Published at: http://www.archania.org
July 6, 2017
Many of the biggest cities in the world are getting unbreathable air, due to smog and particulate
matter. In many Chinese cities people are using surgical masks to protect themselves from air
pollution (Figure 1).
Figure 1: People wearing surgical masks to protect themselves from the bad air quality in Beijing.
Many of the world’s rivers that have served as drinking water sources for many thousand years,
are now becoming so polluted (Figure 2) that they can no longer be used for drinking water.
Figure 2: The Ganges river in India, which has been a source of drinking water for many thou-
sand years, is now one of the most polluted rivers in the world.
Everyone should find this unacceptable. To have breathable air, and drinkable water should be
our greatest priority.
The decline of surface area per individual
The world population seems to have increased from approximately 2 million people 12 000 years
ago to about 6 billion people in year 2000[1]. There are approximately 126 billion acres of surface
area on this planet[2] , so we had about 5 orders of magnitude more surface area per individual 12
000 years ago than today (Figure 3). Or, if we divided the surface area of this planet equally 12
000 years ago, each individual would have about 63 000 acres of surface area, while if we divided
it equally in year 2000, each individual would own only about 20 acres. You might think that
20 acres still is a lot for an individual, but only about 6 of these 20 acres are landmass, and only
about 2 of these 20 acres are well suited for agriculture[3]. If the world population continues to
grow as expected there will be about 9 billion people in year 2050. Then each person will own
only about 14 acres of surface area if we divide it equally, and only 1.4 of these acres are well
suited for agriculture. Roughly 70% of earth’s surface area is ocean, but obviously we do not
have enough ocean to feed the world population either, as the amount of fish is dropping rapidly
due to overfishing[4] .
10000 9000 8000 7000 6000 5000 4000 3000 2000 1000 0 1000 2000
Acres per individual
Figure 3: Diagram showing the decline of surface area per individual during the last 12000 years.
Each person also produces a certain amount of excrement, and if too many people are urinating
in the same river the water becomes undrinkable. There are also agricultural wastes, and in order
to create agricultural land we often chop down forests and replace them with monocultures of
crops. This leads to a decrease in biological diversity since forests have a much higher biodiver-
sity than monocultures of crops[5]. From 1970 until today, we have destroyed about 20% of the
Brazilian rainforest (Figure 4). Tropical rainforests and coral reef’s have the highest biodiveristy
on Earth, and should therefore be protected at all costs.
1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015
Area of rainforest (km2)
Figure 4: Estimated area of the Brazilian rainforest, from 1970 until 2015.
Resources we are in danger of running out of
The world’s biocapacity is equal to the amount of renewable resources our planet can generate.
According to the global footprint network we are currently consuming about 50 percent more
resources than our planet can regenerate[6]. We are only able to do this because of non-renewable
resources, such as fossil fuels. Phosphorus is a fertilizer used in agriculture, and the extraction
of phosphorus is likely to peak around 2030[7]. In many areas of the world we are also using too
much fresh water. Many ground water reservoirs are in the process of being depleted[8] and once
these reservoirs are depleted it can take thousands of years to completely replenish them.
Fresh water depletion
Phosphorus depletion
Fossil fuels depletion
Less food production
Dehydration War and mass emigration
Figure 5: Resources we are in danger of running out of during the next century, and how the
depletion of these resources might impact our society.
Billions of people are in danger of dying from hunger when we do not have enough fresh water,
fossil fuel and phosphorus to produce food for everyone (Figure 5). The consequences of resource
depletion is going to be most severe for people living in overpopulated third world countries.
These countries might start to fight against each other for resources, and mass emigrate to other
places because of desperation. Complete chaos might then emerge in the third world, and a
horrible situation for the people living there. The demand for rare earth elements is also expected
to surpass production soon[9]. They are used in lasers, magnets, batteries, computers, cellphones
and other cutting edge technologies (Figure 6).
Lack of rare earth elements Less high technologies
Figure 6: How a lack of rare earth elements might impact our society.
Decreasing our fresh water footprint
More than 70% of our fresh water is used in agriculture, while less than 10% is used in our homes.
So even if everybody takes shorter showers, it is not going to have a huge impact on the amount
of fresh water we use. Changing the food we are eating might however have a large impact
upon our fresh water footprint (Figure 7). Eating less beef and more vegetables, seems like the
most efficient way to reduce our fresh water footprint[10]. Cattle also produce large amounts of
methane, which contributes to global warming.
Apples Potatoes Bread Beans Eggs Chicken Pork Cheese Beef
Liter of water needed to produce 1kg
Figure 7: Liters of fresh water needed to produce 1kg of different food types.[11]
Decreasing our carbon footprint
Fossil fuels are non-renewable energies, which means that the reservoirs of fossil fuels eventually
will be depleted. They also increase the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.
Atmospheric CO2is involved in the greenhouse effect, and is implicated in global warming. The
largest CO2emission comes from coal, the second largest from oil, the third largest from natural
gas, and fourth largest from cement production. About 80% of the energy consumed today is
derived from fossil fuels[12] . The larger this percentage is, the more we depend upon fossil fuels
and the more vulnerable we are when the reservoirs eventually get depleted. Increasing the
extraction of fossil fuels helps to increase our dependence upon fossil fuels and thereby makes
us more vulnerable. Increasing the use of renewable energy on the other hand, helps to decrease
our dependence upon fossil fuels and helps to prepare us for oil depletion.
Fossil fuels Renewable
Wind powerHydropower
Geothermal Biofuels
Solar panels
Natural gas
Figure 8: How we should convert from fossil fuels to renewable energies.
If all houses get solar roof panels, we need much less electricity from other sources, such as coal
power plants. With electric cars we can charge our cars directly from our houses, and then the
impact of oil depletion is not going to be nearly as devastating as if we continue to use gasoline
Figure 9: A house with solar panels on the roof.
Electric cars are also much more energy efficient than gasoline cars. Batteries in electric cars
can for example be charged by regenerative brakes, so that every time the brakes are used the
batteries are charged a little. Since the electric engines are so efficient, they generate little heat
however. This might pose a problem for places with a cold climate. Electric engines are also not
necessarily suited for large vehicles, such as ships and airplanes. These vehicles can however use
combustion engines with cellulosic biofuel from perennial grasses[13] or biofuel from algae[14].
Biofuels are also a renewable energy source, and they do not increase the concentration of carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere like fossil fuels.
Bioprocess technology
Figure 10: Illustrating why biofuels do not increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmo-
Increasing the efficiency of solar panels, batteries, and the production of biofuels should be our
main objective. This should be done by subsidizing these renewable industries with tax money
from the oil industry.
[1] United Nations, “World population prospects.” https://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/
[2] Central Intelligence Agency, “The World Factbook.” https://www.cia.gov/library/
[3] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Faostat land use module.” http:
[4] F. Montaigne, “Still waters, the global fish crisis,” National Geographic, 2007.
[5] J. Owen, “Farming claims almost half earth,” National Geographic, 2005.
[6] The Global Footprint Network, “World footprint.” http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/
[7] Global Phosphorus Research Initiative, “Peak phosphorus: the sequel to peak oil.” http:
[8] Y. Wada, L. P. H. van Beek, C. M. van Kempen, J. W. T. M. Reckman, S. Vasak, , and M. F. P.
Bierkens, “Global depletion of groundwater resources,” Geophysical Reasearch Letters, vol. 37,
[9] Marc Humphries, “Rare earth elements: The global supply chain.” Congressional Research
Service, 2012.
[10] H. J. Marlow, W. K. Hayes, S. Soret, R. L. Carter, E. R. Schwab, and J. Sabate, “Diet and the
environment: does what you eat matter?,” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 89,
pp. 1699–1703, 2009.
[11] Water footprint network, “Water footprint.” http://waterfootprint.org/en/resources/
[12] BP, “Statistical review of world energy.” http://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/
[13] D. Lobell, “Perennial biofuel grasses could reduce local tempera-
tures: study.” http://www.biofuelsdigest.com/bdigest/2011/03/18/
perennial-biofuel-grasses-could-reduce-local-temperatures-study/, 2011.
[14] S. A. Scott, M. P. Davey, J. S. Dennis, I. Horst, C. J. Howe, D. J. Lea-Smith, and A. G. Smith,
“Biodiesel from algae: challenges and prospects,” Current Opinion in Biotechnology, vol. 21,
pp. 277–286, 2010.