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Antonio Aretxabala Díez,, Professor of the School of Architecture

Earth can't be asked for more


Wed, 16 Dec 2015 12:12:00 +0000 Published in The Bizkaia Courier

We do not learn. The concept of environment continues to lead us down the street of bitterness, defining it is like someone who looks at a landscape and gives an opinion: I like it, I dislike it, or I don't care... The witness (a human being) who observes it and points it out does not realize that he himself is part of the landscape from which he thinks he is abstracting. Homo Technologicus no longer moves with a minimum of rationality, a characteristic that he argued for only a few centuries of his ancestral existence in order to compare himself with other species. The concept of sustainability is closely linked to that of survival, like that of stability. Scientists who study the impact of natural catastrophes, or those induced by us, see them more and more closely linked. In reality, the environment that we undermine unchecked is the immovable factor that guarantees our very existence.

The Paris climate summit (COP21) has left unfounded euphoria, bitter tastes and a lot of makeup. The agreements give too much time to the uncertainty to start taking the necessary measures if we do not want biodiversity to finally become a concept of the past, that our human landscapes, the degradation of this immovable factor that sustains us and that includes the Economics, culture, science, our human relationships... turn against a being who thought he could take a pulse to the environment that sustained him, to an extension of himself that he thought alien. A finger that has decided to become independent and start a new life outside the brain, the heart... Paris is the last warning not to do so, it is the sign given to a world in which the age of fossil fuels was just another page. And so it is, the age of fossil fuels has reached its peak. The one that made us believe we were almost gods.

It is a geological question, but also a cultural one: if 2005 was the year of peak oil, 2008 the collapse of markets disconnected from a real physical Economics , 2010 an equator in our evolution with more than half of the planet's population already living in cities and consuming resources by storing waste as never before, 2015 means that the polluting unconventional extractions now in decline, have reached the maximum ceiling that our technology could undertake, and there is no more to talk about. Accessible oil, coal, uranium or natural gas were finite resources that at some point were going to be scarce.

The geology of the Earth cannot be asked for more, it has its own extraction rhythms, not those that this being so evolved in arrogance desires. All those energy resources will always be there, they will never be lacking, the problem is that the most accessible, the best quality, the least polluting, have already been burned; now we are left with the worst: the inaccessible, that of leave quality, that which if extracted would pollute as never seen before. It is easy to understand: for the extraction of energy, which is the lifeblood of our civilization, we have to invest energy, we have to burn, and so the more and more it is considered necessary, the more we pollute. The more difficult things get, the more we have to burn.

In the middle of the 20th century, back in the prodigious decades from the 50s to the 80s, with one unit of energy we obtained one hundred, that is, by burning a barrel we extracted so much blood for this system based on the abundance of concentrated solar fossil energy, manufactured by the Earth for millions of years, that we were thus subsidized for an unbridled growth culminating in what we wanted to call our welfare state. But as time went by, the fees of extraction was reduced, and not only the finiteness of our planet was to blame, but our own voracity, everything seemed little to us, so that today we find ourselves with a barrel that barely takes eighteen from the planet, and soon it will be less. The frontier from one to ten will be traumatic, since we will have to burn more and more if we want to maintain our unsustainable pace, the problem is that we are not going to achieve it, and we know it, Paris has democratized it, has made it public and universal: the planet and its geology had a limit, although we did not want to see it.

In fact, the Paris summit was the first time that this biophysical limit has been seen in a global way, it simply underlined in a democratic way a necessary pathway that scientists or media figures such as Pope Francis have known about for a long time. In the light of these considerations we can explain many more events than the indisputable anthropogenic climate change and its heat waves, droughts or extreme events: wars, famines, desperate migrations, financial crises, are but manifestations of a global change that is taking place and that indeed, as recognized in Paris, is the end of an era that was already announced: it is the end of the era of fossil fuels, which raised an implume biped to its highest heights of mastery of the environment. It must now prove that the medium that guarantees its own existence can continue to do so.