Ugo Bardi, professor for physical chemistry at the University of Florence, author of the Report to the Club of Rome "Plundering the Planet"
More than 40 years after the report „The Limits to Growth“, the Club of Rome presented its new report: „Plundering the Planet“. Its author Ugo Bardi explains the consequences of overexploitation. Growing energy costs for the extraction of minerals from less and less concentrated ores could soon lead to shortages of key resources like oil, uranium or copper. Even worse are the ecological costs of mining: radioactive materials and heavy metals poison the earth’s ecological systems while growing CO2 emissions cause catastrophic climate change.
As oil production stagnates and is likely to fall in the future, „king coal“ enjoys a renaissance – with disastrous consequences for the climate. If we continue to build coal-fired power plants, we risk the future of humanity, we risk extinction, says Bardi. Coal is only profitable because social and ecological costs are not taken into account. Future generations will have to pay the bill and clean up the mess. In spite of misinformation and the enormous power of fossil fuel corporations, resistsance is fertile, Bardi says.
With oil prices rising, „unconventional“ oil and gas resources become attractive for investors: tar sands, shale oil and shale gas, which is extracted by a controversial technology called „fracking“. The exploitation of these sources is an „immense historical error“, Bardi says. Fracking might be even more climate-damaging than coal, as it releases Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Additonally, groundwater resources in vast areas have already been polluted by fracking, as in the US. Renewable energies are able to deliver much cheaper and cleaner energy – if environmental costs are taken into account. However, the system is not conceived to make such decisions, as it focusses only on short term, immediate profits. „Half the earth will be destroyed like that.“
The control of noble metals was a key to ancient and modern empires. Soldiers were paid with gold or silver coins, so they were able to extent the empire and conquer more mines to pay more soldiers. Modern empires like the British Empire were built on coal – which went down with the end of British coal resources. The Empire of our times is built on fossil fuels as well: controlling them means to dominate the world. However, shortages of oil, coal and metals combined with catastrophic climate change could lead to a collapse of modern civilization and bring us back to an agrarian society. However this scenario is avoidable according to Bardi, if we stop mining the earth and start mining our waste, closing the resource cycle.