We live on a finite planet: there is only so much "stuff" we can consume before it runs out. This is true not just for oil but for things like potash for agriculture and molybdenum for computers and aircraft. While we can often find replacements when resources become too scarce or expensive, these increasingly come at greater environmental and social cost — and finding enough of any resource is increasingly difficult for an exponentially-growing global population. Plus, there is no "away" where we can throw things on the planet: municipal landfills fill up, toxic substances leach into our soil and groundwater, and even small bits of plastic accumulate in the ocean.
Fortunately, human history is full of examples of highly-developed civilizations living in balance with their available resources. And in the modern world, we know how to create many things we need from renewable resources, and change manufacturing processes so that little is wasted and much is easily reusable or recyclable. As with so many other 21st century crises, it's a challenge not so much of technology as of political and economic will.
PCI Board Member Nate Hagens made this presentation at Minneapolis College of Art and Design on July 10, 2014.
Nate is a well-known speaker on the big picture issues facing human society. Nate's presentations address the opportunities and constraints we face after the coming end of economic growth. His talk, The Converging Environmental and Economic Crises: A Pep Talk For Those Paying Attention offered suggestions on how society might better adapt, physically and psychologically, to what's ahead.