# By Robert Bériault PEAK OIL AND THE FATE OF HUMANITY Chapter 7 – How We Got Ourselves Into this Situation.

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By Robert Bériault PEAK OIL AND THE FATE OF HUMANITY Chapter 7 – How We Got Ourselves Into this Situation

How did a seemingly intelligent species like yours get into this mess?

The problem, in a nutshell is that: Humans as a general rule, aren’t familiar with the concept of I=TAP

Impact on the environment = Population (how many people) Affluence (how Much money we spend) Technology (how many processes, tools and goods we use) I = TAP xx I PAT It is a beautifully elegant formula:

T echnology multiplied by the effect of A ffluence multiplied by the effect of P opulation The I = TAP formula (pronounced: “eye-tap”) is the multiplier effect on the environment ( I mpact ) of:

I = TAP You can reduce the Impact if you either: Resort to more manual labour (less Technology) or Spend less money (less Affluence) or Reduce the number of people (in other words, less Population) or Any combination of those three

Paul and Anne Ehrlich tried to explain this wonderfully simple and logical formula in 1968. People refused to listen. The Erlichs referred to the phenomenon as I=PAT

You’ve lost me Robert. I’m no good at formulas. Can you explain this in simple language?

What this formula says is that the factors T echnology, A ffluence and P opulation aren’t added to each other but they’re multiplied by each other. I = TAP Impact = Technology X Affluence X Population

The extraction of resources for the manufacture of TV sets, their packaging, transport, their operation and eventual disposal have an impact on the environment, right? Here’s a concrete example of technology… I = APT

I see what you’re driving at. The more TV sets are made, the more the impact, right?

Exactly! Now lets look at the three elements on the right hand side of the equation. I = TAP

Today the Impact on the environment is about 6.5 times what it was in 1960 Think of this: when TV sets didn’t exist they had no environmental impact! 3.6 million 24 million Number of TV sets in Canada First, we’ll start with the T, T echnology factor I = APT

Affluence means more TV sets When people have more money, it means more TV sets, which means more environmental impact. Buying a TV set in 2003 took 11 times less of a Canadian’s income than in 1960. A TV set cost 11% of a 1960 salary A TV set cost 1% of a 2003 salary I = T P Second, we multiply by the A, A ffluence factor A Cost Relative to Wages

Population increased by 1.7 times A 74% increase in population meant a 74% increase in the number of TVs… …and a 74% increase in environmental impact. There was a 74% increase in the Canadian population between 1960 and 2003 I = TA 18 million 32 million P Increase in Population Third, we multiply by the P, P opulation factor

I think that an understanding of how we got into this situation can be useful in seeking solutions, so bear with me.

Soil erosion Water contamination Loss of biodiversity Death of pollinators Deforestation Habitat destruction Atmospheric pollution I = TAP

Every invention, every improvement to our homes or work places adds to the “T” part of the equation. I = APT

Technology started with the invention of fire and stone axes and has culminated with space exploration. All inventions increase humankind’s effect on the environment. Waorani Indian of Ecuador cuts tree with stone axe I = APT

Perhaps we haven’t recognised that we are animals like others: Diagram from: www.nrcs.usda.gov/.../ land/pubs/ib5text.htmlwww.nrcs.usda.gov/.../ land/pubs/ib5text.html Humans are organisms – subject to the laws of nature. The artificial environments we have built for ourselves and the machines that we created have distanced us from the natural life-support systems that are essential to our survival. Our technology ignores the laws of nature. Those laws of nature will inexorably catch up with us. I = APT

Like other large carnivores, human beings are at the top of a complex food chain. All the organisms in an ecosystem interact to form a web of life that is self- sustaining. http://sofia.usgs.gov/publications/fs/16 6-96/fig1.html I = APT

The destruction of one of the links of the chain can have serious effects on the entire chain and on other parts of the web. Humans have been breaking chain links without understanding the impact this might have on the whole web of life. I = APT

Changes occur too slowly for us to recognise them Humans are like the frog in a pan of cold water. The pan is placed on the stove burner. As the water warms up the cold blooded animal doesn’t feel the incremental heat. The hapless thing will stay in the pan until it boils to death. I = APT

Growing cities, minerals, pollution  Growth of a city, with its crowding and pollution, is imperceptible from one day to the next.  We don’t notice that the easy resources to extract are gone and only the harder-to-reach ones are left.  Some important changes, such as mercury pollution cannot be detected by the senses and we must trust the scientists’ instruments and knowledge. Growing cities Poor yield copper ore Poor yield copper ore Mercury pollution I = APT

Like the frog… However, like the frog, we fail to notice incremental changes. Therefore the “T” part of the equation keeps on increasing. I = APT

It’s a complicated world and it’s difficult to obtain definitive information We can’t prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that global warming is caused by human activities. So those who have a vested interest in the status quo have campaigned very effectively against any greenhouse gas reduction. With regards to the oil peak, information has only recently started to reach the mainstream. I = APT

Perhaps we have not assessed the risks adequately: If there is a 10% chance of global warming causing sea rises that would flood coastal cities and cause hundreds of millions of people to lose their homes and workplaces, that is a huge risk. Most scientists would bet that the odds are much greater than 10 to one. I = APT

The more money you spend (the more affluent your are), the more resources you consume. I = T PA

It’s remarkable that almost everybody lives up to their income. Those earning \$30K live in a small apartment and spend all their salary. Those earning \$200K live in a McMansion and spend all their salary. I = T PA

Most people spend all they earn (and even go on credit). Nobody ever seems to have too much money. Translated: People don’t seem to to be able to stop accumulating possessions or improving their lifestyle. I = T PA

Affluence is not just buying an SUV. It’s convenient to single out SUV owners as being the bad guys. I = T PA

Aren’t SUVs the worst vehicles on the road?

It’s being able to afford a Canadian house or apartment. It is being able to buy consumer items. It is being able to pay for a holiday. SUVs consume a lot, but affluence is not just buying a big vehicle. I = T PA

The tragedy of our world is that… …it is perfectly logical and rational for an individual to go on an expensive holiday or to buy a luxurious house if he or she can afford it. I = T PA

We are opportunistic beings, so it doesn’t seem logical for an individual to deprive him/herself if others aren’t. For more insight on this problem, read:”The Tragedy of the Commons”, Garrett Hardin I = T PA

Nobody has come up with a solution to reducing the “A” part of the equation. Preaching poverty hasn’t worked I = T PA

Whenever more people are born than die, we add to the “P” part of the equation I = TAP

Our powerful reproductive instinct: The reproductive instinct explains why:  Pubescent boys have wet dreams and romantic thoughts induce vaginal lubrication in girls.  Barren women of 40 pine for a baby.  Men ogle women’s buttocks.  Men and women purposefully burden themselves with raising demanding children. I = TAP

Humans are naturally divided into groups, whether based on religion, language, or race. When there exists no natural difference, they create artificial divisions or clans. Every one of these groups needs to increase its numbers, thereby contributing to the “P” part of the I=TAP equation. I = TAP

Controlling population Controlling population goes against the reproductive instinct and against religion. I = TAP

Very intelligent, well meaning, well-known environmentalists have been concentrating on the “A” and “T” parts of the equation to the total exclusion of the ever-growing “P” part. “The Human Element” here does not refer to the humans that are overpopulating the Earth. It only refers to what humans can do to reduce “A” and “T”. I = TAP

The I = TAP formula requires that we cut back on all three factors. But it goes against the grain for humans to voluntarily reduce ANY one of these three factors. Harsh measures would be required to reduce our technology, to earn less money and to exercise population control. Intellectually we know this to be true. On an emotional level we can’t bring ourselves to make any but very superficial changes. I = TAP

Chapter 8 will look at what might be the consequences of peak oil and overpopulation. Click icon for Chapter Choice

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