In 2011, just 12 years after the globe’s population hit 6 billion, the world’s 7,000,000,000th person was born. Over the next century humanity is going to be faced with a series of crises, some of which we will overcome naturally, and others which have the potential to decimate the population. The level of resources required to support, feed, clothe, and entertain 7 billion people is close to unimaginable but the sustainability charity ‘World Footprint’ puts our conundrum succinctly when they write that ‘humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste… if current population and consumption trends continue, by the 2030s, we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us.’
Below we’ve listed just a few of these resources which are in decline; some are more serious than others, and some are frighteningly more imminent than others, but each of these items is fast running out. In the decades to come we will look back on the wastefulness of the past century, as we are forced to change the way we live our lives.
You’ve probably heard about the problem of the disappearing bees, as speculations about causes and projections of potential consequences have been in the press a lot recently. The phenomenon of colony collapse disorder, or CCD, refers to the moment when bees leave the hive and rather than coming back, they simply disappear.
Some academics think this is occurring as a result of global climate change, and a few others point to atmospheric electromagnetic radiation from phone towers; however most believe that the loss of bees is linked to the use of pesticides. Whatever the reason, we need to reverse it soon, as bees are responsible for 80% of pollination worldwide and without them humanity could starve.
In 2012 Britain’s National Pig Association warned the world that a global shortage of bacon was now “unavoidable.” Since then, bacon has remained a staple of breakfasts everywhere, and most people have written this claim off as melodramatic. However, the problem that first led to these fears hasn’t gone away as the price of pig feed continues to rise. For the moment, the result of the shortage is limited to price increases of around 5-10%, but that doesn’t mean it won’t get worse.
It’s a well known fact that the world is 71% water. But when you take into account the fact that 97.5% is stuck in the oceans, and a further 2% is (currently) locked up in icebergs, glaciers, and icecaps, this means that around 1% of the world’s water is drinkable and easily accessible. As a result, 1 in 7 people (over 1 billion) lack access to clean water.
A few months ago a Guardian report stated that the US security establishment is ‘already warning of potential conflicts – including terror attacks – over water.’ Though this may seem laughable (especially if you’re living in one of the many areas that suffered from this year’s floods), scientists and the people in power are taking this very seriously indeed.
The scarcity of oil is no secret. Humans have been drilling oil to fuel our activities since 1859 and by this stage almost 20 million barrels are consumed every day. In 2008 BP released a report stating that there were over 40 years worth of continuous supply remaining, but this claim was heavily disputed. Large repositories of oil continue to be discovered, but most people believe that we reached ‘peak oil’ in the early 70s, and that we will have to turn to increasingly expensive, sophisticated and even dangerous methods of extraction to meet demand.
Growing the cocoa bean (the main ingredient in chocolate) is both time and labor intensive, and can only take place within 10 degrees of the equator in countries like Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, which produce more than half of the world’s cocoa. In the past, cocoa has been mainly produced by workers who are paid tiny wages, sometimes taken from their native lands – often children.
The average cocoa farmer only earns 80 cents a day from his crops, and as the tide turns and fair trade laws are enforced cocoa is set to become completely unprofitable. Some wild estimates put chocolate at the same price as caviar within two decades, and though this is on the extravagant end of the predictions there’s little doubt that the future of the chocolate industry is uncertain and best and severely threatened at worst.
In the 1920s, America decided that Helium – which was at the time used in airships – was a highly important resource, and one which could make the difference in times of war. As it turned out, airships weren’t that great for warfare, and the billions of liters of gas which the country stockpiled before the war were hardly touched until the 90s, when the government decided to sell it all off and flood the market, bringing the price right down.
Although helium is very common, it is still difficult to come by on earth. Because of its cooling properties Helium is used to prevent a range of devices from overheating, from MRIs to the Large Hadron Collider, but because of the gas’s current price we are squandering it on balloons and squeaky voices.
The global production of wine peaked in 2004 when the industry produced a surplus of 600m cases. Since then the world’s wineries have been in decline, and by 2012 demand exceeded supply by 300m cases. Aside from a small drop in consumption at the time of the financial crash the consumption of wine has been on the rise since the late 90s, with fast growing markets in the US and China. Unfortunately, Europe has been unable to take advantage of these trends as years of bad weather and ‘vine pull’ schemes have meant that wine production is down almost a quarter since 2004.
Between 2006 and 2008 the price of phosphorus (which is used in agriculture, and is essential when it comes to soil fertility) spiked 800%. It is thought that by 2035 demand will outgrow supply, and if tensions continue to escalate between the west and China, which holds a large proportion of the planet’s phosphorus, then the stream could dry up even sooner. Without this resource feeding the 7 billion + people on the planet is going to be extremely complicated, and the agricultural industry will have to develop entirely new methods of food production.
The blue agave plant, like the cocoa bean, is a crop that in recent years has become increasingly less lucrative for the Mexicans who have traditionally produced it. Many of the farmers have now started growing corn instead of blue agave, and as a result the production of tequila – for which the plant is a key ingredient – has taken a nose dive.
Things have gotten so bad that the larger tequila producers have started stockpiling the liquid in preparation for the inevitable increase in price. It is probable that when the plant becomes more sought after many farmers will return to the crop, but because the plant takes over a decade to mature there are going to be several years during which the price of the golden liquid will soar.
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