An interesting relationship

The purpose of this post is to relate the environment, the economy, and energy and talk about how they all depend on each other.  In this post I use a crash course provided by Chris Mortenson, who has an interesting view on these three areas and further enlightens the viewer about the relationship between these three fields.

The way we as humans treat the environment can also end up having a profound effect on the economy because of the way that they are connected. Some of the most important aspects of the connection between the economy, environment, and energy are not very apparent to the average human; therefore, it is crucial that we understand this connection in order to further understand the impact some of our daily activities are having on the world. If there is any major change in one of these areas, then there can end up being a profound effect on the other two fields, which can be detrimental.

The relationship between these three areas has been existent for quite some time now, dating all the way back to the early 1900’s when John Muir associated himself with the preservation ethic.  His concept of preservation states that “…we should protect the natural environment in a pristine, unaltered state(1)” (p. 143). Muir was motivated because of some of the environmental issues that were starting to take place, such as deforestation and environmental degradation. He believed that the nature deserved to be protected and that the nature promoted human happiness.  The environment supplies us with different resources that we need to survive: the sun’s energy, fresh water, trees, and fossil fuels. All of these resources are needed for our global economy to function; therefore, the environment provides us with the natural resources we need in order to obtain and produce energy, which is then used to run the global economy. This statement comes to say that the relationship between the environment, the economy, and energy is very important because each of these different areas must be properly functioning in order for the world to function without major flaws.

Chris Mortenson, who is trained as a scientist and has a PhD from Duke University where he specialized in neurotoxicology. He is not an economist, he thinks and acts like a scientist. Chris Mortenson has produced a crash course on the relationship between the environment, the economy, and energy. His ideas presented in this course are extremely credible because of the proof and data he provides with each assumption. The figures he shows throughout the course presents topics that need to be taken into consideration in every human being. To watch the video start with this link.

The main question proposed throughout his crash course is how our lives will differ in the upcoming 20 years compared to past 20.  One of the first things he mentions is that the way national economies are spending money is insurmountable.  The graph below shows how a countries actual debt is minimal compared to their total liabilities.


The blue bar shows the debt that we hear about in the news everyday and the green bar shows the total liabilities of a country, which is much larger than the debt.  This shows that countries have put themselves into a situation that is basically impossible to get out of, the only thing we can do is print more money or default.   We have put ourselves in this situation because of how insufficiently we use resources and not realizing it.

Another topic that he brings up is that we do not live in a linear world, like most of us think.  Instead, we live in an exponential world, which means that we are using resources much faster than we think.  We do not realize how many resources we are using.  The graph helps explain that we do not realize how the way we use important resources in an unsustainable way will build on itself and we will end up in a predicament that we might not be able to get out of.


Another figure that Mortenson shows in his course is about oil consumption and availability.  The graph below shows that the oil we are currently using is being decimated at a very fast pace and its availability will be minimal in 20 years.  The oil reserves that will be available in the future will be much harder to get to and will not present us with nearly as much.  One of the interesting things Mortenson brings up in his course is that the deep sea oil spill that happened in 2008 would have only supplied the world with 12 to 24 hours of oil use.


The rate at which we are using resources has become absurd over the past 20 years.  We are using resources at such a fast rate that we are going to run out of them a lot faster than we predicted.  Now, in order to obtain these same resources we are having to dig deeper and go to remote areas.  In order to do this, we have to spend more money and expend a lot more energy, which supports one of Morthenson’s main points: the fact that we are consuming resources at an exponential rate causes us to expend more energy and further add to our total liabilities, which shows the connection between the environment, the economy, and energy.  The graph below depicts this issue, showing that in order to obtain resources we have to spend more money and use more energy.


The graphs I have presented above are some of the points made in his course that I think are the most important.  All of these topics show how the environment, the economy, and energy all relate to each other.  In order for the economy to function it is necessary for the environment to be producing natural services at a steady rate.  The economy relies on several factors of the environment in order to function, such as the sun, wind, water, and trees.  If it were not for the environment, the economy would not function properly and we would not be able to obtain enough energy to survive.  Since we have used up a large portion of our natural resources we are having to spend more money and energy in order to obtain these necessary resources, such as oil.  People do not realize that we live in an exponential world, meaning that we use resources at a much faster rate than we think.  Mortenson uses a great analogy to relate to this.  He wants you to imagine you’re handcuffed at the top of a large, water-tight arena and it fills up at an exponential rate, starting with one drop of water.  You would only have 50 minutes to get out.  This shows that we are going to put ourself in a bad predicament, which means we will have to find a solution to fix our resources depletion issues.

After watching this crash course I have been thinking a lot about what Mortenson had to say.  It made me a little scared to listen to his video because I did not realize that we live in an exponential world, I though population growth was the only exponential growth we had.  This course has made me think more about how the environment relates to energy consumption and the economy.  I now have a better understanding of this relationship and realize its importance.  I agree with John Muir who said that we should protect the environment because if it does not produce at its normal efficiency the economy will suffer, which would result in a global breakdown.


1. Withgott, J. & Brennan, S. (2010). Environment: The science behind the stories. 4th Ed. San Francisco: Pearson Education.

2. Chris Mortenson “Part 2 of 6 -UK crash course” (November 22, 2010) Retrieved December 8th from

3. Chris Mortenson “Part 4 of 6 -UK crash course” (November 22, 2010) Retrieved December 8th from

4. Chris Mortenson “Part 5 of 6 -UK crash course” (November 22, 2010) Retrieved December 8th from

5. Chris Mortenson “Part 5 of 6 -UK crash course” (November 22, 2010) Retrieved December 8th from


One response to “An interesting relationship

  1. I really like your thoughts about this topic. I am glad they really managed to open your eyes. We do live in a very hard to understand world at times, and we must do our best not to forget that all of our actions have affects.

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