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  • Godfrey Nowlan

Bridging The Great Divide

Earth has provided resources for humans since they evolved on the planet. Early societies depended on Earth for food, clothing, tools and shelter. Those simple foods, skins of animals for clothes and homes, and natural geological features like caves provided everything that early human societies required. However, as societies became more sophisticated, humans began to work stone (Stone Age), various metals (Bronze Age) and then a more durable material for tools and utensils in the Iron Age. It is no accident that the major phases of early human history are named after Earth resources.

Nothing has really changed over time, except that the technological developments that took place in the last few hundred years of human history have made ever increasing demands on Earth resources. Now we need the products of many different mines from all over the world just to make a single complex piece of technology like a computer, smart phone or car. We rely on miners and petroleum producers from all over the world to provide the basic ingredients of our society’s most coveted products. With the passage of time, humanity’s voracious appetite for manufactured goods has grown exponentially and this has made many people concerned about the future of the planet. We have reached the point where humans are becoming divided between those who say they care for the planet above all else and those who see the need for resources to sustain economic and technological development. This split makes no sense because as humans we are all complicit to some degree in the consumption of Earth resources and the many products made from those resources. Humans in first world countries have been busy increasing their consumption of everything for nearly 200 years. Other populous parts of the planet have more recently entered the race for resource consumption and fully intend (some would say deserve) to reach the levels of comfort of first world countries.

Irony is stretched to its limits when citizens of developed countries oppose resource exploration, production or transportation in their own regions. For example, in North America a significant percentage of the population object to the transportation of oil and gas in pipelines. One suspects, however, that if these same people ran out of resources to heat or cool their houses or if they couldn’t travel by plane or car, they would be unhappy. Others insist that in order to progress and live comfortably we need to continue to explore for, refine and distribute all kinds of natural resources. Both sides have important points to make and neither side has a monopoly on truth. The divide has become as sharp as the exchanges of views between the two groups. However, berating each other unmercifully achieves nothing but an unproductive and false division in society.

As citizens of planet Earth, we need to begin rational discussions of how to use fewer resources, to recycle even more, and to make less waste, while at the same time endeavouring to improve the lot of humanity everywhere. Humans are all complicit in changing the planet over time and therefore we should all be complicit in figuring out the transition to a more sustainable environment for all. Our Earth has been through massive change in its four and half billion year history and will carry on evolving until the energy of the sun has been exhausted or the core has cooled. We need to reduce the artificial divisions in our global community and work together to ensure the preservation of humanity, if that is, indeed, what we want.

Godfrey Nowlan was a geologist and paleontologist with the Geological Survey of Canada until he retired in 2013. He has a long record of developing projects to improve Earth Science literacy and is currently helping to develop Global Geoparks in Canada.

Views expressed in blog posts reflect those of the author, and not necessarily those of the CFES.