Even if current appetites for new things remained stable, the world is headed for more environmental destruction as resources become harder to reach.
HAVING PICKED MOST of the ‘low hanging fruit’, humans are now putting more effort into extracting useful materials, and a new study says the associated environmental impacts are only going to grow. Lead author, Dr Debra Davidson of the University of Alberta, said it is a worrying trend that is set to continue as natural resources become even more limited. She said environmental impacts would grow even if current consumption levels remained constant.
“A barrel of oil that was consumed in 1950 would have had a relatively smaller ecological impact than a barrel of oil that was consumed in 1980, and that will have had a relatively smaller ecological impact than a barrel of oil that will be consumed in 2020,” Davidson said.
The reason for the increasing environmental impact over time is due to declines in the quality of natural resources as they are exploited. As the easy-to-reach and better quality materials diminish, greater effort is required to extract and process the poorer quality material that is remaining. This extra effort could be in the form of human labour, more intensive technologies, and increased requirements for inputs such as land, water, energy and chemicals. While extra effort generally leads to a smaller return-on-investment for industry, Davidson, a Professor in Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology, said the increase in effort also translated to greater harm to the environment.