The defining political and social issue of our time is, and will go down in history as, concerns over the environmental impact of human life, and how sustainable our current way of life actually is. With developments in science, and our understanding about the nature of the planet, has come much talk about the damage that humanity is doing, in a whole range of ways, from the exploitation of natural resources, to the degradation of the ozone layer by the constant production of Carbon Dioxide.

With these issues reaching the highest levels of international concern, it seems pertinent to ask how sustainable is life on Earth, if we carry on at the current pace. Will we soon run out of the oil that we desperately rely on to power our societies? How long will we be able to live on Earth, if we carry on producing as much Carbon Dioxide? And will a natural disaster doom us?

Oil

Up until a few years ago, it was thought that our oil reserves were running low, and wouldn’t last us until the latter half of the century. However, now, further exploration, and more advanced drilling methods, has led to the discovery that the Earth houses enough oil to last for at least 100 years if not longer.

Venezuela, Canada, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and Libya all have enough oil left that if they continue to produce and exploit it at current rates, supplies will last for at least a hundred years – in the case of Venezuela, there may well be enough oil to last for 300 years. And with the current mood in the world being in favour of moving away from fossil fuels, towards renewables, by then we may not need it anymore, and thus, in terms of our supply of natural resources, our current lifestyles are still sustainable.

Carbon Dioxide and Climate Change

However, don’t let the abundance of oil fill you with too much hope for the sustainability of humanity, and life generally, because the flood of Carbon Dioxide overwhelming our planet everyday is going to have a catastrophic impact on life – not to be too depressing, of course.

Professor Stephen Hawking predicts we have just 100 years left on planet Earth, and when you look in to the potential effects of climate change on the means we rely on for survival it’s not hard to see why he made that doom-filled prediction. From extreme weather events becoming more and more common, to entire nations being swallowed by bulging seas, the loss of vital farming areas to extreme heat, the release of horrific diseases, thought long eradicated, as the ice caps (which have the bacteria for these illnesses frozen underneath) melt, and the inevitable raging wars over the last inhabitable areas, climate change is something we need to do more about now, before it is too late, because a world warped and destroyed by global warming is a nightmare scenario.

Natural disaster

As if things weren’t depressing enough already, there are also various threats to the survival of humanity in the form of catastrophic natural disasters. Volcanic apocalypses, meteorites and asteroids, extinction events, and various astronomic events, including Gamma-Ray Bursts, all pose a danger to continued life on Earth.

Though these might take hundreds of thousands, to billions of years, to occur, there is the possibility that a major volcanic eruption could occur at any time in the next five-hundred-thousand years, posing a near constant threat to life on Earth. And with reports of increased volcanic activity at Yellowstone super volcano, this may come sooner rather than later.

If it’s any consolation though, previous major natural events helped reset and further develop Earth, and those that occurred during the existence of humanity, left groups that could breed and regrow, allowing us to be where we are today.