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What the oil bloom bought us

Greens are portrayed in the media as profits of doom, as though a fascination with the negative impacts of our lifestyle might be some sort of psychological flaw. My own view is that we are closer to reality than the vast majority of the population, who are trapped in denial about the ecological crisis, but none the less I think it is worth re-evaluating the extraordinary achivements of the 200-year oil bloom.

To focus our minds on the technological and social achievements of industrial society I suggest you watch the visualisation presented by Dr Hans Rosling during his BBC series The Joy of Stats. In spite of questions about what measuring wealth in US dollars over the past 200 years can actually mean, the achievements in terms of life expectancy are impressive and should not be sidelined. The impact on China of its turbulent political history, as it bounces up and down, argue strongly for evolutionary rather than revolutionary change.

Wonderful though these achievements are, they have been bought with a level of energy intensity that we can no longer afford. But the advances in knowledge and technology will stay with us. Our challenge now is to find ways of using them that achieve the maximum in human well-being with the minimum of resource and energy use. Here another recent visualisation is helpful.

Although the footprinting methodology is limited in terms of what it can offer policy-makers, it is a great asset in helping to communicate the message about over-use of resources in an intellectually and visually appealing way, as Jacob Houtman's global map, made freely available on Wikimedia Commons demonstrates.

As well as illustrating the situation facing us so vividly, these two visualisations also demonstrate another asset we have available: the creativity that was used to display these data can also be used to explore and implement solutions to the ecological and political problems we face.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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