Concerns about future scarcity of life-supporting resources such as water and oil portray a gloomy 21st century riddled with wars and conflicts. Some predict that resource-based conflicts will arise as early as 2025. As global population continues to grow, and resource-hungry economies share a diminishing pool of goods, conflict seems probable, yet feels so surreal.
Modern society makes it easy to forget that fighting over scarce resources and space is as old as life itself. While my wife and I feel comfortable in our modest one bedroom apartment, yards away from complete strangers, I have no doubt that my early ancestors would feel a bit edgy if an unfamiliar tribe roamed a few miles too near. It is more likely that our predecessors managed to survive due to their ability to forcefully obtain and defend precious resources, rather than to selflessly share them with others. Modern civilization, technology, and the illusion of abundance make us look back on those barbaric practices and believe that we as a species can never slide back to that reality. After all, except for a decorative fence around our petunias we usually do not exhibit many territorial statements; and if an elderly lady takes the last bottle of water in our local grocery store we will most likely let her keep it. When our property is being protected by legal documentation, and our basic needs are met by a tap or a supermarket aisle, it is easy to forget how territorial we can be.
Nevertheless, I believe that we are entering a new phase in human history. We cannot rely anymore on force to obtain new resources, nor we can ignore less fortunate nations’ elementary needs. Armed conflicts over resources will most likely keep happening, but they will not prove successful, or long lasting. The loser in any future resource-triggered conflict can easily make any winner doubt his victory and possibly regret the entire ordeal. Rivers can be diverted, water reservoirs can be poisoned, and oil wells can be set ablaze with relatively little effort. War may be profitable for a little while, but extended occupation rarely is. The future of humanity will be determined in how we cooperate and share, and not in how we accumulate and keep to ourselves.
While a responsible use and sharing of resources may not have been the best practice for our ancient ancestors – it may be our only sustainable option. How can design alleviate this pressure and provide better solutions for a future in a resource deprived world?