How Long Will Our World Last? (Yes, We Are Screwed)

Illustration for article titled How Long Will Our World Last? (Yes, We Are Screwed)

Most people get worried about how much energy reserves we have left, but as this graphic shows, that's the least of our problems. The real problem is the materials we use to make things.

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Energy could be harnessed from eternal sources, like the sun, the wind, or the seas. But there is only a limited amount of elements in planet Earth and—what's worst—bringing them from other planets will prove impractical with our current technology (and the technology that will be available in the next century).

In the meantime, copper—which is everywhere around you—will be gone in about 61 years; antimony—widely used in medicines—will be depleted in 20 years; while indium, rhodium, platinum, or silver—which are present in many essential consumer electronics—won't last much longer. And those estimations are only valid if we manage to consume half of what we are consuming now.

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So, unless we really push technology forward, dramatically increase our recycling rhythm, or something extraordinary happens first—like Apophis obliterating us or the Large Hadron Collider blows us to another dimension, or Nazi zombies getting out of their crypts to make bacon of all of us—we and our children are going to have a really hard time pushing the world forward.

I guess we will have to keep taking life one weekend at a time. [New Scientist via Dark Roasted Blend]

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DISCUSSION

Somehow, I doubt that we're going to be as bad off as everyone states.

The law of conservation of mass/matter states that matter cannot be created or destroyed; it can only be converted from one form to another. The materials are still out there; they may just be in a different form and need to be converted with another process. The cost (financially, or chemically, or energetically) may be higher than it was to get that form of matter before, but it's still possible to get the matter.

For example:

We can collect oxygen from water by splitting through the process of electrolysis. If we breathe the pure oxygen resultant from the electrolysis, our body converts it into carbon dioxide through respiration. The oxygen is still there, but it's been bonded with carbon. To break it back down into oxygen, there would need to be another expenditure of energy, either through a physical or chemical reaction. But the amount is still there.

What will probably happen for all of these resources, just as has happened for millions upon millions of years, is that we'll probably see some adaptation of organisms to deal with the change to the environment. Reptiles got their shot in the form of dinosaurs and were killed off by a major change to the environment, yet life evolved and mammals are getting their shot now. Something will change the environment again and something will adapt AGAIN. Maybe it'll be insects next; they've got us outnumbered.

The point is that the planet is INCREDIBLY old, and humanity's been here such a short time. Stuff has survived since the beginning, and it will continue to do so until the sun goes nova or sucks into a black hole or something. Don't sweat trying to save the earth; it's simply going to adapt to something that'll kick ass with a new form in that new environment.