To help decide that, we have to answer a few other questions. Are we talking about individuals or as one country as compared to other countries? There’s also a big debate about whether or not if we have reached carrying capacity as a species. Carrying capacity is the maximum number of individuals of any one species that can occupy an ecosystem without destroying that whole ecosystem. There are lots of people who say we’ve grown past the exponential, are just starting the equilibrium phase where our population is more stable. Others say we have gone beyond our capacity, and without using more space, power, resources, somehow we are going to hit starvation. A third camp is that of course we have gone past our carrying capacity. The claim is that we went past from world wars and the increase in wartime babies, in the U.S. generation known as “Baby Boomers”. But we pushed it further by developing fertilizers, pesticides, and genetic engineering of plants to produce more and higher yield crops for the same acreage of space.
If we look at countries as opposed to individuals, we can discuss developed as compared to undeveloped. Developed countries tend to have more overconsumption issues in terms of taxing the earth whereas undeveloped countries tax the earth by number of offspring. The first issue is the number of cars on the road. The carbon that goes into the fiberglass, the glass for the windows, steel in the body framework, oil and other fluids as well as other materials in the making of the car is a huge cost to the earth. Not only is it that the cars and cars’ emissions, but it is also the roads themselves. Not only are the cars and roads major carbon footprint, but also building houses. There is the demand for natural resources in the building of houses in the United States. For example, for a typical average American family where there is a mom, dad, and then 2-3 children would have a 4 bedroom house, 2 bathroom type house structure. To make this house and others like it costs the planet quite a bit.
There are economic and cultural reasons for using wood so much more than other countries who use brick only. The U.S. has so many trees, it’s actually more expensive to make brick homes. There’s more labor involved in brick-making as well as laying the mortar. Culturally, when pioneers first came to America, there were even more trees then and every home was made of wood. In some of the Middle East and other countries, the climate tends to be warmer and not require insulation. In many parts of the U.S., it can be bitter cold in the winter, so even if someone uses the materials for brick and mortar in the U.S., layers of wood on the inside promote the insulation, thus keeping the cold weather out of the home. The use of trees and other materials to make a home in the U.S. can lead to tremendous costs to the planet, especially with so much material being used for a smaller number of individuals per building.
As compared to a typical family in a country like Nepal, the American family consumes more oil and gasoline in our oil-based economy. Everyone of the technological gadgets such as personal computer (PC), laptops, ipads, specialty type phones, TV’s with HD, kitchen tools and equipment, and so on… all require power source of some kind. This power is taken from the earth in some fashion. The more tools we have plugged into the electric outlets the more we take away from the earth.
All of these tools and the stuff we used to power up our tools have to come from somewhere else on our planet. There’s a basic rule of life that matter is conserved. Stuff doesn’t just magically appear. In the physical world, whatever had started in the whole of the universe is what is still there as the universe has evolved. So we all originally come from stardust, just transformed in some way. Matter is conserved.
We as a species consume the planet, ripping out the innards (via quarries and mining). Over the years, different books have tried to awaken others to describe cautionary tales, such as Carson’s The Silent Spring, where he writes on the connections between pesticides and physiology of animals in the ecosystem. Chemicals as poisonous as DDT made changes in physiology of the eagles who ate of the fish from DDT-laden water sources. The shells of the offspring were so thin, that when the mom bird would sit on the eggs, it would just crush the baby eagles..
So, if we aren’t careful about the materials and energy sources, we could end up having some troubles – maybe not in this generation, but certainly down the road.1 comment