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The Future, Sustainability,
the Earth is Our Present Home

by T. Peterson, Ph.D.
(the following text excerpt is taken from:
The Creator's Window -Viewing Global Change,
Universal timelines, & The Promise, © 2000)

The term biosphere separates all that lives on Earth from the Universe around us. You are part of a shared life experience, part of the larger equation, which links one’s being to the health and maintenance of every open meadow, each stream, and every creature living there. The presence of all species, according to Dr. Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, makes for a living Earth systematically equivalent to a collective network of microbes, plants, and animals. Dr. Lovelock looks at the holistic view, something at a distance, to make the obvious statement: this planet is alive, is animated, is activity. The integration of Earth’s systems thus works best with all components in their place. The process in reverse permanently removes vital pieces of this window’s view.

Gaia—a name used here in relation to life’s presence on Earth—is either a product of sterile evolution or of an unfolding creation often called evolution. I say sterile, because if humanity is simply a product of chance events, then being is just that—being. There comes a day, say 60 billion years down the road, when the Sun will burn out. Before that, in about 10 billion years, the Sun will burn ever hotter, and intense solar output will render the Earth inhospitable for life. In this respect all being meets a stellar end. Life itself presently occupies the Earth in a window of opportunity. For a time this window is open, then later on is closed forever. The cosmic time tables including the appearance of life and its inevitable demise is perhaps of little consequence because humanity presently threatens the inner workings of an apparent life-made, life-sustained, biosphere system. To promote Gaia’s function requires responsible use of natural resources—even those supporting life forms other than humans. Excessive use of non-renewable resources jeopardizes life and prematurely shortens the universal time frame well in advance of the Sun’s decline. Humans must either make an effort to assist sustainable systems or watch Gaia’s systems short circuit in advance of the Earth’s cosmic-life potential.

The following sections describe natural resources and ecological transitions completing a view on climate and global changes. Resource depletion brings humanity to a threshold issue, another key point, identified as planet carrying capacity. In real terms all change issues converge on this capacity which ultimately determines the viability of life’s support systems. When any one factor—water, nutrients, soil, etc.—is limiting, the system’s capacity is constrained—even to the point of collapse. I sense humanity is destined to confront the ultimate conflict where Homo sapiens finally influences every fragile, biological, resource. Here, the concept of carrying capacity serves to focus your attention on many potential, limiting factors including roles played by agriculture, forests, deserts, biodiversity, water, and energy.


• Agriculture and the Sustainable Harvest

Environmental degradation resulting from agricultural practices, includes: use and abuse of fertilizers and pesticides, destroying wetlands, deforestation in the North and South, overgrazing in the Western US., soil erosion, salt build-up in irrigated lands, and more. There is so much to consider yet the window first reveals to concerns raised by Dr. Menon, who states:

'Food production has exceeded the world population growth rate since 1960 (FAO 1989, The State of Food and Agriculture); however, this excess of food production over population growth rate has slowly declined over the past three successive decades from 0.8% (1960-70) to 0.5% (1970-80) and 0.4% (1980-87)—this should be a matter of concern.’ (SXi 157)

Humanity now lives in the presence of an ever diminishing food supply. Lester Brown, of the WorldWatch Institute, puts this in terms each human can visualize:

'If, as projected, another billion people are added to world population over the remaining 13 years of this century, the grain harvested area, which dropped from 0.24 hectares per capita in 1950 to 0.15 hectares in 1986, will shrink to 0.12 hectares per person.’

A plot of 0.12 hectares equals about 12,916 square feet. If you measure a square a little over 113 feet on each side, you then describe the area of earth required to produce food energy to sustain your life for one year. This square now grows ever smaller with population growth, soil erosion, decreasing water supply, etc.

Since the 1950s, the world’s farmers have opened every available acre. Dry land and irrigated agriculture are now at the maximum usable area. In China, the former U.S.S.R., and the US., previous expansion into lands of marginal quality now force closure and bring a net reduction in farming potential. Humanity also shows signs of growing more dependent on irrigation agriculture. Asia is able to support half the world’s population because it has two-thirds of the world’s irrigated area. From 1950 to the mid-80s, irrigated areas increased three-fold and resulted in record food production. The present view describes the apex, the practical upper limit, for land and water resources supporting humanity today. These resources promise to shrink during the course of the near future.

The costs of present day production, for a growing population, include: fertilizer, pesticide, land maintenance, and fuels. In recent decades, fertilizer use increased nearly two-fold. To our good fortune, increased fertility offset losses in available farm land. Past fertilizer use, promoted by government subsidies, made this resource artificially inexpensive—even to the poorest farmers. Pesticide and fertilizer production plus operation of irrigation pumps and other farm machinery are fossil fuel dependent, costly, energy intensive, operations. Thus far, cheap oil has supplied the materials and fuels for farming. The affordability of food reflects government participation in subsidy programs, availability of low-cost energy, and the presence of food reserves at stable levels.

Food security can be correlated with the amount of food on hand and measured in days of world food consumption. Like spot-market prices for oil, the prices and world food security vary with availability. The WorldWatch Institute notes that prices increase dramatically when the world’s reserve drops below 50 days of consumption. When this happens, several years of increased production are required to overcome this unstable condition. Prices stabilize once reserves reach 55 to 64 days. Food shortages increase prices and provides cash and incentives for farmers to produce more food. Conversely, when supply exceeds 80 days, world grain prices plummet to the point of destabilizing farm operations. Climate changes alter rain fall, growing season temperatures, and availability of irrigation water. Global changes alter oil, fertilizer, and pesticide availability. These changes factor into global economics and humanity’s future food supply. The window’s timeline ahead demonstrates how humanity will encounter a significant global food shortage.

This is just one of many panes in the WindowView. This is a fraction of the process identified earlier within the section entitled 'Convergence.' Keep exploring the view, visit our page titled 'Experience WindowView' to see how global changes are part of a larger holistic paradigm which is the reason behind assembling this cyber-place. Putting the picture together helps to envision humanity's direction along the dimension of time.

A copy of this text with footnotes and a complete listing of references used in writing this text can be obtained by downloading the chapters and reference list for the Creator's Window. References that appear as ''(SXi #)'' signify the page number from Sigma Xi's publication related to a 1991 forum on global change (see reference list for the Creator's Window for a complete citation of this work).

References from SXi and page number refer to the Sigma Xi Forum Proceedings: Global Change and the Human Prospect: Issues in Population, Science, Technology and Equity, November 1991. The importance of this science society's forum is that the meeting was forward looking and demonstrates how scientists from social, biological, and physical sciences all saw change on the rise. Not just climate change, but change in every aspect of human and earth affairs ... globally.

The importance to global change is in looking at how social, biological, and physical sciences all reveal data and signs for more ominous changes in the near future. This is change in every aspect of human and earthly affairs ... globally. The Window looks further to see change as a backdrop to a biblical timeline. Driving forces for change force us to ask the most important questions about our true origin, who we are, why we are here, and what the Scriptures tell us about the future. Change forces us to look deeper to face choice or crisis. Life is an opportunity to look for the answers.

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