First, a question: Do you have a cupboard and drawers where you keep your things? Maybe you keep more stuff under your bed too! And on shelves, in cupboards and so on.
But what are you doing this for?
You’re storing things that belong to you, of course. Things like clothes, shoes, food, drink, games and so on.
But why have all these things in the first place? And what do you mean when you say, “Hey, that’s mine!” to your friends or brother or sister?
Here’s some answers…
No other animals are like humans when it comes to having loads of stuff. Other animals don’t ‘own’ things. And mostly they don’t store things either. It’s true that squirrels and some birds hide nuts for the winter — but not many and they sometimes forget where they hid them so new trees grow instead!
So why do people hoard so many things? To find out, let’s look at some human history.
The very first human beings started out in Africa many tens of thousands of years ago. They didn’t need fur or feathers to keep warm because they lived in a hot climate. Not having either meant that they could live and hunt very effectively on the hot African plains. They could keep cool because they could sweat all over their bodies. Furry or feathery animals can’t do this. The downside was that people had to stay in the warmer places to avoid getting cold.
But then some humans had a real brainwave! They invented clothes — a huge leap forward because clothes meant people could spread (migrate) to cold parts of the world and still keep warm. At first, people made their clothes out of the skins of other animals they had killed. Later, they made their clothes from spinning stuff like wool into strings and weaving it to make clothes and rugs. Today’s clothes mean people can live anywhere — even the South Pole .
And today, clothes do something else for you. They say something about who you are, don’t they? You choose your clothes. You own them. And you store the ones you aren’t using — you know, all those shirts or shoes that you didn’t really like or grew out of.
Another really big change came when people invented farming. They found they could grow, harvest and store food in large amounts which made it less likely that anyone would go hungry during the winter. Though most people farmed, some people chose to do other sorts of work (like building houses or making clothes). They gave tokens they had earned for their work to the food-growing farmers in exchange for food. The tokens were made out of metal like gold and could be swapped for work or other things like food, clothes and land. What do you call these tokens today?
That’s right: Money. Like rupees, dollars, euros, pesos… With money came the idea of owning property. Here’s a couple of examples of ownership:
“I paid you money for that cow. That cow is now mine. She belongs to me. She’s my property.”
“That land is mine. You can’t walk on it. I’ve bought it. Keep off. No trespassing. Private property!”
All these new inventions — owning things, storing things and money — led to something else.
It’s this ‘something’ which fuelled people’s wish to own things in ever larger amounts.
Can you guess?
Believe it or not, people (scientists) have been living at the South Pole since 1956. And there the temperature is mostly around -58 °C. Now that really is cold — even for a penguin like me!
Yes, greed! Did you guess it?
Well everyone’s greedy, aren’t they? I certainly like to guzzle my delicious fish until I’m really full, that’s for sure. And I’ll bet you like to fill up on all your favourite foods and drinks if you can get them. And lions, when they’ve made a kill, will eat until they can eat no more.
So is human greed different?
I’ve shown you how humans can own things and store them. But greed is all about having more. Having enough is never enough. You can be greedy with food but you can’t keep on eating for ever. You’d burst! But if you have (or can borrow) enough of those tokens you call money, you can keep on buying (owning) and storing toys, TVs, clothes, shoes, cars, houses for ever (well, until the money runs out). Nobody needs to own six cars, an SUV, a power boat, three houses and a light airplane. You can only do so many things at once! But lots of people do have small mountains (stores) of possessions which they own (private property—it’s mine, all mine, so get your hands off!) because they happen to have lots of money. Why do people want to have so much?
Greed is a big player, but so is the idea that by buying things and so owning them, you somehow get to be happy. Do you think that having every thing you want would make you happy? I doubt it. Look at us penguins: we’re happy and we own nothing at all. Anyway, that’s your problem!
Because some people are very greedy, they even fight other people to grab what they have too.This is how some wars happen. They are about owning and controlling land, sea, minerals (like oil) and fresh water (for drinking and farming). Other wars start because one lot of powerful people hates another lot because they speak a different language, have a different religion or a different skin colour. Wars are bad news for everything and everybody except the industry that makes guns, bombs and other things for killing lots of people.
We other animals own nothing and so we don’t damage anything. The strong human desire
to buy more and more,
to over-consume and even
to fight wars to get more,
is sucking our
as you will see...
I guess you have a room of your own at home. You probably don’t keep it very tidy or clean but you don’t wreck it, do you? It wouldn’t make any sense to smash it and all your stuff up and make it horrible because that’s your own space where you do your own thing. But you probably don’t bother with the rest of your house (unless your parents nag you), or the backyard, or your street, or your town.
Or your planet?
That’s someone else’s problem, isn’t it?
All humans — yes, adults too — are a little like that. They think they’re very clever — and they are in many ways. But they’re not quite clever enough. A really clever animal would not trash its only home while pretending that everything was just fine.
Here’s a quick look at what’s wrong.
People are taking too much from the planet: oil, gas, coal, trees, metals and minerals, soils
Little left for people to use in the future. Today’s humans are eating the future
Humans throw away ‘rubbish’ in vast amounts as pollution and trash
Cars, trucks, planes and ships ‘throw away’ waste gases from burning fuel into the air. Factories and power stations ‘throw away’ not just waste gas but also liquids and solids, many of which are highly poisonous to life. Trash mountains (garbage) grow ever bigger outside cities.
Some say there are too many people: now almost 7,500,000 — that’s 7 1/2 billion — of you!
People are taking up too much space on the planet
Poor countries have lots of people but they (because they are poor) use very little stuff. They can’t — they’re too poor to buy anything. So they are not eating the future. Mostly they have no future. The people in rich countries are the real future-eaters because they can buy (and waste) loads of stuff.
Less and less space for other animals and plants. Farming now takes up most usable land. Over-fishing the seas has destroyed once-rich fishing grounds. When people want yet more space (roads, homes, farms for more food production, industry), forests get burned or cut down and millions of other animals and plants lose their homes. Many die or go extinct.
People are always fighting wars which destroy not just other people (often kids who may be forced to fight too) but also cause terrible pollution
Humans are the only animals that kill each other (as well as other animals) in millions. We penguins may fight occasionally but we don’t kill each other. Unfortunately for humans, making war machines is now a giant industry. The more ‘efficient’ these killing machines are, the more expensive they become.
humans have short memories
If human lifespans were 700 years instead of around 70, people would be able to remember the way the world was before modern industry, technology and ‘progress’ (towards what?). Then they’d see the damage clearly. Today, most people are born into the noise and pollution of cities which for them seems ‘natural’ — as if it had always been like that.
it’s okay. Clever humans can fix any problems by using technology
Some believe that science and technology will provide the means to ‘fix’ the planet’s problems when they get so big that disasters begin to happen. Well maybe. But more likely is that disasters will happen more and more to poor people in poor countries where there is no money to pay for ‘techno-fixes’. Rich countries might be able to afford to fix their own backyards — for a while.
world full up or fouled up? No problem. Mars — here we come!
A few people seriously believe that space travel will soon allow humans to set up new colonies on the Moon — or the planet Mars. Although this may be possible, it’s a dangerous idea because it suggests it’s okay to carry on ‘eating the future’ because there’s an ‘escape hatch’ (but only for a few) when humans mess up planet Earth too much. Hey! What about the rest of you humans and all other life? And no thanks, I don’t want to go to Mars — no water and no fish!
I’m happy that many people — especially young people like you — are waking up. You’ve got the message. You can see the problems and how bad the future could be. Sadly many people think they can’t do anything about it because they have no power to change anything. That’s where they’re wrong! You ‘awake’ humans can change things. It’s not too late. I’ve got loads of ideas for you at the end of my guide. But first, let’s look at how you get ‘locked in’ to the planet-trashing machine…
Locked into the work treadmill
Prisoners used to know all about treadmills. They were big wheels, like old-fashioned water wheels, powered by the weight of prisoners endlessly walking forward and, of course, getting nowhere. The turning wheel held several prisoners, all treading forward for hours on end. It was used to power other machines.
But really it was a form of punishment.
Some say that kids like you are really just being ‘trained’ to fit into the new-style treadmill of work. Got to work hard in school and get good grades so you can get a good job so you can buy everything you want… and if you don’t get a ‘proper’ job, you’re a ‘failure’ and your status is low.
What things do I really need? Of course, you need to work to earn money to buy clothes, food and all the other things you want. I guess the question is:
will you work to just get what you need — or what you want?
‘Needs’ and ‘wants’ are two very different things. Think about it and then take a peek below.
basic food: bread, vegetables, fruit
chips, hamburgers, takeaway food, junk/fun food, cookies, chocolate, candies
soda, fruit juice, coffee, beer, wine, spirits, milk
shirt, pants, socks, shoes, coat
fashionwear, designer label shoes and sportswear, trendy stuff to make sure I’m really cool —like all my friends.
mouth and tongue for talking, pen and paper for writing
Smartphone (can’t do without that these days) and tablet or computer for email, chat, Facebook, Twitter, games and… oh yes!… to access Tiki the Penguin’s website.
feet (bike, public transport)
4 cars, 2 SUVs, jet-ski, motorcycle, airplane, submarine, fast launch, ocean-going luxury yacht
hygiene & appearance
water, soap, toothbrush and paste
perfumes, toiletries, bubblebath, oceans of hot water for baths and showers, makeup and cleansing creams, fancy hairstyle, hair drier
friends, ideas, ingenuity
everything my friends have and more, including the latest TV, DVD, CD player, radio, mp3 player, computer, computer games, video camera, own workout gym, robot to do everything for me, swimming pool, Jacuzzi, windsurfing gear, powered glider, fast car, truck to carry everything everywhere, 3 houses in the country, holidays in Costa Rica and Italy, ocean cruise to South Georgia to meet me… etc. And soon, a tourist trip into space!
modest house with water supply for bathroom and kitchen. Small garden to grow food.
grand mansion in select area with heating/air conditioning in every one of its many rooms. House to be near take-aways and fast food outlets ‘cos I don’t want to bother with cooking. Too busy…
can you think of anything else?
yes, thousands of things. And I want them all. I mean I really do need all these things. Like really. Can’t live without them. I must have them … gimme more, more, more… blah blah blah.
Of course I’m not suggesting that you should never have anything you want and that you only have one pair of shoes and eat potatoes and vegetables and nothing else! That’s the sort of thing a few very religious people do by choice and very poor people do because they don’t have the choice.
My message is that your real needs are few and don’t cost much at all.
Your wants are probably many and they,
in the end,
...cost the Earth.
Can you want something if you don’t know it exists?
Clever people are always inventing new things, or new versions of old ones. This means stuff you already have quickly becomes obsolete even though it may be working perfectly well. So you feel pressure to go out and buy new. Sound familiar? Well that’s the basis of the fashion industry. Fashions change quickly to keep you buying new stuff. But there’s no money to be made out of a new style of shoe, cellphone or something if people don’t know they’re there to buy. So if you’ve made a new gadget you want to sell but nobody knows about it, what would you do?
The answer is you advertise. This means you tell as many people as possible in as many ways as you can about your gadget. How do you do this? By using media like radio, TV, magazines and websites such as Facebook. And advertisers know that if they repeat their “message” over and over again, you are more likely to buy their particular product. So they do… over and over and over. And it works!
So click the jetski picture to see the animation I’ve made about advertising!
You’ve probably seen and heard many thousands of ads demanding that you must buy this or that ‘new and improved’ food, drink, soap, DVD player, game… the list goes on and on. And (remember my point about needs and wants?) had you noticed that almost nothing that you need is advertised? Nobody advertises potatoes or water unless they’re processed in some way — like chips or cola. So the purpose of advertising is to make you want things you don’t need and didn’t know about until you first saw the ad. There’s another more sinister purpose too: to make you feel you’re missing out somehow if you don’t buy whatever it is. Suppose your friends have it and you don’t?
How un-cool can you get???
You have to keep up or, better still, be one step ahead with your buying.
It takes real courage to buck the trend and not buy things that everybody else has. It’s hard on kids with some money; really tough on poor kids who have none. It’s also tough on parents. They have to put up with — and pay for — more and more demands from their kids for the latest trendy gizmo, stylish trainer or playstation. Advertisers even target toddlers. The idea is to get young kids to want particular brands of soft drink and breakfast cereal and so on as soon as they can walk and talk. Then the kids use their ‘pester power’ (I’m sure you’ll know all about that!) to get the brand they know best; the one that all their friends have. The ads have worked.
Another favourite advertising ploy is to claim that a product is ‘time-saving’. People are always buying new time-saving things but seem to have less and less time… for themselves or for their kids. Why? Because they’re having to work harder and harder to earn enough money to buy more and more stuff!
Humans really seem to be locked into an endless treadmill of working harder to buy more to save time to work harder…
All this means more and more factories producing more and more stuff, most of which ends up thrown away within hours or days. Just look in your garbage to see how much. All this ‘future junk’ comes from the Earth: it’s one of the main reasons people are eating the future.
And it can’t go on. It is not sustainable. Something has to give. As I said earlier, many people know this but don’t feel they can do anything about it. But that just isn’t so. You, your friends and family have the power to help make changes for your — our — future. On the next page, I’m going to give you some ideas how you can do this.
This is what manufacturers want above all things: brand loyalty. That’s why ads keep repeating over and over again the brand name they want you to automatically think of when you are about to buy something. So if you’re in the store and want a can of soda, the advertisers know that you are most likely to pick up the brand of drink you are familiar with.
Don’t forget they also need big vehicles and trailers to tow them to the beach
Meaning that it causes a lot of unnecessary pollution and in many cases are just toys for ‘grown up’ boys.
These things are useful and needed. Many are fun to do and don’t cause pollution.
How to stop eating the future
Only after the last tree has been cut down
Only after the last river has been poisoned
Only after the last fish has been caught
Only then will you find you cannot eat money – Native American saying
The choice is yours. If you don’t care and just want to carry on buying, buying, buying… well, you won’t be reading this anyway.
But you are reading this, aren’t you!
That must mean you do care.
And I know you can make a difference. It won’t be obvious or fast but it will happen. It has to if our beautiful planet is to survive with all its wonderful life and variety. Ignoring the problems – generally called ‘business as usual’ – will mean a poor and dreary world with filthy air, rivers and sea, waste plastic everywhere, land covered by more roads, airports, bigger industrial farms and cities. And more wars.
And where will the wild creatures be? There won’t be any space left. Penguins, polar bears and many other creatures are already in trouble — as are around one billion people who barely have enough to eat. By consuming less, you can help to create a fairer sustainable world.
lifestyle is a choice. You can choose to change it
Drop down a gear or two. Slow down. Chill out (I like chilling out!). Spend more time with friends. Play more. Buy less. Make music. Learn to cook. Get involved in local conservation efforts. The best things in life are free. You can’t buy laughter or happiness!
learn about how to mend things or ask someone else to help
a small tube of glue can stop something you broke becoming more junk. A few stitches with a needle and thread fixes that rip in your pants. Mending things — recycling really — is much cheaper than buying new. You’ll find you discover all kinds of new useful skills — and have fun! Fixing something is very satisfying. Taking care of your stuff helps too.
recycle everything you can
cans, bottles, jars, paper, most plastics, food waste (for compost) — almost everything can be used again in some way if you take the trouble to separate it and make sure it gets to your recycling centre. And if there is no local recycling centre, maybe you can campaign to get one. After all, there’s no sense in driving 50 miles to take a few bottles to be recycled. But now, more and more towns and cities have proper recycling services. Usually you have special bins provided into which you put all the different types of recyclable stuff you want to throw away. Once a week, the bins get emptied and the (re)cycle starts again. It’s a great sevice if you have it so be sure to use it!
can I do this forever?
get the habit of asking yourself that question. You can drink as many glasses of water or eat as many potatoes as you want because the water gets naturally recycled and potatoes grow new every year. You can also go hiking with your friends. But can you fly between Australia and New York every week? Not when all the fuel has run out. And what about all that pollution that your flight makes? Try my interactive sustainability quiz and find out if you are a future-eater
share things with your friends
if there’s something you, other family members or your friends really want, see if you can agree to buy it between you and share it
buyers have power! (Click the dragon to find out more)
companies that make stuff for you to buy take a great interest in what you do buy. If loads of people stop buying something, the company won’t make it any more. If loads of people choose to buy some other product because they can see it’s not harming the planet, then that company not only makes money but is encouraged to make more planet-friendly things. Everyone wins!
(I don’t mean school work — I mean if you have a well-paid job)
why do humans work harder and harder (those who have work, that is)? Why must it be 5 days a week — or even more? Why not more holiday? Why must stores be open 24 hours a day? These are questions to talk about with friends, parents, teachers, local businesspeople, politicians. There are no easy answers but there’s something wrong with the present work-work-work system. If it was making things that were really useful or needed, then it would be different. But it isn’t. Most stuff quickly gets to be junk. Why waste the planet to make junk? Remember the tale of the Fisherman and the Tourist.
the world is full up! It’s now got around 6,500,000,000 people and going up. When you grow up and want to have kids, think about the life you will be able to give them. Meantime, here’s some questions to think about:
- Will there be enough for everyone?
- What about all the wild animals on the planet. Will there be space left for any of them?
- Who should have children?
- Who shouldn’t?
- And who decides?
There are no easy answers.
each time you buy something, ask yourself: Do I really need this?
If the honest answer is ‘no’, then don’t buy. Not buying might be hard at the time, but then you have the money for something else that you might really need. And you can give yourself a big plus point for doing your bit for the planet.
Do you go to school in a car? If you do, is there room for more kids from your neighbourhood? Can you use a bus instead of riding in the car? Public transport is really about sharing with others. Use it or lose it.
Walk to the shops or your friends’ houses. Or use a bike. The easy option is always to drive. But walking and biking do no harm to the planet. Driving does. Working out (in a gym) may be good for people. But walking out could be even better in the long run.
What do you think about eating the future? Have you any good ideas about what we can do to make things better? If you do, please write to me. As long as your message is sensible and friendly, I promise to reply.
If you’ve found my Eating the Future guide useful, please would you be kind enough to make a donation to help run my website. I know you kids don’t have credit cards or anything but perhaps you could persuade either your parents or your school to make a donation. It’s so easy and you can do it here.
Source: New Scientist, 17 March 2017
NASA scientists have found that tiny soot particles emitted by jet engines create condensation trails (contrails) which crisscross the skies where aircraft have been. They are an important cause of global warming: “Contrails, and the cirrus clouds that evolve from them, have a larger impact on Earth’s atmosphere than all the aviation-related carbon dioxide emissions since the first powered flight”. Source
Mining is taking something out and not replacing it
The robots are coming!
This worry is now made worse because robots and automation are replacing more and more jobs, formerly done by people. So more people are chasing fewer jobs
When I first wrote this guide (1999), there were just 6 billion of you.
This is not to say that all others systems for growing food are bad or wrong. There are several approaches which are sustainable one of which involves careful use of genetically modified crops.
The hydrogen could be made
- using the sun to break down water into its two elements — hydrogen and oxygen atoms (H2O)… totally renewable energy. But hydrogen is a light gas which needs to be stored at high pressures in strong containers. It can explode when mixed with air.
- from crop plants like sugar cane which, when fermented, make alcohol. This is a liquid biofuel, easy to store and safe, which can be easily used as a hydrogen source.
But biofuels come with big problems of their own.
Want to find out more for yourself about how you can live sustainably without eating the future? There are loads of places to visit so I’ve just selected a few which I like the best.
Here are some useful sites. Why not check some of them out?
- Recycled Art Ideas for Kids Could you make an octopus out of an old sock? Or a mask out of a cereal box?
- Kids FACE – That’s Kids For A Clean Environment. It’s the world’s largest youth environmental organization, founded by a 9-year-old from Tennessee (USA) back in 1989
- Waste Watch – Waste less, live more!
And please avoid disappointment and don’t send me more links, no matter how useful you think they are. Lots of people do but I simply don’t have time to deal with them. Sorry!