Fast food restaurants, merchandise from grocery stores, clothes, and even water all come in packaging. Where does all this packaging go after we’ve placed them in the trash can? Has it ever occurred to you that all the paper used to pack a fast-food meal might be a little wasteful? Maybe we could have greatly reduced the trash that we created during that one meal by just dining in at a restaurant. Maybe using your own water bottles might save some of the energy and oil used to make plastic. After all, oil is a finite resource that is rapidly being depleted. According to the National Geographic, the United States consumes the greatest number of plastic bottles each year, with a total of 29 billion water bottles a year—the equivalent of about 17,000,000 barrels of crude oil. In 2011 alone, the US consumed 6,870,000,000 barrels of crude oil according to the US Energy Information Administration. In the 21st century, developed countries have become more and more immersed in consumerism. This way of life is horrible for our ecological footprint and means that each individual is using more than their fair share of the world’s resources. The world cannot keep up with the pace at which humans are using up raw materials. Its important that we understand the impact of our ecological footprints because in the end, it affects everyone. Practically every resource made available to us from the earth is finite; it doesn’t last forever. The gas that we all consume so carelessly will run out one day and it cannot be made instantaneously by just sheer will. Although it is currently being debated by scientists if it is possible to create oil by decomposition of dead plants, animals, or even microorganisms, this process may take millions of years to work.
Even water is finite in a sense. If we continue to pollute our waters and change the landscape in such a way that makes our freshwater disappear, then there will be no water left for future generations to come. After all, it’s not water itself that is lacking, but the availability of clean drinking water. The issue of clean water is definitely a global problem. Despite this fact, it is often overlooked as a crisis worthy of attention. This is because we were all taught the water cycle in elementary school. The water cycle claims to guarantee us an unlimited source for water. But how can we be guaranteed unlimited access to clean water when all the pollution we create contaminates it? Or when all our landscaping morphs the land so that its no longer capable of storing water? Not only are we using much more water than we need, but we are rapidly diminishing its supply.
Thoughtlessly, many of us insist on living in regions that are impractical and require the importation of foods, supplies, and water. However, what seems to be forgotten is that removing a resource from its place of origin will eventually cause the resource to be depleted. Without today’s modern technology, no one would consider living in regions like this. Who would want to live somewhere with unbearably arid and hot days, cold nights, and minimal access to water? A place where the possibility of dying of dehydration is just a droplet away. Today, everyone wants a nice house with a front lawn and backyard; its the American dream. But our rapidly growing population doesn’t allow this, so naturally we expand outward, outward into regions that would otherwise be uninhabitable without our modern technology. These regions are places such as deserts, like in California, where half the landscape is either extremely fertile, or almost useless. In order to make the most of the land, we create residential areas right outside big cities so that we can commute to and from work. This means that we have to bring resources in from other places, slowly depleting the raw materials from which they came. When you export water, the water is unable to return to where it belongs, so it goes right back to the ocean. What’s worse is the fact that ocean water is so high in salinity that it is undrinkable. In fact it would dehydrate much more than it would hydrate us. Simple everyday feats like commuting between cities everyday is ridiculous. We waste so much oil in these simple acts. From all the small choices we make, from living in suburbs to commuting back and forth between cities every day, we consume many more resources than is necessary. In small acts that seem somewhat trivial, we are wasting our resources in a rate that is incalculable.
by Lydia Kwon