Wednesday, February 1, 2023

As Humans Reach 8 Billion in Number, Many Issues on the Horizon

As I often do to begin a new year, I have found myself mulling many of the major issues facing us as we enter 2023.

I’m not talking about local issues, that ultimately are minor no matter how much they might agitate us, I am talking about the bigger issues facing folks near and far. Issues like affordable housing, living wages, our aging population, our changing climate. Issues that might not impact us in the moment, but are festering and growing into potential catastrophe before our eyes.

As a father I am certainly concerned with issues like affordable housing. One of my sons is in the working world, and he has experienced the challenge of finding a place to live that is affordable even with his healthy income, while my younger son will soon embark upon an apprenticeship, and he is well aware of the housing challenges that lie ahead.

I have argued for perhaps too many moons that the problem of housing affordability is unlikely to be solved without addressing living wages. Any approach to make housing affordable is bound to fail from my perspective because the actual issue is wages, not just the cost of housing. If our focus is only on housing, the solutions are going to focus on building more cheaply, combined with significant government housing subsidies, when I think people simply need to be paid not just what they are worth, but they need to be paid a salary that can accommodate the actual cost of living a life.

With our population continuing to age, the pressures of housing and wages will continue to grow. More and more of us will be living on fixed incomes with little opportunity to augment pension cheques or personal savings. With fewer of us in the workforce, funding public services will become increasingly difficult, one of many challenges facing us in the long term.

One of the most concerning issues I have been mulling, is one that I have mulled for decades, and that is our changing climate. We are increasingly turning to batteries to power our lives. From our phones and computers to our cars, batteries have become increasingly important to us, but at what cost? I have seen many suggest that battery power storage would be preferable to hydroelectric pumped storage, and my response is always the same – have you looked into just how nasty the battery business is? If you have some time, do some poking around online to discover the horror that is cobalt and lithium mining. Discover the destruction, pollution, and exploitation of human beings that is the battery business. Like fossil fuels, we have become dependant on batteries, but over the long term they aren’t sustainable, and the social cost is enormous.

So what is the answer? I’m not sure that any of us really knows, but I suspect it will come down to balance and conservation. At some point we must take the time to look at our lives honestly. We all use more resources than we actually need, and that includes resources like electricity. We could all scale back, we could all conserve, and I think we should, but I have my doubts that we ever will. To compensate, I think we need to not look to any single solution. I think that our energy needs of the future will need to come from a range of sources, from nuclear to wind to solar and beyond, but I think the realities of battery production will hamper many of our efforts.

Energy aside, with our global population now a whopping 8 billion people, fresh water will become an increasingly valuable commodity. Many have suggested that future wars will be fought over fresh water, and I don’t doubt that, though at the same time I realize that we in Canada hold the largest supply of fresh water in the world, making us an obvious target in the decades or centuries to come. Water war is something that I am happy will happen when I am long gone, but it is coming. It might be 50 years from now, it could be 100 years from now, but war over water is something that I consider inevitable if we continue on the path we have been travelling upon.

As much as I would love to kick off a new year concerned about nothing aside from sleeping off a hangover, inevitably I find myself mulling some of the big issues facing mankind, which isn’t all bad. Mulling the big issues can definitely put current pesky issues like potholes on our roads into perspective.

On the bright side, we humans have forever been faced with problems to solve, and we typically find our way through, often with unintended consequences. Nevertheless, we humans enjoy a challenge, and there are certainly many of import facing us today, though I confess I do wonder at what point the problems we have created and the ones that have been thrust upon us are too big to conquer.

Only time will tell, but I remain hopeful.

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