Time to recognize resources limited

(This letter was published in the Chapel Hill News, 13 August 2006)

Thanks to the teachings of science, our children regularly report to us that Earth is round and finite in space-time. Easy enough.

Then, why is it that grown-ups with responsibilities for ensuring a good future for the young deny one of these facts?

While there is a clear consensus among young and old alike that the planet we inhabit is round, many functioning people in the world believe and act as if Earth is somehow infinite, not limited in its capacity to perpetually fulfill the needs and wishes of the human species. This widely shared, specious thinking of many too many people, including most adults, supports the idea that the Earth is a sort of cornucopia, a seemingly endless provider of whatsoever human beings desire. Our relatively small planet is treated by many too many people like an ever expressive teat at which the human species continuously and eternally can suckle.

Take the example of the world’s supply of oil. Children see that the oil supply must be limited because the Earth itself is bounded not boundless. In these times, the young ones recognize that older folks are rapidly building oil rigs everywhere on the surface of Earth, draining fields of their petroleum and then voraciously consuming it. Nonetheless, many people continue to consume the limited oil supply as if there must surely be no end to it. Given the requirements of practical reality, why are there not electric cars and trains taking us where we need to go? Where are serious economic incentives for limiting profligate oil consumption and promoting the development and use of alternative fuel sources? The interlocking decisions of world leaders to consciously overlook and not protest the current massive depletion of the Earth’s oil resources appear both irrational and irresponsible.

It took millions of years for the oil reserves to form, thanks to God. And in the span of my lifetime it appears a few generations of careless human beings, now numbering over 6.5 billion, are resolutely “sucking up” the lion’s share of the planet’s petroleum capacity. If we old-timers simply keep doing what we are doing now to maximally expand oil production for immediate consumption, what resource base in petroleum will be left for our children and coming generations to this good Earth?

Steven Salmony, Chapel Hill

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