The transition movement was founded in the recognition that modern civilization is rapidly reaching critical points in three unsustainable choices. These three have been termed peak oil, climate change, and unstable economy. We should acknowledge that our current technology is founded in multiple unsustainable choices. Here we desire to review the major unsustainable choices that will impact our civilization over the next generation or two. Our goal is to identify the challenges. We will leave it to other pages to discuss potential solutions.
Transition's Big Three
- Peak Oil – Multiple lines of evidence indicate that human oil consumption is currently (between 2001 and 2020) at peak oil consumption. As we pass the peak we can expect prices to rise as supply diminishes. During this time societies must make rapid transitions away from dependency on cheap oil.
- Climate Change – with the increased use of fossil fuels carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have increased significantly. We are already seeing evidence of shifts in heating patterns, as well as rainfall patterns, around the globe. Evidence exists that food production and sensitive ecosystems are already being compromised by these changes.
- Debt-Growth Based Economy – Economists say that economies can maintain debt so long as they are growing. But multiple factors, including peak oil, will limit the growth of economies in the near future. When the economy stops growing debt becomes unsustainable. As we look at our unsustainable choices below, we will see many factors that will limit growth.
As we adjust to the limits already identified by the transition movement we must also adjust to limits other limits identified by various scientists and mathematicians. We will list major examples below.
Social & Economic
Beliefs and attitudes lead to behaviors that unsustainable. We should review both the behaviors and the attitudes that lead to those behaviors.
- Population Growth – human population will eventually be limited by food production or access to clean water. Our current systems of food production and distribution require access to large amounts of cheap energy.
- Dependence on powered transportation – our infrastructure and zoning laws require us to drive for almost everything we do from commerce to recreation. Most of our goods come to us from great distances. Fuel costs will greatly impact transportation.
- Failure to sacrifice for the long term – Every generation must make some short-term sacrifices for the long-term benefits of the next generation. This includes everything from planting fruit and nut trees to investing in sustainable energy. Our economic system rewards short term gains and makes long term choices risky.
- Zero-sum games –Many of our economic practices involve the willingness to pass real costs to others, or willingness to profit at the expense of others. This includes everything from downsizing and leveraged takeovers to pollution.
- Expansion of wants – Our culture contains many aspects that expand our wants including advertising, convenience, and status games. But increased wants costs both the environment and the individuals.
Modern industry has given humankind a great wealth of comforts and luxuries. But many of the production methods come with serious long term costs for future generation. We will need to quit passing the costs of today’s comforts onto tomorrow’s children.
- Water acidification & mercury– various processes, particularly CO2 emissions, increase water acidity. Acid water interferes with some forms of ocean life. Acid water also leaches mercury and other toxic heavy metals out of the bed rock.
- Salt –Salt build-up reduces biological productivity of farmland and rivers. Various human activities, particularly salting icy roads, and irrigation contribute salt to the environment.
- Toxic Metals – Various technologies emit toxic metals into the environment. The metals persist there impacting life for long times. Burning coal emits mercury and radioactives into the atmosphere. High tech batteries leach lithium and cadmium and other metals into the rivers. Various other industries dump chromium or other metals into ground water.
- Artificial organics & Estrogen mimics – Production of synthetic materials, such as plastics and pharmaceuticals, gives off many unusual organic (carbon-based) compounds. Because these compounds are similar to those found in animals and plants they are easily absorbed and effect health. Many of these emissions are estrogen mimics and effect reproductive health.
Modern agriculture has led to the largest increase in food production ever supporting the largest human population ever. However, many of the methods currently used have long-term consequences or high risks that will eventually reduce food production.
- Monoculture – Monoculture increases the ease of harvest, but also increases the rate at which disease spreads, depletes specific nutrients from soils, and can lead to concentrations of certain wastes. Monoculture has been the primary factor in various past famines such as the Irish potato famine. Monoculture leads to overdependence on antibiotics, pesticides, and herbicides.
- Nitrogen Cascade – Nitrogen is necessary for plant growth. But overuse of nitrogen fertilizers can lead scenarios that actually kill off plants and animals called the nitrogen cascade and dead-zones.
- Over irrigation – Irrigation from wells depletes ground water. Eventually aquifers dry out or become too costly to continue using. Irrigation from rivers can lead to salt build up in the soil reducing farm productivity.
- Antibiotic overuse – Overuse of antibiotics leads to the rapid evolution of superbugs creating greater disease challenges in the future
- Pesticide overuse – pesticides kill beneficial insects such as pollinators. Some pesticides can reduce productivity of the desired crops, and some cause illnesses in humans. Some build up soils, or concentrate in the food chain.
- Herbicide overuse – overuse of herbicides is leading to rapid evolution of superweeds that crowd out the crops we intend to grow. Some herbicides have toxic effects on animals or weaken the very crops we are trying to protect.
- Developing Farmland – prime farmland is frequently turned into real estate for economic reasons. With an increasing population we can no longer afford to develop prime farmland.
- Overfishing – In many regions we are removing fish from the ocean faster than they can repopulate. It can take an entire generation of fishing bans to replenish depleted fisheries.
- Peak Oil: TA Energy Group
- Dependence on Powered Transportation: TA Transportation Group
- Food Production: TA Food Group
- Water Usage: TA Water Group
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