Last night on BBC2, I caught part of ‘Arctic with Bruce Parry’. He was looking at how oil companies in Canada could possible destroy the way of life of many native Canadian tribes, and the stunning landscapes of the remote regions.
Although the images of the tar sands of Alberta (on open oil mine apparently the size of the UK) is visually very jarring I took some objection to the programme. As Bruce swooped over the refineries and the huge pits of bitumen soaked sands, he exclaimed how overwhelmingly sad it made him feel. However, he failed to mention that he was in a helicopter using oil based fuel as he spoke these words, he had driven to the tar sands in a petrol guzzling car and he had flown into the country on a plane.
The fact remains that we are dependent on oil, and this is a fact that isn’t going to change. Last Friday I met with Professor Geoffrey West about a completely separate article I am currently writing. However, we got chatting and he raised some very interesting points. We as humans are greedy. We want more of everything, we want it more efficiently and better than before; as a result Professor West estimates that at the moment we are consuming the amount of energy per day per head roughly equivalent to a blue whale!
This is completely unsustainable, and we require technology to aid us. The rate of technological advance is getting faster and faster. For example, at the moment we require cars which use fuel more efficiently. But when the fuel runs out we will need increasingly more lithium to make batteries to cars, and when that runs out who knows. At the moment our greed requires more and more oil so realistically there is no way that we are going to break our dependence on it. This is something readily recognised by the workers at the tar sands; they candidly voiced their indifference to what they were doing to the environment, much to the horror of a wide-eyed Bruce Parry.
Unfortunately, we have no true concept of the extent of the damage we are doing to the planet. The ecosystems that surround us are more intricate then we can possibly imagine, and the large changes we are making to the landscapes that surround us may yet have unseen consequences. Although people, such as TEEB, are trying to make people aware of their impacts by putting a true economic price on the land, our dependence will keep driving the degradation of habitats, reducing biodiversity and affecting future generations in unknown ways.
Those who have found a way to live sustainably on the land, such as the Gwitchin tribe featured, are those who respect it. The Gwitchin take only what they need from the land. When a herd of Caribou was in front of them, they only took the necessary three, despite having to fly all their other food in a great price.
It may seem sad that I have accepted that we are on an inevitable decline into well, who knows what?! However, I’m not suggesting we give up and turn or heating on full blast with the windows open, and buy a less economical but prettier car. I think that we simply shouldn’t worry so much about ‘saving the planet’ and take some lessons from the native Canadian tribes; let’s learn to have a bit more respect and a little less greed. It might slow the planet’s decline but it will make better human beings!