Energy, Food, Demographics and the Future of Humanity (Part 1)

With earth getting close to inhabiting 8 Billion people – many of whom are demanding more food and energy than ever before – firms and governments are looking for new ways to manage the growth in demand. Yet, as some commodities like coal are replaceable by new energy techniques, others which are essential to all living mechanisms, are not. And while a revolution is happening in the energy sector, few technologies are really harmless.

Chapter 1- Demographics

Until the 19th century, our ancestors ate what they hunted; meat could not be stored so reproduction depended on the weather (a bad harvest meant fewer babies). Population growth was linear. The 19th century brought the industrial revolution which changed the way we saw food and energy. Food was now mass-produced, meat could be stored and wealth started to increase throughout the world. Life expectancy jumped from an average of 30yrs in the 18th century to 55yrs in the 1960s to 75yrs today. Population growth exploded from 500 Million people in the 16th century to 6 Billion in the 20th century.

Today 7 billion souls roam the earth (don’t try counting to 7 Billion it would take you 200 years). The world reached 1 billion by 1800, it reached 2 billions 130 years later and, it took it 30 years after that to reach 3 Billions. To go from 6 to 7 Billion it took only 12 years!

World-population-growth

This extraordinary and maybe unnatural explosion in population supplemented with an increase in life expectancy has eaten into earth’s resources. The challenges of continually feeding and producing energy for such a large number of people have certainly put a strain on our planet.

life_expectancy2

Lately, fertility rates have been crumbling all over the world, women are having fewer babies, population growth is slowing and might even start to decrease by the end of the century. Developed countries like Germany and Japan (Japan sells more diapers for adults than for children; a testimony to how old Japan’s population is) are growing older and pressuring young generations to work more. The consequences of having an old population are economically and socially disastrous; health care costs become astronomical and innovation decreases with an older population. Should a reduced population be the norm or can earth feed us all at no cost?

Experts forecast that phosphorus, an essential element for life, used in fertilizers, is quickly being depleted with no substitute. Oil, which is more expensive and harder to find today than in the past, is set to be replaced within the next 100 years. Nuclear power is a cleaner alternative to oil until it is not. Solar farms face big challenges in terms of storage and costs that are still much higher than traditional energy sources. Natural gas is hailed as a saviour; however, the consequences of drilling it are still widely unknown. The world needs clean energy and it needs a lot of it!

Whether we end the century with 6 or 10 billion people, should not deter us from the righteous path: Clean and efficient excavation of food and energy constituents.

Georges Boustany

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