops that require pollination through industrious bees. A singular cause for CCD hasn’t been pinpointed, although fungus, mites, pests and changes in habitat appear to increase the probability of this occurrence.
Ignoble use of this noble gas has resulted in a serious plummet in reserves of this common commodity.
Most people are familiar with helium as a source of floating balloons and a sure-fire way to draw laughs by altering vocal cords to create hilariously distorted voices. Helium is also vital for many advanced technologies that we take for granted.
It’s essential for the production of magnets for MRI machines that monitor injury and disease. It’s also used for fiber optic cables that enable quick communication over vast distances, and LCD TVs and monitors that diffuse the latest news around the world.
Helium is still cheap despite its emerging scarcity, thanks to the United States congress, who determined that the U.S. reserves should be sold off at rock-bottom prices.
Chocolate is one of humanity’s favorite treats and can be found pretty much anywhere civilized society exists, including in 7-11’s around the globe.
Despite its ubiquitous presence, the cocoa bean is notoriously difficult to grow. It requires about five years to complete a crop, and involves work in incredibly hot climates that can’t be outsourced to machines.
Even worse, the majority of cocoa is farmed in an area of Africa that utilizes slave labor or at best pays pennies for a full day of labor. Moving production to a different part of earth is also difficult because the bean only tends to grow close to the equator. As a result, real chocolate – that which contains cocoa butter – will likely become prohibitively expensive.
6. Sweet Light Crude
The easiest type of crude oil to process into high-quality petroleum and energy products is sweet light crude. It has a sulfur content below 0.5%, as well as low levels of carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide.
When the first wave of oil companies extracted crude from the earth, the sweet, light stuff was the low-hanging fruit – easy to access as well as inexpensive to develop. Fracking shale projects have swept across North America due to the fact that all the easy oil is gone, making it more cost effective to blow up rock formations and trigger earthquakes rather than probe deeper into the wells.
As sweet light crude supplies dwindle, energy companies will no longer have the luxury of processing the easy stuff, and will instead be stuck with sour, heavy crude with way more impurities.
If you’ve ever been scanned by medical equipment, there’s a good chance that you’re responsible for the consumption of technetium-99m.
This isotope is ideal for non-invasive medical procedures that require readings that are more than skin deep. Technetium-99m releases a brief, less harmful type of radiation compared to other isotopes used for imaging and diagnostics.
However, technetium-99 only lives for about half a day, so there’s a constant need to replenish this vital substance. A recent shortage outlined the potential scarcity of this product, as only one company in North America produces the isotope. The company hasn’t been producing at full capacity for almost half a decade, increasing healthcare costs while decreasing the quality of service.
The sardine population is heavily dependent on the water temperatures found around the Pacific ocean in which they spawn. A temperature fluctuation caused sardine breeding to dive during the 1990s. Fisheries responded by increasing their production goals, capturing increasingly larger yields of sardines instead of carefully protecting the species.
Recently, an entire fleet of Canadian sardine ships returned from an annual cull with absolutely nothing, instead of tens of millions of dollars of the fish.
Recovery of the species will likely take decades, making this popular commodity a candidate to become a luxury.
Without fertilizers, it’s extremely difficult to grow enough food to feed humanity as a whole. A vital part of the production of fertilizers is phosphorous, which may run out in a few decades as production levels of phosphorus begin to decline due to lack of new phosphate rock discovery. In fact, the price of phosphorus jumped by 700 percent in one year during the late 2000s, with demand steadily increasing along with the world’s population. The only remaining large reserves of phosphorus are located in Africa and Russia, with the only alternates being absurdly expensive extraction projects from seabeds or harnessing phosphorus from our own urine – like Sweden has started to do.
Considering the common presence of wine around the world, there appears to be little hint of any disparity between supply and demand.
However, in terms of global consumption, the wine industry is going through a lack of supply. The world is now short by about 300 million cases per year, slowly draining wine reserves around the globe.
While overall consumption has risen, the production of wine has dipped significantly, by about 5 percent in 2012 alone. This is most notable in Europe, where the continent has experienced a 10% drop in production. Much of the blame is placed on bad weather in Argentina and France, and production is unlikely to recover anytime soon.
1. Fresh Water
One of the most common but precious commodities is water. However, concerns of an impending shortage are beginning to emerge in places all around the world. California is experiencing a prolonged drought, and large cities around the U.S. are heading towards major water shortages.
This has prompted leading speculators like T. Boone Pickens to invest in large amounts of this “blue gold”.
Internationally, India is struggling against Pakistan and China while Israel has defended attacks against its water supply against the rest of the middle east.
Nestle, one of the biggest food companies in the world, has publicly denied that water is a human right, recently purchasing the rights to large amounts of water from Canada – a country with the some of the largest reserves of freshwater – at extremely low prices. All this activity points to a future in which people can no longer take water for granted.
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