Life, as we know it, is reliant on the conversion of energy into forms that sustain it.
For example, breathing is part of the process of using gasses to supply chemical energy to maintain all bodily functions when combined with water and food (which is a blanket term we use for a wide range of essential chemical components). Because the human capacity to store oxygen is more limited than our ability to retain water and food, our individual lives can be ended or impaired most quickly by any interruption in the supply of oxygen or the internal processes that distribute this gas (such as anything that stops the heart working) but both people and other creatures can and do have their lives ended through what we call thirst (lack of water) and starvation (lack of food).
The human economy is, in essence, the way we convert energy from the environment available to us to provide not only what our bodies need to be sustained but also to stimulate our consciousness, through which we make choices about how and when we convert sources of energy.
Human activities are only part of the sum total of animate and inanimate energy conversion that make up the system we exist within but they do affect us both positively and negatively over both the short and longer term. An incident such as when an oil rig exploded in April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico is obviously connected to human action but the extent to which humanity contributed to the extremes of weather experienced in many countries across the globe in recent years is much harder to assess but should not be discounted. This is because ‘the climate’ is just how we name the experience of energy moving around the surface of the planet we live on. In this context, the energy conversion activities of over six billion human beings are significant, if not provably decisive in any particular case.
Energy is not something that we create, it is already there, but we can chose to convert it into forms that sustain body and mind immediately and also reduce potential future harmful effects. This is the purpose of sustainable development.
Original text: September 2010
Amended: June 2013