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In fixing one problem, we might exacerbate a worse one

A few months ago, the world seemed to be on the verge of a societal breakthrough.Oil prices had skyrocketed to more than $150 a barrel.

A few months ago, the world seemed to be on the verge of a societal breakthrough.

Oil prices had skyrocketed to more than $150 a barrel. That caused plenty of problems, but it also caused a positive shift in behaviour.

People started changing their lives to curb fossil fuel use.

They were parking their cars and taking public transit.

They were improving their home insulation.

They were looking at alternative energy sources.

High oil prices were forcing people to be more efficient.

And then the mortgage and banking crisis hit.

Oil prices dropped to the $70 range. And, as prices dropped, people stopped thinking about their use of oil.

For starters, they started driving again.

But they should continue to tighten their oil use.

The global credit crisis has obscured things, but the problems in the world supply and demand of oil haven’t really changed.

Many expect the price of oil to rise again, and relatively soon.

The worst thing people could do is to grow complacent.

First, with the world dangerously close to a global depression society needs to be more efficient, not less.

Second, the world cannot survive if people don’t change their thoughtless resource consumption.

According to a report issued by the World Wildlife Fund last week, pollution, overfishing, deforestation and land conversion was having a devastating impact on the world’s ecology.

“If our demands on the planet continue to increase at the same rate, by the mid-2030s we would need the equivalent of two planets to maintain our lifestyles,” said WWF International director-general James Leape, which drafted the Living Planet Report.

Essentially, there are ecological parallels to the credit collapse.

“We are acting ecologically in the same way as financial institutions have been behaving economically — seeking immediate gratification without due regard for the consequences,” said Jonathan Loh, of the Zoological Society of London.

“The consequences of a global ecological crisis are even graver than the current economic meltdown,” he said.

North America, Europe and China are stripping the planet bare. It’s only non-EU Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean that still live within their “biocapacity,” according to the report.

World leaders need to address the ecological problems quickly.

If not, the ability to achieve any sort of societal prosperity in the future will be compromised.

It won’t be easy, warned Leape.

It will require bolder action than that being mustered to deal with the global credit crisis, he said.

We’re capable of it.

But, we must have the will.

And fixing the global credit mess to resume thoughtless consumption is not the answer.