Almost two decades ago, when working towards my MBA degree, I read the book, Beyond the Limits(1992) about how between growing world overpopulation and our disposition to living without regards to our limited resources, we were in danger of depletion and ultimately face an existential disaster.
Now this theme continues with the movie, Surviving Progress(2012) warning that our unabated consumerism and overproduction is leaving in its wake diminished environmental resources and leading eventually to a collapse of our global ecosystem.
In between the book and the movie, I have followed the warnings of well known and respected leaders, such as former Vice President, Al Gore on global warning, former Comptroller General, David Walker on our spiraling national debt, oil magnate, T. Boone Pickens on peak oil, and that is just to name a few.
Yet, the warnings of our unsustainable living keep running up against our impressive technological progress–for example, oil and natural gas is being discovered and still plentiful, agricultural productivity keeps rising, and computers and automation allows us to continuously do more with less.
So what are we to believe–are we on a unsustainable collision course with mother nature that threatens our very existence or is our innovative prowess and technological progress going to keep us ahead of the curve and out of any danger?
As a technologist, and someone who promotes innovation, entrepreneurship, hard work and sound supporting ethics underlying everything we do, I am a firm believer that we can make a difference. Yes, with G-d’s blessings, it is possible to shape our destiny, so that we can continue to not only sustain ourselves, but also actually improve our standard of living.
On the other hand, I cannot help but notice a generally gluttonous lifestyle in our society–where people almost always seem to buying bigger and better homes, cars, and even now yachts and private planes, and where buying and throwing things out is a vicious and endless cycle, where we live for the moment, rather than plan ahead.
Despite initiatives to reduce, reuse, and recycle, we are still very much a single use society (use and discard), where compulsive shopping and a “mine is bigger and nicer than yours” mind-set and motive prevails.
Now as humankind plans for Earth’s ultimate resource depletion, companies such as Planetary Resources are researching and developing robotic spacecraft to mine asteroids to get water, extract raw materials, and find new sources of precious minerals, and government agencies like NASAare exploring orbiting space settlements as well as the permanent colonization of the moon and Mars.
At the end of the day, the Earth–no matter how large and bountiful–is a finite resource and we should use innovation and technology to extend its use and at the same time reach out to find our next hospitable home.
Watching two seasons of a Discovery television series called The Colonyabout how people in a simulation of a global catastrophe, survive–I saw that no matter how well they did for a number of weeks living off of existing resources where they were, eventually, they had to plan and creatively build their escape to a new sustainable living place.
Unfortunately, this is not just TV fiction, but this is our reality–to thrive in our world today, but also to plan and build for the long-term–a new home for mankind.