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Cool Australia recently had the pleasure of speaking with 120 year eight students at a local high school. We started talking about how humans are chewing through the earth’s resources at an alarming rate with no sign of slowing down. The thing that we found most challenging was that not many people are aware of this and 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 resources (things we use). There are two types of resources: renewable – those that can be re-grown, replaced or rejuvenated and non-renewable – when they are used up then that’s it, finished, all over red-rover and never to be seen again.

Some typical renewable resources that we over exploit would be fish, forests, soil and water. We need to think how we can be caretakers and custodians of these resources rather than wreckers and exploiters. We appear to be unable to see past our short term self interest to look at securing our own future. The Murray Darling river system has been over exploited for more than a century with few enforced controls. It was reasonably decided that this cannot continue or else we will end up with no river and no communities living off its bounty. Yet another report was commissioned that found that The Murray Darling River needs to be given a drink and less water should be taken from it otherwise it will get sicker and sicker and eventually die.

How do you think this news was received by the people that depend on the river for their very existence? Were they interested to find out more about how they can all work together to preserve the river for future generations? Not so much. A group of them burned the report, claimed the authors were fools, disregarded the science and announced that they knew what was best for ‘their’ river. They argue to keep draining it without any reductions to their water ‘rights.’

It’s a very emotive issue.

We can continue to destroy or learn to change – the choice is ours.

Some of the more important non-renewable resources that we are roaring through at the minute 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!

That just won’t 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 to us.