John Bodley, the author of “Anthropology and Contemporary Human Problems”, calls the situation in the contemporary world “our present predicament” (Bodley, 2008, p.6). In the last two centuries, he observes, the whole globe has been brought virtually to the brink of disaster due to “the institutional, ideological, and technological growth-machines produced by alliances between commercial and political elites” (Bodley, 2008, p. 6). Indeed, modern commercial world is driven by ever-increasing desire to consume more and maintain an adequate living standard for all (Mann, 2012). However, under the circumstances of exponential population growth this seems unattainable.
The goal of this paper is to explore the issues related to insufficiency of resources in the contemporary world. In particular, the author focuses on the problems brought by lack of resources and discuss lack of essential resources, for example, food, water, fossil fuels, and land for agriculture use. The paper concludes with a summary of issues discussed and a suggestion for the predicament improvement.
Lack of resources is one of the biggest problems faced by the humanity. Environmental crises, loss of biodiversity along with ecosystem degradation are all markers of the general trend of resources depletion. While in the past human populations were able to maintain friendly relationship with the natural environment living in small-scale societies with limited economies, today the capitalistic worldview, “the world’s great secular religion”, has commercialized the societies and due to overconsumption have made them opposed to nature (Mann, 2012). The adepts of this religion attribute the increasing rate of resources depletion to the exponential population growth, yet it seems the true nature of resources insufficiency is overconsumption promoted by artificially created belief in economic growth. To illustrate, Bodley observes that the global system is being governed by individual agents whose major objective is to fiercely compete with one another in order to reap individual benefits that Bodley describes as “enormous” (Bodley, 2008, p. 18). This way, the world’s lifestyle has been commercialized to a large extent, with consumption of goods being the ultimate meaning of human life. Consumerism has become the primary value, so human wellbeing has been neglected. The ideology of consumerism has led to people’s ruthless exploitation of natural resources, which are not limitless. Above all, it is consumerism that has brought poverty, resources depletion, climate change (through intense industrialization), access to water, malnutrition, barriers to trade, hunger, financial instability, corruption, and conflicts (Bodley, 2008, p. 9).
One of the limited world resources is water, access to which has been a growing problem in the developed and developing countries alike. In the “Population and Development Report” published by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia back in 2003, safe water access is referred to as “a global concern”. In the world that is highly industrialized, water is seen not just as a source of food production and maintenance of basic life needs, but as a resource used with the purposes of increasing industrialization rates and socio-economic development (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, 2003, p.1). This leads to increasing rates of water pollution and insufficiency of fresh water resources. For example, water is a serious concern not only in the Middle East or African nations, regions that have faced the scarcity of the water resource throughout the history, but also in the West, in particular, in the United States. To illustrate, the US government has made the following statistics public: “At least 36 states are expected to face water shortages within the next five years, according to U.S. government estimates” (Gutierrez, 2008). The predicament is explained to have been caused by rising temperatures (in the world affected by global warming), rising population numbers, and inefficient use of water resources.
Scarcity of food is believed to be another global concern. While neo-malthusians actively propagate the idea that food shortage and its outcomes (malnutrition, hunger, etc) have been due to lack of natural resources, careful examination allows distinguishing the major cause of food resources scarcity not as lack of production, but lack of adequate distribution (Bodley, 2008, p.147). Authoritative scholars have deemed the idea of food production limitations “the myth of scarcity”. For example, Lappe & Collins explain the situation in the following way: “As long as food is something sold and bought in a society with great income differences, the degree of hunger tells us nothing about the density of population” (Lappe & Collins quoted in Bodley, 2008, p.147).
Another global concern related to limitations of natural resources is agricultural land depletion. Large-scale intensification of agricultural production in the United States and other world regions has led to a multitude of negative outcomes. Myers & Kent have classified them in the following way (2001, cited in Bodley, 2008, p.186): negative outcomes brought by land clearing (deforestation, loss of biodiversity, desertification, soil erosion, etc ), those brought by shortened fallow (soil erosion), use of chemical fertilizers (leads to water contamination), intense mechanization (increased use of fossil fuels), irrigation (leads to water depletion and salinization), monocrops (leads to loss of biodiversity and erosion of soil), spread of giant agribusiness (greenhouse gases, overproduction, erosion of soil, social inequity, etc), and use of pesticides (leads to contamination of water, various health hazards, etc).
Fossil fuels shortage is another global concern that is related to limited resources of fossil fuels in nature. The “Fossil Fuels Depletion Chronology” created by Carla Emery starts with the alarming phrase “The fossil fuels will run out” (Emery, 2004). Emery observes that oil industry’s leading role in control of the global economy will lead to fierce competition between governments and businesses for the shrinking supply. Just as the demand for oil is rising, its availability is falling. The peak of oil field discoveries was back in 1964. In 1999, geologists found that approximately 90 per cent of oil deposits had already been located worldwide. This means that soon the humanity will be forced to find other resources of energy production.
To conclude, modern world is a world of limited resources. Yet, it would be illogical to claim that population growth is the major reason for resources depletion. From available scholarly sources, it appears that the resources depletion is rooted, above all, in the current rates of overconsumption and economic growth in the industrialized countries. The ideology of consumerism has turned natural resources into raw material for goods production in the public mind. It has made people forget that natural resources are a basis of human existence as a biological species on the planet Earth.