For thousands of years, humanity has subscribed to the doctrine: "Be fruitful and multiply." Thus there are almost six billion human beings now crowding the planet. But when it comes to the Earth's life-sustaining and basic natural resources, an addendum would read: "Now, divide." Since 1600, the human population has increased from about one billion to nearly six billion. The increase in the last decade of the twentieth century exceeds the total world population in 1600. The explosive population growth and the spread of affluence in the last few decades have put tremendous pressure on the planet's natural resources. Unlike wildlife, forests, and people, the world's fossil fuels and minerals are limited and finite. They can only be used once.
Conservation by definition implies preserving something for the future. Currently, humanity operates as though all resources are for use now for the present generation. Occasionally, significant efforts are made to conserve and protect wildlife, a lush forest, or a scenic river. When it comes to non-sustainable, non-renewable fossil fuels, however, it's a one-shot deal. Whatever is not used this generation is left over for the next. If future generations follow in our footsteps, they will also take what is available to them. Since the most accessible and higher grade energy and mineral resources tend to be consumed first, the remaining resources will generally require more and more energy to process. Unless advancing technologies compensate for the diminishing quality and availability of these critical resources, future generations will be forced to pay a painful price.
The United States already consumes twice as much as energy it produces. If U.S. oilfields increased their production of petroleum, which would hasten the day the last drop was pumped, domestic industry would still be forced to import more oil from other sources. Industrialized nations that cannot extract vital minerals and fossil fuels from their own territory buy them from other countries. These other countries are happy to sell their resources if they are burdened by a heavy national debt. In essence, many countries are selling off their future generation's standard of living by cashing in on their valuable resources now in desperation for the money that the sale earns.
Energy efficiency and resource conservation fit hand to glove. The dictionary defines efficiency as "effective operation as measured by a comparison of production with costs as in energy, time, and money." Conservation is defined as "a careful planned management and protection of something, especially planned management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect." To achieve such goals would require increased efficiency regarding energy consumption. Not much can be accomplished unless individuals take the initiative where they live. The typical house is responsible for more than twice the level of carbon dioxide emissions than the average car. For starters, houses can be made more energy efficient with better construction and insulation. Homeowners with drafty windows, uninsulated attics, and inefficient appliances are literally dumping tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year due to wasted heat generated by the burning of fossil fuels. The installation of efficient fluorescent lights in the place of wasteful incandescent lights is also an energy-saving step. A typical compact fluorescent can save over $25 in electricity cost over its lifetime. "Leaky" electronic household appliances such as TVs and VCRs gobble up significant electricity resources; even turned off, these appliances account for 5% of the total amount of electricity used in the United States . This adds up to $30 per household, or more than $1 billion annually in electricity costs.
Energy conservation incentives are becoming more common , pushed by federal and state energy officials to encourage people to lower their consumption. In addition to tax and stockholder incentives for conservation endeavors, banks have started loaning more money to people who build more energy-efficient homes, and some institutions that have builders' recertification programs will offer an energy efficiency course that gives the builders more points toward recertification of their licenses. "Their message is part of a resurging effort to teach builders and homeowners the financial perks of building and upgrading homes with energy-efficient improvements that rely less on oil and coal." A director of a housing group remarked, "We're in the Sunshine State , and we're just not using the sun like we should be it's plain stupid." Many people realize that the initial installation expense of energy-friendly home appliances is compensated by a lifetime of reduced utility bills. Although money is the motivating factor, at least this effort will lengthen the availability of diminishing resources.
Legislation has even been introduced for implementation of conservation measures. Legislation regarding New York 's 1995-96 budget included a State Energy Conservation Program called Energy Efficiency Services "to ensure increased energy efficiency and lower operating and maintenance costs for industrial, commercial, and institutional customers." The main goal is a reduction in pollution while improving productivity and competitiveness in the economic arena through the identification of energy-saving, cost-effective strategies. Topics involved include alternative fuels, efficient motors, "green" buildings, indoor air quality, and "environmentally preferred products."
Unfortunately, even with enthusiastic conservation of the Earth's resources, at some point in the future the non-renewable assets will be exhausted. The United States ' coal supply is perhaps two or three centuries away from total consumption. As far as the oil supply is concerned, this country has not been self-sufficient since 1970, every year importing more than it produces. Because most U.S. consumers know little about the production and distribution of such forms of energy, they continue to demand reliable, efficient, and economical service from the least expensive energy-delivery system in the world. Energy costs in Britain are 1.5 times, Germany two times, and Japan three times the U.S. energy costs. But a further reduction in energy costs is not expected due to the ever-rising costs of fossil fuel production.
Despite the inevitable development of localized green energy sources such as wind, solar, photovoltaics, geothermal, etc., many less-developed countries are investing billions of dollars in a centralized energy distribution infrastructure based on diminishing petroleum reserves. Energy use is expected to increase rapidly at a rate of 6-8% annually by 2010, which will be accompanied by increasing pollution as China 's and India 's populations continue to multiply. In Brazil , the growth of energy use will cost $50 billion in infrastructure development and five million students must be trained for the energy industry. Privatization of industrial fossil-fuel-based infrastructure is thought to be the best way to "accelerate the rate of change in new energy technologies" and the World Bank has the ability to encourage privatization in the 137 projects it has funded since 1986. However, emphasis seems to be on conservation of conventional fossil fuel use rather than investment in completely new forms of energy.
Since 1992 the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has invested around $1.2 billion in fossil-fuel burning power plants in Eastern European countries like Poland , the Ukraine , and Armenia . The total estimated lifetime carbon dioxide emissions from these projects is about 6.55 billion tons. Unfortunately, there is insufficient money being invested in Earth-friendly green technologies by many of these countries. Many private companies, as well as developing and industrialized economies, are unaware of recent advances in this field and have a poor grasp of the new energy technologies now being commercialized in various parts of the world. This lack of information in countries that have spent billions on the extraction and distribution of fossil fuels will seriously hinder the implementation of new forms of energy.
The conservation and efficient use of energy can only go so far. The population in the year 2000 of an estimated 8 billion will create tremendous demands on energy producers. Pacific Rim countries are expected to use more energy than the United States , and disruption of oil imports to the U.S. could cause the economy to come to a standstill in 90 days. Uncontrolled population growth generates a serious impediment to any program trying to conserve world energy. There are 100 million more people on Earth each year. Regardless of the level of conservation implemented, if the world population keeps growing indefinitely, there is no way to keep up with energy demand. An increasing population demands greater amounts of energy, forcing technology to find a way to develop more mineral and energy supplies. In Hal Fox's words, "The basis of the national energy policy should include offshore oil development, new methods of oil recovery, and new energy sources. We must continue to support energy efficiency. We cannot reduce the quality of life in the U.S. We have the best life style in the world's history. Our energy policy should encourage incentives, not just in dollars but also in education. Other nations look to the U.S. for leadership and they need our help in building clean, efficient energy sources. We must draw a line in the sand and say 50% of our oil and no more will be imported. Encourage other means of energy production." Whether you believe in his idea that the luxurious lifestyle in the U.S. should not be altered, we are still going to have to make some changes. At some point, unless the population stabilizes, technology will not be able to produce more non-renewable resources to keep up with additional population's needs. It is imperative that we realize on a global scale that conservation is not a solution; it only buys a little bit of time until the resources are gone.
The politically expedient theory of the Clinton administration is energy efficiency, not conservation. Conservation implies sacrifice, and the American people are not ready to sacrifice to reduce green house gas emissions. According to the administration's mythical scenario, taking advantage of fuel-saving technologies and making minor adjustments in our daily lifestyles would be sufficient enough to stop global warming. As we move into the next decade, our dependence on fossil fuels will shift. Renewable energy, smarter appliances, industrial efficiency, new approaches to construction, and a well-informed public will ameliorate some of the problems. Unfortunately, at the present time there is little evidence that much progress is being made toward matching the population to a sustainable level of consumption. Until the human population explosion is brought under control, conservation and efficiency will just be a small Band-Aid on a critically injured patient.