A world without resources is high on a long list of doomsday scenarios offered by folks out to scare the rest of us to death.
The day approaches, they warn us, when our raw materials will be exhausted, our mines stripped, our forests destroyed, our farmland depleted, our petroleum used up and our atmosphere poisoned. All we shall have left are mountains of garbage and starving populations.
The handwringing has begun, for the needed remedies, they tell us, call for draconian measures beyond our present will to impose on the world: drastic population reduction, global political control and massive monetary transfers from wealthy nations to underprivileged countries. It seems that eventually even the end of the human world comes down to politics and money.
Most of us private sector folks are willing to do our remedial bit. The last time I flew to Europe I was billed for my “carbon footprint.” I think it’s somebody’s idea of secular penance for our collective sins against the air. I doubt the air benefitted, but the airline did. Anyway, fear is spreading that time is quickly running out. The doomsayers tell us these tentative efforts may be too little too late.
So much for the gloomier prospects. What about the brighter side? Or is there a brighter side? The answer is yes, provided we think creatively about this and other problems. For creative thinking is what sets humans apart from their fellow Earth creatures. And it points to this fact: Resources don’t make mankind; mankind makes its resources.
Prehistoric peoples trudged across vast deposits of petroleum but, ignorant of its potential, they didn’t see it as a resource. Large animals grazed the grasslands, but for ages it didn’t occur to mankind to domesticate and harness them for riding and hauling. Some early people knew about the wheel, but it was a child’s toy until an unremembered genius visualized axles and couplings and another came up with the idea of substituting animal power for paltry human strength.
The point is this: Our greatest resource isn’t elements of earth, air or sea but the ingenuity of the human mind that turns them into resources. Anthropologists classify mankind as Homo sapiens, wise or knowing man, but a better description might be Homo Technicus, technical man, man the crafter, the inventor of resources.
This is why we honor most of those who treat the world with a creative spirit. If one resource fails, they find another and usually something better. It’s the human way, and I find no proof that it has changed in our time.
The doomsayers have always been with us and probably ever shall be. But we do ourselves a disservice if we surrender to their dreads. Surely this era will end, yet not in the panic and doom they predict but so transition to a better age can begin. In this sense, Shelley’s verse becomes prophecy: “The world’s great age begins anew; the Golden Years return.”