Posts Tagged ‘natural resources’
This is an encore Green Builder’s Journal entry discussing the definition of sustainability. It’s from 2011 and it’s still valid today.
So I left off last time with the word “sustainable”.
If a house, or a neighborhood, a City, or even a Nation, had an unlimited supply of energy, then in theory the demand for energy wouldn’t really matter. Scarcity is eliminated in a world where energy is unlimited, therefore the house, or the City, or whatever, “sustains” itself. It has zero affect on natural resources because nothing is being depleted in order for, whichever entity were talking about, to function.
The idea of anything that REQUIRES energy to function being able to PROVIDE that same energy on its own, is the pure definition of “Sustainability”.
Today, for the most part, the energy required to run our homes comes from electricity and natural gas. Natural gas is obviously a natural resource, and although it doesn’t seem to be limited in supply, clearly it is. At some point in the future the planet will simply run out of natural gas or it will be cost prohibitive to keep looking for it.
Electricity, on the other hand, has to be generated. Although wind and water can generate electricity in almost unlimited supply, most of the electricity we use today comes from coal and oil based generation sources. Coal and oil are obvious natural resources and unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last 50 years, you’re painfully aware of the fact that neither is available in unlimited supply.
By the way I should expand the definition of the word unlimited to include the word “free”. In Economic terms, something is truly unlimited, if and only if, its supply is never ending AND its cost is essentially zero. That’s why I say the Sun is an unlimited supply of energy. Its never ending (except at night) and its free. No one owns it, has a license or lease on it, nor is it difficult to harness. Its just there.
So you can see where I’m heading here.
If the free and unlimited energy from the Sun can be used to generate the electricity we need to power our homes, than not only would we not need to use coal or oil, but we could eliminate the need for natural gas as well. It wouldn’t matter how much energy we demanded to operate our homes because the free and unlimited supply of energy from the Sun means there is zero cost and 100% sustainability for each and every home, neighborhood, City, or Nation that adopts this VERY green strategy.
But is that really true? Is energy the only real aspect of our modern lifestyles that requires natural resources?
I think we know the answer to both is NO.
Next time I’ll explain why.
This is an encore Green Builder’s Journal discussing the topic of natural resource depletion and sustainability. It is still valid today.
So last time we defined “green” as any effort or strategy undertaken to reduce the demand of natural resources. Any effort. Any strategy. Any natural resource. It’s that simple. You can put the label of “green” on any effort or strategy that achieves the goal of reducing demand on any natural resource. I repeated it on purpose to emphasize that when you hear the word “green”, you should ask yourself; how does this reduce the demand on a natural resource? If it doesn’t, it isn’t “green”.
Of course the interesting fact about this “green” movement is that even if the entire world took a “green” stance tomorrow all it would actually do is stall the issue of natural resource depletion. Think about it. Its math. Demand obviously grows with population. To illustrate, let’s use simple numbers, say that today one hundred people use one hundred trees, or one tree per person per year. If everyone adopts “green” behaviors and cuts the average use to a half tree per year, yet the population doubles to two hundred people…..well then one hundred trees still lose their lives every year. Even though we can say we’re all “green”, we’re still headed for natural resource depletion; in this case trees. We just delayed the process because I’m pretty sure we’ll keep adding to population.
Seems like a good time to introduce the term “sustainable”.
Actually before I do that, let’s talk about natural resources. I know we all remember from grade school geology, biology, chemistry and geography what a natural resource is (unless you slept through those classes), but what do we mean by natural resource in this context? Well, virtually all the “stuff” in our lives started as a natural resource. Yes there are some man-made chemicals that have enhanced our lives, but for the most part everything we see, smell, taste, hear and touch started as a natural resource. Trees, water, coal, oil, gold, copper, etc are examples of natural resources. As humans, we’ve used natural resources on their own, and in combinations, to create virtually everything in our lives. For thousands of years, the ratio of humans to natural resources was so low, no one really cared about using as many natural resources as they desired because it was incomprehensible that a planet as large as ours could actually run out of what appeared to be an endless supply of natural resources.
Of course it was probably as equally incomprehensible to those early humans that eventually there would be six billion of us. Guess what? There is. Not only that, but it only took 34 years to go from three billion to six….and best guess is about another 25 years to double again to 12 billion. That ratio of humans to natural resources I spoke of, has done a massive flip flop to the point where I don’t think any one of the six billion of us is dumb enough to think that pace can continue unabated. In other words we can’t “sustain” the level of natural resource depletion that this level of population increase will demand. Or can we?
Which takes me back to the word “sustainable” But I’ll save that for next time.
So last time we learned that, as humans, our everyday lifestyles and consumption require the use of natural resources. Natural resources are not available in unlimited supply. Therefore, over time, the use of them depletes that supply and eventually we simply run out. “Green” was defined as ANY activity, ANY strategy, that lessens the demand on natural resources. But being “green” is offset by population growth. Demand on natural resources STILL goes up because the amount of people goes up even if each person cuts their individual natural resource demand in half by being “green”.
So in reality, living “green” only delays the problem. It doesn’t solve it.
But what it does do is give all of humanity more time to determine what DOES solve the problem.
Talking about solving the problem begins and ends with the word “energy”. Everything we do, from blinking our eyes to changing a tire to the actual making of the tire itself, requires energy. Basically, if something changes, some sort of energy was involved in that change. Interestingly, if you follow all of life backwards far enough, and every change that has ever taken place on earth, you end up with the ultimate source of energy for life on our planet.
Over billions of years the energy emitted by the sun has been converted into everything we are. And by “we” I mean everything thats alive. From plants and bugs, to the cast of Jersey Shore and all other forms of bacteria. It all came from the Sun. As all life evolved, it eventually made it to humans. As humans evolved, our intelligence improved to the point where we actually figured out how to harness energy from natural resources other than the Sun. The idea of scarcity and that there were limits to the supply of natural resources wasn’t an issue. Now we know its a big issue. The perfect storm of the increasing energy requirements for our modern civilized lifestyle has combined with the increasing population of people wanting to live that modern lifestyle to make the “green movement” less a luxury and more of a necessity.
But as i said being green doesn’t solve the problem, it merely delays it.
To solve the problem we need to go back to utilizing our original source of energy, the Sun. Because, although I haven’t mentioned it and, in reality, it’s kind of obvious, the Sun is the ONLY source of energy on Earth that is unlimited. It won’t ever run out. Supplying enough energy to operate a modern civilzed society of an ever increasing amount of people WITHOUT depleting the supply of natural resources creates a “sustainable” environment. In other words if the supply of energy equals the demand of energy AND supply is unlimited, then theoretically demand could be unlimited, and the environment would “sustain” itself.
But I’ll have to expand on that next time
So what does “Green” mean? I find it interesting that it seems to be human nature to define something, and then broaden the definition so much that, over time, no one really knows the true definition. Or they end up with their own definition. Take the word “celebrity”. It used to be easy to define “celebrity”. One had to be talented and famous. Today you don’t have to be either. Pretty much any goofball with a gimmick or the right connections can be labeled a “celebrity”. Over time the definition has broadened so much it’s become essentially subjective.
“Green” suffers from the same problem. So to actually blog about “green” building, I feel I need to define the term as City Ventures sees it, so readers won’t apply their own definition after years of having the definition broadened so much that the term is meaningless. I saw an ad for a “green” diaper the other day and one for a “green” detergent. How can a diaper be “green”? For some reason it doesn’t seem plausible that a diaper can be “green”, a detergent can be “green”, and a house can be “green”, and it certainly doesn’t seem plausible that they all three mean the same thing when they label themselves as “green”.
So let’s define “green”.
As an Economics Major 100 years ago, I learned about the term scarcity. The whole basis behind Economic theory is that ALL resources on Earth are scarce and the study of Economics is how those resources get allocated amongst people. That’s called Economic behavior. Natural resources are no different than manufactured resources or service resources. They are scarce, meaning there is not an unlimited supply of them available. The demand for natural resources relative to the supply of them results in their price. As global demand for natural resources increases with population growth and supply decreases with resource depletion, the price goes up. It’s bad enough that the price goes up but the bigger issue is that eventually the supply runs out. In that case there is no price that creates equilibrium between supply and demand. The resource is gone….. and once it’s gone, it’s gone.
It doesn’t take much of an education to figure out that at the present rate of natural resource use, combined with the assumed rate of natural resource use as the worlds developed population dramatically increases over the next few decades, means demand of natural resources will eventually ELIMINATE the supply. Sounds a little extreme. But is it? Do we really think we can continue to use natural resources forever? It’s not logical.
“Green” is defined as any effort or any strategy undertaken to reduce the DEMAND of natural resources. Any effort. Any strategy. Any natural resource.
I need to expand on this subject further in the next blog as we’ll get into terms like sustainable and LEED certification. Plus I need to define “Green Building” . But that’s it for now.