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Cool Australia recently visited a school for a chat with the students. We started talking about how humans are using the earth’s resources quicker and quicker. The thing that we found most challenging was that not many people are aware of this. The few that are aware have trouble getting governments and corporations to take action. We wondered – why was this so?

Let’s pause for a minute to find out what is happening to our natural resources (things we use). There are two types of resources: renewable – those that can be re-grown or replaced, and non-renewable – when they are used up then that’s it, finished, all gone never to be seen again.

Some typical renewable resources that we over exploit are: fish, forests, soil and water. We need to think how we can look after these resources rather than wreck them. Are we unable to see past our short term self interest to look at securing our own future?

Some of the most important non-renewable resources that we are using are – oil, iron ore, coal and gas. Let’s put aside the fact that the burning of oil, gas and coal emit green house gases that hang around in our atmosphere for up to 100 years, trapping heat. This trapped heat puts more energy into our system and causes changes in the climate – heavier rain, more snow, stronger heatwaves, longer droughts, warmer oceans and rising sea levels. Back to oil.

Oil as a fuel is one of the greatest and most powerful sources of energy discovered. Its products help create and transport all of our food, clothing and shelter around the world. It is also a valuable ingredient in many things we depend on in our lives. Oil is an important component in more than 500,000 things from ping pong balls to computers, from fertiliser to phones, from cosmetics to tooth brushes.

More than 10% of oil is used in manufacturing. We burn 88 million barrels a day. We are headed to 91 million barrels a day – our current capacity. We need to discover another four Saudi Arabias to meet our oil needs for the next 40 years!

How will this happen? We need to find a better way. The Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones – we simply found a better way. Will we really burn the last barrel of oil before we plan for a world without oil? What will we say to future generations when they ask, ‘What happened to all the oil?’ Response – ‘Err, umm, yeah, no – sorry – we burnt it!’

The students talked further about how our natural world, our environment is our life support system – it provides everything we need to survive. Without a strong and healthy life support system how can we live healthy lives?

We then compared our environment to a bank account. The students decided that you must make more deposits than withdrawals to keep a healthy balance.

We asked the students what happens when you only make withdrawals with very few deposits. They responded that, ‘you get in the red’, ‘you go broke’, ‘you need another loan’, ‘you are in trouble’ and they are right! This is known as Ecological Debt and unlike bank debt you cannot negotiate – nature simply acts and dictates its rules.