back to article You know all those resources we're about to run out of? No, we aren't

Among the more surprising things that the BBC revealed to us last week was that the UK was going to run out of coal within the next five years. Given that the island is pretty much built on a bed of coal, this is something of a puzzler. The northern end of the huge water-filled pit, showing the coal seams in the rock at Broken …

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  1. hplasm Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Great Article.

    As soon as I saw the Headlines in the press, I knew they were crap- now I know exactly why, and have had confirmed for once and for all, that we as a planet, are being run by a pack of idiots.

    1. Graham Cobb

      Re: Great Article.

      I agree it is a great article -- very persuasive. However, I know nothing about the subject matter and can't judge whether the assertions are correct, or whether there are any counter-arguments. What I am even more worried about, than the fact that some incorrect analysis is going around, is that we don't seem to have a good way for claims like these to be tested and debated and trustworthy conclusions to be drawn.

      What has happened to the good science journalists? Presumably this is an effect of our unwillingness to pay for journalism any more. How do we get the BBC to rescue Horizon from the pit it has fallen into and start using it for serious science journalism like this?

      Some topics, like climate change or string theory, are extremely hard to analyse and there can be genuine expert disagreement (although vested interests don't help!). But I would have thought that this topic was something which some genuine experts could all agree on in their lunch break.

      1. Tim Worstal

        Ahem.

        "What has happened to the good science journalists?"

        I can give you a clue.

        "I agree it is a great article"

        *smug smile*

        1. Graham Cobb

          Re: Ahem.

          Tim, It is a good, informative and interesting article. Definitely good science journalism. Thank you.

          But that is only half of the picture. It isn't an investigative or independent review article. And I wouldn't ask you to write one precisely because you are a subject matter expert, with your own opinion. Where are the other good science journalists, who can investigate the (possibly divergent) views of experts, present the arguments for and against, and help us come to a conclusion?

          Both aspects are needed: informative, educational articles about a subject area, and investigative, analytic articles to help us draw conclusions. I am not sure El Reg is the right forum for that, but I don't know where is nowadays.

          1. earl grey Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: Ahem.

            I'm sorry, but your "discuss the controversy" sounds just like the creationists. they have no argument; they have no knowledge; they have no fact. The "lack" of scarcity is not a question of divergent opinions among the "experts"; the knowledgeable sources were never sourced for the original article.

            The only thing i've run out of is gold-pressed latinum; everything else we're good on for a long, long time. good article.

            1. Graham Cobb

              Re: Ahem.

              Sorry, Earl, I didn't make myself clear. I am not interested in "discussing the controversy" -- as you say, that is the opposite of science, used only by the most disreputable.

              I am, however, interested in articles which are not just polemic (interesting, informative but polemic), but ones where I can have some way to make a judgement on the validity of the claims: the BBC certainly do make mistakes in science journalism but you have to have your supporting evidence clear if you are going to make that claim. In the academic world this is usually by citing references, pointing to supporting material. However, in the popular world it is normally by a trusted, independent journalist explaining whether there is any serious disagreement, if so by whom, what credentials and evidence the disagreeing parties have, etc.

              Tim's article was educational and interesting. However, for a reader with no experience in this area, it gave no information as to where his claims lie on the continuum between "bleeding obvious to everyone" to "credited only by the tinfoil hat brigade". It was an opinion piece. I would like an analysis piece as well.

              1. BlueGreen

                Re: Ahem. @Graham Cobb

                > but ones where I can have some way to make a judgement on the validity of the claims

                Well, there's some validity to this article, but as usual, Mr. Worstall seems to make convenient assumptions.

                Available resources = the resource + availability (duuuh). Obviously we can't destory the actual atoms of %element% so let's look at availability. What makes %element% available? In large part, refinement [*]. What does refinement take? Lorra, lorra energy. Where does that come from? Mainly fossil fuels, currently. Do we have several 1000 years' of fossil fuels, and and adequate place to dump FF waste without bad things happening? You tell me.

                All things become possible under the idiotic assumption of unlimited energy.

                Mr. Worstall blatantly does not work in the fossil fuel industry. I worked in a related area and what I saw about the production of FFs literally scared me, and still does.

                Other points on the article...

                > Thus we get told we must recycle more

                So, Tim, you're suggesting we shouldn't bother?

                > the poor cannot be allowed to become rich

                I'd appreciate a reference, as I've never heard of or read this nasty proposition.

                > [Thus we get told we must ] limit human civilisation

                Almost meaningless without saying what 'human civilisation' actually means. Could you clarify?

                [*] leaving out refineries etc.

                (and @everyone else, per a separate thread - please get out and vote!)

                1. captain veg

                  Re: Ahem. @Graham Cobb

                  >> Thus we get told we must recycle more

                  AFAIK the reasons for so doing are to do with energy use (=> climate change), not material scarcity. There's also the fact that not everyone want to live next to an open-cast mine or have their mountain tops sliced off.

                  -A.

                2. Squander Two

                  Re: Ahem. @ BlueGreen

                  > All things become possible under the idiotic assumption of unlimited energy.

                  What's idiotic about that? Energy is near-as-dammit unlimited. What's limited is our ability to harness it, convert it, move it around, etc. But that's just a technological problem, so the situation keeps improving.

                  > Mainly fossil fuels, currently. Do we have several 1000 years' of fossil fuels

                  See how you conflated "currently" with "for the next several thousand years" there? Oops. You really want to say categorically that we won't be able to mine for an element in a thousand years' time because we won't have enough oil to run the machinery? But Tim made an idiotic assumption. Right.

                  1. BlueGreen

                    Re: Ahem. @ BlueGreen

                    > Energy is near-as-dammit unlimited. What's limited is our ability to harness it, convert it, move it around

                    For pete's sake. *Exactly*. Christ on a fucking bike.

                    > But that's just a technological problem

                    Yes. And it's a huge one.

                    > See how you conflated "currently" with "for the next several thousand years" there? Oops

                    No. Currently we use fossil fuels. When they run out I *don't know* what will replace them. You can't assume that something just as cheap will. It may, it may not, but either you don't assume it, or you do and you make that assumption explicit. He didn't.

                    1. Squander Two

                      Re: Ahem. @ BlueGreen

                      > For pete's sake. *Exactly*. Christ on a fucking bike.

                      Hey, don't blame me if you don't word things correctly. I was responding to exactly what you wrote.

                      > Yes. And it's a huge one.

                      Yes, and? What we're discussing here isn't how difficult it is to solve the problem but how likely it is to be solved in a given timeframe. Given that that timeframe is significantly larger than the one that got us from horses being our fastest method of transport to landing on the Moon, any assumption that progress will not occur because it's difficult is frankly ridiculous.

                      > Currently we use fossil fuels. When they run out I *don't know* what will replace them.

                      It's 1500. Currently we burn wood. When it runs out, I don't know what will replace it. But any prediction I make based on the assumption that nothing will replace it is going to be utter bollocks -- and, indeed, such predictions were made and were utter bollocks.

                      > You can't assume that something just as cheap will.

                      And no-one did. The hypothetical fuel doesn't need to be as cheap as oil. It just needs to be cheap enough to make extracting the mineral cost-effective. Saying that it needs to be cheaper than oil is like evaluating the cost-effectiveness of a current mining rig based on a comparison between the cost of the oil it's using and the price of whale oil in olden times. It's completely immaterial.

                      > It may, it may not, but either you don't assume it, or you do and you make that assumption explicit. He didn't.

                      Oh, please. If someone doesn't explicitly state "I think we might be using different technology in a thousand years' time," the rest of their argument is rendered invalid?

                      1. BlueGreen

                        Re: Ahem. @ BlueGreen @Squander Two

                        > I was responding to exactly what you wrote.

                        Maybe mixed wires. It's pretty evident to me we've got a large sphere of energy nearby but concentrating it enough is a clear problem. Maybe my cockup (shrug).

                        > Yes, and? What we're discussing here isn't how difficult it is to solve the problem but how likely it is to be solved in a given timeframe

                        Dearie me, no. If it's (hypothetically) solved in say 500 years but our fossil fuels run out in (say) 200, that's a 300 year gap of no energy. No energy = no cheap anything = population collapse = war = more death. No, if we need another energy source it has to be contiguous with our current fossil fuel exhaustion, or else. Or do you think our current civilisation will just magically hibernate for 300 years till the problem is solved? It won't. Dumb.

                        > It's 1500. Currently we burn wood. When it runs out, I don't know what will replace it. But any prediction I make based on the assumption that nothing will replace it is going to be utter bollocks

                        You're right! It's 2500. Fossil fuels have run out and we've replaced them with... wood. It worked before, right, and civilisation carries on exactly as before, just burning wood. Yes? No?

                        Look, maybe something will come to fill in the gap, the problem is solved, but it DOES NOT get solved by people like you supposing technology as a magic wand that cures everything. People like you ARE the problem because they can't be arsed to face reality - "the market will fix it"/"something will come along"/"progress is great". Clearly you have no grasp of the scale of extraction of fossil fuels, or their enormous energy density. Ignorance of these is not a position of strength.

                        > And no-one did [assume that something just as cheap will come along]. The hypothetical fuel doesn't need to be as cheap as oil. It just needs to be cheap enough to make extracting the mineral cost-effective.

                        The key deceptive phrase here is "It just needs to be cheap enough...". And it may be, or it may not. Show me how it *will* be "cheap enough", without handwaving or assuming the future will fix everything, because I bloody can't.

                        1. Squander Two

                          Re: Ahem. @ BlueGreen

                          > If it's (hypothetically) solved in say 500 years but our fossil fuels run out in (say) 200, that's a 300 year gap of no energy. No energy = no cheap anything = population collapse = war = more death.

                          You're assuming that one energy source running out and another being developed are independent events. In fact, one drives the other through pricing. Alternatives that were too expensive to develop become worthwhile as the old options become more expensive and become cheaper as technology becomes more mature. The price of any prospective alternative goes up as the urgency of the need for it increases, which pushes up the amount of resources that go into developing it. You seem to think this stuff is just some wishful guess, but it happens constantly.

                          Interestingly, you are implying that humans would rather suffer mass global population collapse and war than build some nuclear power stations. And you accuse me of being dumb.

                          > Look, maybe something will come to fill in the gap, the problem is solved, but it DOES NOT get solved by people like you supposing technology as a magic wand that cures everything. People like you ARE the problem because they can't be arsed to face reality - "the market will fix it"/"something will come along"/"progress is great".

                          But I never suggested that I was the one who would develop a replacement for fossil fuels. It is possible to predict that someone will achieve something without being that person.

                          You are insisting that any prediction that the world will move from one energy source to another when necessary has to be accompanied by an exact prediction of what that will be, with supporting evidence, or it doesn't count. The thing is, though, anyone who suggested in 1850 that we wouldn't need so many horses in the 20th Century because need would drive the market would incentivize ingenuity would drive technology was right, regardless of whether they predicted the rise of the car. Meanwhile, people like you could insist that any such prediction must be ignored unless it sets out in detail, with timeframes, the inventions of the internal combustion engine and assembly-line production, and get on with fretting about what on Earth we were going to do with all the horseshit.

                          You say that people like me are refusing to face reality, but actually I've just learnt from history. I've been listening to people tell us we're about to run out of stuff and face resultant mass death and war for my entire life. The UN sent a distinguished gentleman to my school to tell us very soberly about their official predictions of mass global starvartion, killing a couple of billion people by the year 2000, 2010 at the outside, due to running out of oil and not being able to grow enough food. These doommongers have been wrong every single time they've opened their mouths. Recognising that is facing reality.

                          But you clearly believe reality is different, so go on, then: give us an example from the last five hundred years of when a suggestion that market-driven technological progress would solve some predicted problem would have been wrong.

                          1. BlueGreen

                            Re: Ahem. @ BlueGreen @Squander Two

                            > You're assuming that one energy source running out and another being developed are independent events

                            No. Your assumption: "What we're discussing here isn't how difficult it is to solve the problem but how likely it is to be solved in a given timeframe". Not contiguous but "in a given time frame". Your words.

                            > In fact, one drives the other through pricing

                            I agree up to a point. Markets are crap at dealing with long-term future likelihoods though, under the current system ("profits NOW!"). They need to be forced to take a long term view if your suggestion is to work. If that were so I'd be a lot happier.

                            > Interestingly, you are implying that humans would rather suffer mass global population collapse and war than build some nuclear power stations.

                            You think our current energy policy is not a mess? Acknowledged fossil fuels are running out, nuke builds are getting behind schedule, you can find vegetables in the supermarkets *flown* in to the UK FFS, we still have no policy for dealing with nuke waste (something I know about) etc.

                            Yeah, I think humans are dumb enough to outbreed their sustainable resources and then crash horribly. Looks like it's happening already.

                            > But I never suggested that I was the one who would develop a replacement for fossil fuels

                            I didn't say you were, only that you had given no suggestions other than nice wishes. Perhaps if you got involved in energy policy...? No? Too much effort? Ah well.

                            > It is possible to predict that someone will achieve something without being that person

                            And it is possible to be wrong. Not necessarily wrong, but possibly.

                            > You are insisting that any prediction that the world will move from one energy source to another when necessary has to be accompanied by an exact prediction of what that will be

                            No I did not. I just didn't like your (and Tim's) ignorance of energy supply. Others here (Richard 12, Nigel 11) are giving some useful, constructive, intelligent, thoughtful suggestions. You are taking the view that happy things will happen if you wish hope enough. That's not good enough, indeed its a root cause of our trouble now. (NB I don't necessarily agree with the aforementioned 2 posters but I value what they're saying and for that I upvoted).

                            > These doommongers have been wrong every single time they've opened their mouths

                            Yep. So far. One day they may be right. Or we could make them wrong by stop acting like short-term apes and plan for the future.

                            > so go on, then: give us an example from the last five hundred years of when a suggestion that market-driven technological progress would solve some predicted problem would have been wrong.

                            Well, it's not tech but this. Not a big fan of this guy but here. The market bombed just a couple of years later. It was obvious even to me what would happen and I'm no economist. Dumb people are dumb.

                            If you insist it has to be a tech fix, I can't off the top of my head, but assuming that the magic will continue forever is like assuming any bubble will continue forever.

                            Damn: just remembered this!. Intel says 10Ghz chips in 2011, the editor of that page then loonily opines

                            "

                            so, assuming that early 2001 is a time when 1 GHz processors are rampant let's see what we get if we apply Moore's Law:

                            early 2001: 1 GHz

                            mid 2002: 2 GHz

                            early 2004: 4 GHz

                            mid 2005: 8 GHz

                            early 2007: 16 GHz

                            mid 2008: 32 GHz

                            early 2010: 64 GHz

                            mid 2011: 128 GHz

                            This is very interesting indeed. Intel appears to be underestimating progress in 2011 by a full factor of 10.

                            "

                            Fantastic! Seen any 10Ghz chips on the market recently? Seen any 128Ghz chips either? No? Sad innit.

                            1. Roj Blake Silver badge

                              Re: Ahem. @ BlueGreen @Squander Two

                              Whilst clock speeds haven't been going up by much, the number of cores on a CPU has.

                              Also, strictly speaking Moore's Law refers to the density of switches on silicon, not the clock speed of a chip.

                              1. BlueGreen

                                Re: Ahem. @ BlueGreen @Squander Two @Roj Blake

                                > Whilst clock speeds haven't been going up by much, the number of cores on a CPU has.

                                Irrelevant. The prediction was clock speed, it fell on its face.

                                > Also, strictly speaking Moore's Law refers to the density of switches on silicon, not the clock speed of a chip.

                                You're completely right. Not even 'strictly speaking', the that extrapolation was total bollox. I shouldn't have posted that bit. Upvoted for that catch.

                            2. Squander Two

                              Re: Ahem. @ BlueGreen @Squander Two

                              > Markets are crap at dealing with long-term future likelihoods though, under the current system ("profits NOW!"). They need to be forced to take a long term view if your suggestion is to work. If that were so I'd be a lot happier.

                              See, this is funny, because it was only a couple of years ago that oil futures traders speculating on coming oil shortages pushed the current price of oil up to reflect the predicted future price rise, thus increasing the cost of use and therefore decreasing the amount of use, thereby increasing the amoutn of time we can expect oil to last. And what happened? The media and political class exploded with outrage at the Evil Bankers.

                              > I didn't say you were, only that you had given no suggestions other than nice wishes.

                              Or, as they're otherwise known, an evidence-based understanding of how markets work.

                              > Perhaps if you got involved in energy policy...? No? Too much effort? Ah well.

                              Damn right it's too much effort, because I have other things to do. But here's an idea. How about if every single person in the world got involved in energy policy? Would that work? I think the committee might be a tad unworkable myself, and that most of the work they'd have to give up is probably needed. Given that, is it really fair to say that no-one who isn't directly involved in the political side of something has a right to voice an opinion on it? And have you ever said anything about something you're not politically involved in? I bet you have. I see you were commenting about the NSA. Are you involved in the USA's national security and espionage policies? No? Too much effort?

                              >> These doommongers have been wrong every single time they've opened their mouths

                              > Yep. So far. One day they may be right.

                              Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Yes, they may be, just as the guys preaching on steet corners about the Book of Revelations may be, but it seems a tad perverse to accuse anyone who decides not to believe people who have a 100% record of being wrong of refusing to face reality.

                              > Well, it's not tech but this. Not a big fan of this guy but here. The market bombed just a couple of years later.

                              The real estate bubble is your example? House prices that had been rising for a hundred years crashed back by about seven to eight years? Wow. You're right: the sky is falling.

                              > Intel says 10Ghz chips in 2011, the editor of that page then loonily opines ....

                              But this example makes my point. Did computers become more powerful? Yes. Was Moore's Law broken? No. What happened was that progress and innovation continued, fast, but that, when asked to specify exactly how technology would go, a soothsayer got it wrong. As they always do, even when they don't get details wrong like misunderstanding Moore's Law. Since even very clever well-informed people have been consistently mostly wrong when making such predictions, I don't. But you keep insisting that only people who do make such predictions can possibly have valid opinions.

                              1. BlueGreen

                                Re: Ahem. @ BlueGreen @Squander Two

                                > See, this is funny, because it was only a couple of years ago that oil futures traders speculating on ...

                                Clearly oil will run out. It's been predicted for decades. But 'only a couple of years ago' is not long term. Or is it?

                                > Or, as they're otherwise known, an evidence-based understanding of how markets work.

                                No evidence that you consider markets other than omnipotent in the face of a shortage. They can cure anything, all will be well, fluffy wishes again.

                                > Damn right it's too much effort [to get involved in energy policy]...

                                Exactly.

                                >... because I have other things to do. But here's an idea. How about if every single person in the world got involved in energy policy?

                                Because I suggest you should doesn't mean everyone in the world should. There are many other things to be concerned about. It's just general apathy that stops people becoming involved in anything.

                                > And have you ever said anything about something you're not politically involved in? I bet you have.

                                This is a fair point. I don't expect everyone to be involved in everything, only that they take due care of *something*. Doing nothing for anything is dangerous I think. So as long as I do something (which I did), I have a right to speak on it and other areas. Those who do nothing don't have that right. IMO anyway.

                                > Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Yes, they may be, just as the guys preaching on steet corners about the Book of Revelations may be

                                False comparison. Religion is neither measurable nor testable. Fossil fuel extraction is. CO2 rises are. The lack of a current energy policy to replace FFs when they're gone is eveident.

                                > The real estate bubble is your example? House prices that had been rising for a hundred years crashed back by about seven to eight years? Wow. You're right: the sky is falling.

                                Yep. People thought the bubble would grow forever. It didn't. The market failed in its predictions. Read again: the market FAILED. Not infallible.

                                > But this example [10Ghz chips] makes my point.

                                No it doesn't. Exactly the opposite. Intel, one of the largest chip companies in the world if not the largest, made a prediction and *got it badly wrong*. If you think More Cores is equivalent to Higher Clock, you're clearly not a developer. More cores happened BECAUSE they couldn't keep cranking up the clock even though they said they could. They WANTED to produce higher clocking chips but they FAILED. Your soothsayer, Intel, got it wrong. If anyone knew about clocking up it should have been Intel. They wanted to satisfy the market and they FAILED. Dear me...

                                > Since even very clever well-informed people have been consistently mostly wrong when making such predictions, I don't.

                                No, you just wave the harry potter wand of Market Forces. You don't even propose an alternative energy source unlike other commenters. "It'll be all OK if you turn your brain off and trust the invisible hand". Maybe. Maybe not. Looks like human stupidity will cause us to find out.

                                I also notice you avoided addressing my para wherein I said "You think our current energy policy is not a mess?". Why, market forces not looking too good there?

                                1. BlueGreen

                                  Re: Ahem. @ BlueGreen @Squander Two

                                  Clarification as I realised what you're saying.

                                  >> But this example [10Ghz chips] makes my point.

                                  >No it doesn't. Exactly the opposite

                                  Intel said X. They couldn't do it. They then did Y as an alternative. You say the market succeeded. I agree, kind of. More cores is an alternative to higher clocks but not as good as. So I'm saying the market could not produce something of the same quality - we get a lower quality alternative.

                                  There's always a *lower quality* alternative. Always. It may be much lower quality ie. going back to wood burning when FFs are exhausted. Can we support more than a few million on wood alone? No? Then what happens to our 7 billion population?

                                  BTW when resources get tight people get aggressive. I wonder how The Market copes with resource wars gone nuclear? You can't assume linearity.

                                2. Tom 13

                                  Re: Ahem. @ BlueGreen @Squander Two

                                  Clearly oil will run out. It's been predicted for decades. But 'only a couple of years ago' is not long term. Or is it?

                                  Every 5 years since at least back to 1970, some august body of sanctimonious idiots has predicted that we will run out of oil within 15 years. That's a long enough track record from me to put you in with the rest of the end of the world doomsayers.

                            3. scrubber

                              Re: Ahem. @ BlueGreen @Squander Two

                              Starting at the end:

                              That's NOT what Moore's Law is (and it's not a law in any scientific sense anyway.) Moore's Law is about the density of transistors and it's still ticking along, albeit maybe doubling every 2 years now. And in terms of MHz, we went multi-core rather than single core high speed, so it could be argued processing power is still increasing at an exponential rate even if baseline speeds aren't. Seems to me like the magic IS continuing.

                              > we still have no policy for dealing with nuke waste (something I know about) etc.

                              Sure we do - use the radioactive waste to create more energy. We just opt not to do it because the by-products get more and more nasty and more and more dangerous if they were ever released into the wild/taken by bad people.

                            4. Tom 13

                              Re: Ahem. @ BlueGreen @Squander Two

                              Acknowledged fossil fuels are running out, nuke builds are getting behind schedule..

                              Blah, blah, blah, blah blah.

                              Look here you sanctimonious pinhead: Your kind have been making this exact prediction since the 1970s when the bogey man was the coming ice age instead of global warming. We were supposed to be out of oil no later than 1995 which was going to cause WWIII which was going to leave the cockroaches in charge of the planet. Your track record for predictions is worse than Herbert W. Armstrong. At least after three failed end of the world predictions he learned not to do that any more.

                      2. BlueGreen

                        Re: Ahem. @ BlueGreen

                        Missed this last bit

                        > Oh, please. If someone doesn't explicitly state "I think we might be using different technology in a thousand years' time," the rest of their argument is rendered invalid?

                        Misrepresentation. The assumption is not that 'we *might* be using a different technology' but that there *will* be some technology to take its place that's "cheap enough" (your words). Something magic to step in and save the day.

                        Like I said, maybe there will be, but better not assume it. Better to get involved in energy policy and make the future happen. Before you ask, some years ago I was. I will again. How about you?

                        1. Richard 12 Silver badge
                          Boffin

                          Re: Ahem. @ BlueGreen

                          No magic is needed.

                          Unlike previous centuries, the replacements for coal, oil and gas are already clearly visible on the horizon.

                          Nuclear fission already works, and nuclear fusion is relatively close - we know how to make that work, but can't scale it up yet. That's coal replaced - and we could do that today if we wished.

                          Many energy uses of oil and gas are already easily replaceable by electricity - heat pumps, trains and trolleybuses. Other forms of transport will still need some form of oil, and battery technology is unlikely to change that, due to the energy density needed for lorries, aircraft and shipping.

                          Various forms of solar power already work but are too low efficacy to be economically viable, this can also change if funding switches away from the current insane subsidies for solar PV across to actual research into various forms of solar power.

                          - One interesting angle of solar power research is the engineered microbes that use photosynthesis to create artificial oil and gas. It is likely that one or more of those could be scaled up, so that's oil & gas replaced.

                          Even solar PV could be improved, along with the HVDC interconnects needed to get power from the good places to put solar PV and solar furnaces to the locations where the power is needed.

                          It is true that there will almost certainly be an energy crisis very soon, however it will be caused by the politics that have made it impossible to build appropriate generation capacity, and the decision to subsidise building and operating large numbers of white elephant installations of technology that simply isn't ready yet, rather than the research and development that would make some of them economically viable.

                          1. BlueGreen

                            Re: Ahem. @ BlueGreen @Richard 12

                            Upvoted as you've tried to provide answers instead of pretty wishes and rainbows, however I do disagree with some of what you've said.

                            > Nuclear fission already works,

                            Hmm. Kind of works, we act stupid with it, we still don't know how to dispose of waste safely etc. But yes, it's our ace card.

                            > and nuclear fusion is relatively close - we know how to make that work, but can't scale it up yet. That's coal replaced - and we could do that today if we wished.

                            I don't know about how close it is. We should do a manhatten project on it. (Write to your MP!)

                            > Various forms of solar power already work but are too low efficacy to be economically viable

                            That's debatable. It can be argued that coal is heavily subsidised compared to PV.

                            > if funding switches away from the current insane subsidies for solar PV

                            I disagree. The subsidies build a user base which builds industries which produce economies of scale. But we may differ on this.

                            > One interesting angle of solar power research is the engineered microbes that use photosynthesis to create artificial oil and gas. It is likely that one or more of those could be scaled up, so that's oil & gas replaced.

                            Not going to happen. It would take phenomenal land use to do this. From <http://www.syntheticgenomics.com/media/emrefact.html> "Algae could yield more than 2000 gallons of fuel per acre of production per year". 1 Barrel ~ 40 gallons, so 50 barrels/acre/year. I think we use about 90 million barrels/day, so = about 30 billion barrels/year [*]. We'll be using less if we use nuke but, no, I don't think it's going to work. IMO anyway.

                            Positive post, though, thanks.

                            [*] sickening figure isn't it.

                          2. Nigel 11

                            Re: Ahem. @ BlueGreen

                            Other forms of transport will still need some form of oil, and battery technology is unlikely to change that, due to the energy density needed for lorries, aircraft and shipping.

                            Sorry, there are no fundamental problems here, just a need to migrate to new technologies as and when they become cost-effective (mostly here, because the old ones become more expensive because of fossil-fuel depletion).

                            Lorries can go electrical in the same way cars can go electrical. The "problem" in both cases is recharge time. We need batteries that can recharge at a higher current, or a standardised battery-swap technology with recharging being done slowly at the fuelling stations. The latter could be done with today's tech. Both would need a huge investment in infrastructure which is unlikely to happen while oil remains at its current price. (There's also compressed natural gas, which is already replacing diesel to some extent in the USA and elsewhere where NG is cheaper than diesel, but that's a short-term work-around).

                            Oh, and if you segregated freight from cars to a degree, trolley-lorries would be another viable approach. Wire up the M-ways and main A-roads, build pull-overs for HGVs to unhitch themselves, their batteries would be fully charged after an hour or so travelling along the wire, for an onward local delivery. ISTR this was actually implemented somewhere in the FSU.

                            Shipping could use liquified natural gas. Post fossil fuel it could revert to "sail". Modern wind technology wouldn't look anything like the square meters of canvas of yore. Think vertical powered rotating cylinders (Bernoulli effect) and/or huge computer-controlled kites, plus energy generated from wind to charge battery banks for use in close-quarters manouvering or escaping port during dead calms. (Low tech batteries: sail ships need heavy ballast so they can tack, may as well be lead-acid batteries? ) Finally add in modern weather forecasting and telemetrics. The sail ships of tomorrow would never become becalmed because they'd know where the calms were going to be, and navigate elsewhere. Really BIG ships, if needed at all, might be nuclear-powered.

                            Which leaves aircraft, and the simplest (only?) solution there is that we go back to the 1920s. The very rich or those sent by rich employers fly in craft powered by (necessarily expensive) biofuel. The rest of us stay on the ground. Mass air tourism and most air freight is not a necessity, it's a luxury.

                      3. Tom 13

                        @ Squander Two

                        > It may, it may not, but either you don't assume it, or you do and you make that assumption explicit. He didn't.

                        Oh, please. If someone doesn't explicitly state "I think we might be using different technology in a thousand years' time," the rest of their argument is rendered invalid?"

                        What's even more amusing is, that's exactly the assumption all the tree huggers make when talking about "renewables". They don't know exactly how it's going to work, but as soon as they get those evil money grubbing corporations out of the way, the science will be simple. But they don't state explicitly that they don't know how we're going to get there.

                    2. Gartal

                      Re: Ahem. @ BlueGreen

                      For pete's sake. *Exactly*. Christ on a fucking bike.

                      do you want nails with that ?

              2. Tim Worstal

                Re: Ahem.

                El Reg isn't really the place for that. There's a definite desire for "flavour" here. And, if I'm honest, I'm probably not the writer for a "fair and balanced" piece. Given that I know....no, not am convinced, but know....that those who tell me that everything is just about to run out are ignorant.

                As an example, there was a recent report from the Royal Society. As scientific as science can get. In the economic discussion of resources (I assume Sir Partha Dsagupta) there was no problem. The moment we got to the environmental/ecologic section (I assume Paul Ehrlich and Jonathan Porrit) everything that the earlier part of the report had said was entirely ignored. As if they hadn't even read it. They simply assumed the opposite of what Dasgupta had said.

                No, in such circumstances I am not the right guy for the impartial article.

              3. Sirius Lee

                Re: Ahem.

                Whoa, Graham!

                What on earth do journalists have to do with this? If there's an issue of judgement, a complex story that requires a multi-faceted perspective, especially one that includes subjective input - the care of the elderly, tax on alcohol - I can see a reason to suppose there is an advantage of having a debate arbitrated by a seasoned, well rounded individual though why that individual should be a 'journalist' really is not clear to me.

                But when it comes to a question like whether or not there will be adequate minerals available to meet our needs what does a journalist bring to the table? If there are divergent perspective on such a black-and-white topic they will be held by experts in the field who have credentials such as a related PhD or fellowship of a relevant chartered organization or hold a relevant position in an appropriate leading organization. They can tell us their perspective directly and, if appropriate, we can make up our minds. This does not need to be mediated, or worse interpreted, by some who read history at uni.

                Now if it is the case that the world's supply of a irreplaceable mineral will end in a few years time then maybe then a journalist will have a role in explaining why that's happened and the policy decisions necessary to take any possible remedial action.

            2. Uffish

              Re: Creationists

              Ok, creationists are pestilential but I thought they only infested the US. What we are talking about is good old fashioned, universal and very human bullshit. The best cure for that is open discussion with plenty of facts available. The more the merrier.

        2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Unhappy

          Re: Ahem.

          ""What has happened to the good science journalists?"

          I can give you a clue.

          "I agree it is a great article"

          *smug smile*"

          Sadly not working at the BBC it would seem

          1. Tim Worstal

            Re: Ahem.

            "Sadly not working at the BBC it would seem"

            Indeed not: the BBC can't afford me.

            Which is slightly weird I know, given the river of cash they have. The BEEB pays vast amounts for stars, horrendous amounts for bureaucrats, but very much lower than the free market for standard work. Odd, but true.

            Perhaps that should be the other way around. I can't afford to work for the BEEB.

            1. h4rm0ny

              Re: Ahem.

              >>"Which is slightly weird I know, given the river of cash they have. The BEEB pays vast amounts for stars, horrendous amounts for bureaucrats, but very much lower than the free market for standard work. Odd, but true."

              I've heard that the BBC used to be the place for people of particular careers and that therefore it had quite a culture of 'working your way up'. I don't know how true that is today or if it applies to journalists or just technicians which is the context in which I heard it. But perhaps they pay less because they're still stuck in an era where they expect to have long-term career builders working their way up inside the BBC?

              1. Andrew Jones 2

                Re: Ahem.

                As the BBC struggle these days to get the audio at a decent level on live events these days - I'd say it's a good bet the more technically able people - are obviously being employed elsewhere (and as ITV are even worse - it isn't there).

                Seriously the BBC used to be held up as an example of how other countries should run their media networks, but these days - the BBC can't even use proper punctuation (or proof read it would appear) on their own website.

      2. AdamT

        Re: Great Article.

        It's not always about science but I find "More or Less" on BBC Radio 4/World Service (and podcasts) is still happy to have a go at debunking dodgy statistics on almost any subject from any source. I thought they had done one on "peak oil", "reserves vs. resources", etc. - although I can't find it - but, for example, they did cover "peak population" and they don't mind quizzing politicians or charities about claims that are arguably or provably false. i.e. they are all about the facts and the reasoning rather than worrying about whether the claims are being made to support something that is considered "broadly good" or not.

        I suspect their audience isn't really big enough to be making a difference though.

        1. Tim Worstal

          Re: Great Article.

          The reserves one is I think very recent indeed. Might not be available yet even.

          1. bonkers

            Re: Great Article.

            I love this stuff, long been interested in the weirdo elements, Europium, the Erbium family, working out what these powdery grey metals are actually "for" .

            Where else would you read that Hafnium is a by-product of Zirconium production?

            Question though - what' s the Lithium situation really? Here seems to be one we might run short of. Can we have an numerate update Tim?

            1. Skyraker

              Re: Great Article.

              We need all the lithium for shake n bake.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Great Article.

        "What has happened to the good science journalists?"

        Take a look at this:

        http://eatingacademy.com/personal/wired-think-scientifically-can-done?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=wired-think-scientifically-can-done

      4. Charles Manning

        What has happened to the good science journalists?

        Good Science Journalist: Here are the facts.

        Editor: Well thats f**ing boring. I want something more punchy. Something that attracts eyeballs. We're here to sell papers (or ad clicks) you know! Screw all the hard numbers.

        GSJ: Ok, I'll clean it up.

        Editor: Nope still boring. Look, you've got to pay your way here or you're gone.

        GSJ sells soul to devil. Screw the facts. Up the alarmist. Becomes Bad Science Journalist.

        BSJ: How about this: Glaciers will all melt, flood the empty mines and mutant octopii will invade London and eat everyones brains.

        Editor : When will this happen?

        BSJ : Two hundred years from now?

        Editor: Sooner.

        BSJ: Next Tuesday?

        Editor: YESSS!

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Great Article.

        We have yet to even scratch the abyssal plains. We already know that there are vast resources there, but we lack the political/legal means to expoit them. Here once agian, we are prevented from taking advantage of known resrources because of objections being raised by those who would prefer to keep everyone in penury.

      6. Tom 13

        Re: What has happened to the good science journalists?

        It's simples:

        The Progressives heard Bill Murray's line from Ghostbusters and made it the cornerstone of their agenda. You know the line: "Back off man. I'm a scientist."

    2. Faux Science Slayer

      Re: Great Article...Club Of Rome LIES !

      The Club of Rome LIES about Carbon climate forcing, 'sustainable' energy and 'peak' oil. On climate, see "The Reality of Long Range Weather and Climate Forecasting" by Dr Piers Corbyn at the Thunderbolts(.)info site. On 'sustainable' energy see "Green Prince of Darkness" and on 'peak' oil see "Fracturing the Fossil Fuel Fable", both at the FauxScienceSlayer site. We have been systematically LIED to by the ruling Demonic Warlords about everything.

  2. theModge

    I would argue the situation was even worse

    We're ruled by arts graduates who don't merely fail to understand the problems we face, but fail to understand the importance of hiring advisers who do. To cap it off I've just had to choose which particular flavour of cluelessness I wish to govern me, in large part to ensure that we're run by idiots who will ruin the country slowly, rather than xenophobic idiots who'll REALLY make a mess of the place.

    OK. I'll get a coffee and calm down. I didn't sleep that well.

    1. g e

      Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

      I can't even be arsed to vote. Even a 'protest' vote would mean voting for the novice buffoons instead of the grandmaster buffoons and I'd rather the slightly warped novices didn't get a crack at anything to be honest.

      At the end of the day it all seems to boil down to corporate backhanded cash-for-policy anyway so it's largely irrelevant who gets in to wherever.

      1. Graham Cobb

        Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

        I would encourage you to still vote. We have serious problems with our politicians but I don't believe the "cash-for-policy" is anything like as bad as it will get if the public continue with apathy. Just look at the US, where the corporations really are in complete control, to see how bad it could get!

        A caring and engaged electorate, even if largely powerless, may give politicians and their corporate sponsors some pause. And maybe we can actually encourage some genuinely useful candidates to stand in future elections.

        1. Dom 3

          Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

          If you are a non-voter, you ensure that the political parties will continue to ignore you. If you do vote, they *might* do something to try and *get* your vote.

      2. h4rm0ny

        Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

        >>"I can't even be arsed to vote. Even a 'protest' vote would mean voting for the novice buffoons instead of the grandmaster buffoons and I'd rather the slightly warped novices didn't get a crack at anything to be honest."

        The biggest reason nothing changes is because people think it can't. Every vote makes real change that little bit closer. We're currently voting for who will represent us in Europe. What do we want - people who are actually engaged and active in that? Or a bunch of protest MEPs who'll just make an arse of themselves, swan around on the salary and do nothing good because they don't believe we should be in Europe in the first place?

        It is important to vote. Please do so.

        1. Martin

          Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

          I can't even be arsed to vote.

          Just supporting everyone else. If you don't like any of them, vote "none of the above" - ie spoil your paper. It's still better than not voting. If you don't vote, you have no right to complain about the result.

          I think it would be interesting to have a "none of the above" selection on elections - I think it would win an overall majority frequently. And if enough elections went that way, perhaps politicians would start actually doing some good.

          1. codejunky Silver badge

            Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

            Elections are always fun pantomimes. Usually it is dont vote for him because (labour: spend all the money, screw the economy. tory: baby eating monsters who only look out for their mates. libs: someone actually votes for these guys?) but we have had quite a political shift recently. We have the tories trying to be labour, labour trying to be libs and libs not even trying any more.

            The most exciting element I have seen recently has been UKIP. Normally labour/tory attack each other and libs try to make themselves worthy of attacking (normally a lot of jumping up and down for the kiddies and idealist students). But while UKIP started off as kinda ignored (by politicians) now we have tories throwing insults (at a number of their former supporters!), labour trying not to say anything as covering Ed's screw ups takes so much effort and libs have seen the popularity of the UKIP position and decided to do the opposite (what do you expect from the lib dems?).

            Normally attacks and insults work between the top parties but when they do it against UKIP it seems to highlight how bad UKIP could be but how much worse the current top options really are. Every insult seems to point out that we have bad, bad, bad, possibly bad but are untested.

            Obviously you have the usual raving loony party (greens) and others but as a pantomime goes it is fun to watch. It is very true that we have and have had the governments we have voted for even if we dont want them which seems an odd way to run a democracy. To vote for what you dont want to stop other people you dont want from running the country. If people actually voted for what they wanted then at least some people would be happy. As it stands we have an unhappy electorate voting to be miserable, politics at the top which is 2 parties of the same and one trying to get in, and finally some competition who seems to finally get people interested in politics even if he is like Marmite.

            It is interesting though that the recent insult against Farrage is that he is not outside the establishment but part of it. It takes a twisted mind to see that as an insult without extrapolating to the entire system we seem to be somehow 'proud' of even if it makes us miserable.

            1. h4rm0ny
              Flame

              Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

              Voting for UKIP in the European Elections is a terrible idea even if for some reason you think it's a good idea to turn our back on the £17bn trade per month we do with the EU (or think that would not be impacted by withdrawal).

              The European Elections are to choose our MEPs. Even if you want to withdraw it makes no sense to in the meantime send people to represent us who are standing on a platform of non-participation. That's like saying you don't think we should be driving somewhere so you're going to let the five year old in the back take the wheel.

              Stay in the car or get out. But don't stay in the car and take your hands off the wheel.

              1. Nuke
                Holmes

                @h4rm0ny - Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

                h4rm0ny wrote :- "Voting for UKIP .... is a terrible idea even if for some reason you think it's a good idea to turn our back on the £17bn trade per month"

                Fantastic figures like that seem to assume that all trade with the EU will cease. (Anyway, looking at all the BMWs and Peugeots around I would think most of that trade is to the UK's disadvantage.) But most of what I see is made in China, Taiwan and other non-EU places, and they seem to have no trouble trading with the EU as non-members.

                But does everything have to be only about economics? Back in the 1960's the UK banned live animal exports on cruelty grounds; with EU membership that had to be allowed again. OTOH the EU is run by nutters who want to ban anything that they dream of being the slightest human health risk.

                The EU banned creosote for example. Fine for sunny climates like Spain and Italy, but I have about 500 yards of fencing to maintain in the damp Welsh hills and must now do so without creosote, and the alternatives are significantly more expensive and less effective (they are "safe", you see). OK, if you want the economics - did the EU consider the extra time it takes me to earn that extra expense (time lost from my life) compared with, probabilistically, the average shortening of my life due to creosote poisoning (assuming for the sake of argument I *can* somehow be poisoned by it?) Of course not.

                Nigel Farage may be a nutter too, but so are most early adopters. They thought Ghandi (who people love quoting these days) was a nutter when he wanted India to leave the British Empire. Even if the UK left the EU, you don't seriously think Farage would become the Prime Minister do you?

                1. h4rm0ny

                  Re: @h4rm0ny - I would argue the situation was even worse

                  >>>>h4rm0ny wrote :- "Voting for UKIP .... is a terrible idea even if for some reason you think it's a good idea to turn our back on the £17bn trade per month"

                  >>Fantastic figures like that seem to assume that all trade with the EU will cease.

                  Firstly, the fantastic figures are official statistics. I'll dig them out if they're in dispute. Secondly, you cut off my sentence mid-way through which then went on to say ("even if you think withdrawing from the EU wont impact that for some reason") . Or words to that effect. A little sly I feel to remove my counter-argument so that it appeared I hadn't already given my answer to what you then wrote, I feel. But anyway, of course that figure will be impacted. And yes, of course the degree is a matter of debate but the sudden imposition of tariffs and restrictions on transfer of money and employees when our competitors within Europe for all that trade suffer none of those disadvantages? Pretty substantial I would say. Far from going to do us good.

                  >>(Anyway, looking at all the BMWs and Peugeots around I would think most of that trade is to the UK's disadvantage.)

                  I don't think you get how trade works. It happens when something is to a mutual benefit (otherwise it's known as exploitation). If British people are able to buy a car cheaper / better than they would otherwise, that is a net benefit / saving. To argue that they should be penalized in order to push that money into British car manufacturers is to introduce inefficiency into the model and effectively say that British buyers should be subsidizing British car manufacturers. Trade increases efficiency. That's why it happens.

                  And unlike UKIP I actually AM proud to be British and I actually do believe we can be competitive. UKIP do not. That is why they want what you have just outlined - raise the drawbridge to protect British industry from competition. Unfortunately unless you have a massive army to leverage to back up inequitable deals (like the USA does), that also has the effect of closing down any benefits. And trade is a net benefit by definition. You don't see the Germans closing up their trade borders in fear of competition.

                  We used to have some of the best manufacturing in the world and we can again. But that opportunity is hamstrung if we're sandwich between two giant trade blocks and have to sell at a disadvantage to everyone.

                  The point of the £17bn figure isn't to say that it will all be lost. It's to show how large our relationship with Europe is and that all of that would be negatively affected by withdrawal.

                  >>But does everything have to be only about economics?

                  No, but it tends to be where I come from since it's something I know a bit about and because it affects everyone in this country. Regarding your other point:

                  >>"Back in the 1960's the UK banned live animal exports on cruelty grounds; with EU membership that had to be allowed again."

                  Then back in the 1960's you would have found me arguing on your side. (Well, on this particular issue). But these days EU laws on animal welfare and human rights are both pretty strong. Indeed, there have been a number of cases where the EU Human Rights act has protected British citizens against our own government.

                  Things change.

                  >>"OTOH the EU is run by nutters who want to ban anything that they dream of being the slightest human health risk."

                  Yes, but so is the UK.

                  >>"The EU banned creosote for example. Fine for sunny climates like Spain and Italy, but I have about 500 yards of fencing to maintain in the damp Welsh hills and must now do so without creosote"

                  Honestly outside my area of expertise. I would say so far as I can comment it sounds a better reason for changing this specific rule rather than rejecting EU membership. I'd also say (I don't know if this is possible) to get hold of some creosote from somewhere and just do it anyway. The important thing about laws is not to get caught, imo.

                  >>"Nigel Farage may be a nutter too, but so are most early adopters. They thought Ghandi (who people love quoting these days) was a nutter when he wanted India to leave the British Empire"

                  I would not like to argue that the same actions are appropriate when the specifics are very different. Do you really want a list of Similarities vs. Differences between the two cases. I guarantee that British control of India is far more disimilar to UK membership of the EU than it is the same. Obviously you're not making a serious case with that particular point, but I feel obliged to respond properly, nonetheless. I'm a fairly big admirer of Ghandi, btw. Even though he was a lawyer.

                  >>"Even if the UK left the EU, you don't seriously think Farage would become the Prime Minister do you?"

                  Only in my nightmares. His brand of populist detail-light positive-sounding campaigning translates very badly into actually running the United Bureacracy of Great Britain. However, that's not what I'm arguing is a risk. I'm arguing two things - that we should stay in Europe for our own good and that for as long as we are in Europe, UKIP are not competent people to manage our presence within it.

                  1. Squander Two

                    @h4rm0ny again

                    > I actually do believe we can be competitive. UKIP do not. That is why they want what you have just outlined - raise the drawbridge to protect British industry from competition.

                    UKIP's policy is to trade with the world, not just the EU. I don't think "raise the drawbridge" is a fair characterisation of that.

                    > the sudden imposition of tariffs and restrictions on transfer of money and employees when our competitors within Europe for all that trade suffer none of those disadvantages? Pretty substantial I would say. Far from going to do us good.

                    I agree, but it's not fair to mention those tariffs and restrictions without also mentioning the tariffs and restrictions imposed by the EU on any trade with non-EU countries, which would disappear if we left.

                    My personal position is that none of this policy argument actually matters unless the EU has a democratic mandate, which it currently doesn't. When you elect an MP, you lend that MP your power so that they may use it at Westminster; you don't give it to them; it is not theirs. So they're supposed to hand it back at the end of their term. No MP or British government had the remit to hand any of that power to the EU, so they should not have done so. If the EU were the single greatest thing in history, right about everything, better than Westminster in every way, the fact would still remain that the British people had not chosen to seat their power there. So let's have a referendum to settle the matter. If the EU is as great as you say it is, your side should win easily.

                    1. h4rm0ny

                      Re: @h4rm0ny again

                      >>"UKIP's policy is to trade with the world, not just the EU. I don't think "raise the drawbridge" is a fair characterisation of that."

                      It is because being a member of the EU doesn't stop us "trading with the world", it gives us a boost in our trade with some parts of it. And that's not just European countries, btw. The EU has trade agreements with many other countries which we benefit from because we are part of the EU. Our trade with countries from Israel to Mexico to Iceland(!) would be affected if we withdrew from the EU because of beneficial trade agreements between those (and a bunch of others) and the EU.

                      You see being part of the EU gives leverage. There is a reason why every significant trading country is signed up to be part of some trade block, whether that's the EU, the North American Free Trade Association, the Common Economic Space of Russia and Friends, South Asian Free Trade Area.. et al. They all have might, leverage.

                      You want to know what happens to a country trying to trade on equal terms with a much more powerful trading block? Look at the USA's relations with minor trading partners historically. Or perhaps you think the Chinese or the Russians would be more inclined to play fair.

                      Large international free trade areas and trading blocks don't happen because people think "oh what the Hell, it sounds like a lark".

                      So yeah, it is exactly "pulling up the drawbridge". The best way to trade is to remove barriers to trade. To think otherwise is nonsense.

                      >>"I agree, but it's not fair to mention those tariffs and restrictions without also mentioning the tariffs and restrictions imposed by the EU on any trade with non-EU countries, which would disappear if we left."

                      Such as? I'd be very interested to know of any such cases so they could be weighed against the overall gains. And as I pointed out a moment ago, we actually get trade benefits with other countries because we can negotiate with them as part of the EU. Do you suppose we are in a stronger bargaining position of "UK with China" than "EU with China" ?

                      >>"My personal position is that none of this policy argument actually matters unless the EU has a democratic mandate, which it currently doesn't. When you elect an MP, you lend that MP your power so that they may use it at Westminster; you don't give it to them; it is not theirs. So they're supposed to hand it back at the end of their term. No MP or British government had the remit to hand any of that power to the EU, so they should not have done so. If the EU were the single greatest thing in history, right about everything, better than Westminster in every way, the fact would still remain that the British people had not chosen to seat their power there. So let's have a referendum to settle the matter. If the EU is as great as you say it is, your side should win easily."

                      I agree with democratic mandate. What I have been showing is that EU membership is overwhelmingly a net benefit, not arguing that people should not have a choice. I would hope that much is obvious and your passage above is a complete tangent to our current discussion.

                      It does contain a couple of innaccuracies. What the UK joined was the EEC and we did have a referendum on whether we should be in it. There was a 64% turnout and a strong 'yes' vote. Now it's grown into the EU since then and I'm in favour of a referendum on principle. But I find your position that people will necessarily vote for what is best laughable given any slice of modern history you care to pick. As I said - what I'm showing here is that EU membership is a net benefit. Of course I'm not against choice. I am against UKIP not because they want a referendum, but because of the outcome they want. They wouldn't be campaigning for a referendum for people to vote to stay in.

                      I'll also say, for obvious reasons, that we can't keep having referendums on whether to stay in or not. And I'm sure you'd agree with that.

                      1. Squander Two

                        Re: @h4rm0ny again

                        OK, well, firstly....

                        > But I find your position that people will necessarily vote for what is best laughable

                        Sorry, that was irony. I couldn't agree with you more on this point.

                        > I would hope that much is obvious and your passage above is a complete tangent to our current discussion.

                        Well, yes. My point was just that, until there's a referendum, arguing about the pros and cons of the EU seems to me to miss the point. It's like saying "Labour are brilliant at running the country, so we don't need to have general elections any more." And, when discussing UKIP, that's the point: who cares how effective they are within the EU Parliament?

                        I know a lot of Scots whose attitude to the SNP is "I'll vote Yes, and, once we've got independence, the SNP's job is done and they can fuck off." The SNP only have one policy that matters, which is why their supporters don't care that the rest changes with the wind and frequently makes no sense. There's a bigger fish to fry first. Or, since it's Scotland, probably a pizza.

                        > I'll also say, for obvious reasons, that we can't keep having referendums on whether to stay in or not. And I'm sure you'd agree with that.

                        I absolutely would agree. The EU don't, though. The Irish tried voting No and were told to have another referendum and get the right answer next time.

                        > There is a reason why every significant trading country is signed up to be part of some trade block.

                        I agree. Are you not aware of the huge diplomatic fight that had to take place in order for the UK to keep buying New Zealand lamb and butter on the same nice terms we always had after joining the EEC? The EEC's position was that we had joined one trade block so we had to leave the other one, and that stuff from New Zealand should have huge bloody great import tariffs stuck on it, which -- if we hadn't fought back hard enough and wangled a special exemption -- would have been devastating for New Zealand's farmers. The alternative to being in the EU is not being in no trade block at all, as you seem to be implying.

                        That aside, the EEC was a trading block, which was OK, whilst the EU is a supranational federalisation project, which is a whole other thing. It's not fair to conflate the two. Most nations join trade blocks without giving up sovereignty and becoming satellite states. You can join a trading block without someone suggesting that you should stop writing your own foreign policy.

                        And you're raising practical reasons why you believe that leaving the EU and trying to trade with the whole world will effectively amount to pulling up the drawbridge. That may or may not be true, but it is not the same thing at all as UKIP wanting to pull up the drawbridge because they're protectionists, which was what you said before. For comparison, a lot of Labour's policies really screw the poor, but that doesn't mean they want to.

                      2. Tom 13

                        Re: It is because being a member of the EU

                        No. I was looking at a Venn diagram of your EU arrangements the other day. It's positively Byzantine. Withdrawing from the EU doesn't necessarily withdraw you from the EU Trade arrangements, only the harmonization bits that are driving so many Brits to fits. By all means, keep the trade agreement, but kick the world government without representation to the curb. It works even less well for you than your monarchy did for us on this side of the pond.

                    2. codejunky Silver badge

                      Re: @h4rm0ny again

                      @ Squander Two

                      "UKIP's policy is to trade with the world, not just the EU. I don't think "raise the drawbridge" is a fair characterisation of that."

                      I get very confused when people opposing UKIP start quoting UKIP's ideas but say something entirely different. I dont understand how people claim UKIP aim to pull up the drawbridge because (as you caught) they want to trade with the world and not just through the EU. The last report I read about the EU trade deals suggested the EU got no better deals for the UK than the UK got before.

                      Another one is the racism card and wanting to ban immigrants. Last I checked UKIP wanted to have fair and balanced immigration from the world (a point that upsets the BNP) and not unlimited from the EU at the expense of the rest of the world.

                      Reading about the recent elections the tory party are starting to sound schizophrenic. We have them calling UKIP swivel eyed loons and generally insulting the voters as just flirting with UKIP but belong to the tories. Then we have them saying UKIP voters have genuine concerns and are sending a clear message to them. Unless the message is that the electorate would like more flirty swivel eyed loons then it seems the established parties are very disorganised at opposing the clear message of UKIP (regardless of peoples like/dislike for them).

                      I dislike the EU problem that the gov think it is good for us but know we wont vote for it. If its so good then surely it can be explained and demonstrated and people will vote for it.

                2. Equitas

                  Re: @h4rm0ny - I would argue the situation was even worse

                  Nuke wrote "The EU banned creosote for example. Fine for sunny climates like Spain and Italy, but I have about 500 yards of fencing to maintain in the damp Welsh hills and must now do so without creosote, and the alternatives are significantly more expensive and less effective (they are "safe", you see). OK, if you want the economics - did the EU consider the extra time it takes me to earn that extra expense (time lost from my life) compared with, probabilistically, the average shortening of my life due to creosote poisoning (assuming for the sake of argument I *can* somehow be poisoned by it?) Of course not."

                  I think the restrictions on creosote sales are crazy. But it doesn't mean that you can't get or use creosote. Sales of creosote are restricted, not banned. I haven't found any difficulty in buying it -- usually in 25 litre drums. And if you're not unduly worried about complying with regulations, old engine oil diluted with kerosene does much the same job. Don't drink it. Wear gloves and protective clothing so that it doesn't end up over your skin.But anyone without enough sense to take sensible precautions isn't fit to let loose in the community anyway.

                  Incidentally, Royal Mail have taken to opening packages containing new engine oil (perfectly legal to send by mail, though it's illegal to send old engine oil by post) and disposing of them as illegal. Did you ever hear of anyone sending OLD engine oil by post?

              2. Squander Two

                Re: I would argue the situation was even worse @ h4rm0ny

                > Even if you want to withdraw it makes no sense to in the meantime send people to represent us who are standing on a platform of non-participation.

                By the same logic, no-one in Scotland should have voted SNP. Yet doing so got them first devolution, then a referendum.

                Also by the same logic, it makes no sense for any British republican ever to vote for any MP, as they all swear an oath of allegiance to the monarch. But we actually have plenty of republican MPs, who work, where necessary, to limit the power of the Crown.

                Secondly, UKIP's MEPs don't just sit on their hands in the EU Parliament refusing to do anything because they think they shouldn't be there. The EU has policies, some of which are more expansionist than others. UKIP work to limit the power of the EU over the UK and to restrict its scope and its remit. Whether you agree or disagree with them, there is nothing inherently irrational about voting for secessionists.

                1. h4rm0ny

                  Re: I would argue the situation was even worse @ Squander Two

                  That's a fair reply and supportable.

                  I guess depending on how they do, we'll get to see empiraclly which of us is closest to right.

        2. Nuke
          Facepalm

          Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

          Wrote :- "The biggest reason nothing changes is because people think it can't. Every vote makes real change that little bit closer .. It is important to vote."

          I don't agree. Why should I indicate approval of anyone I don't agree with? By not voting, perhaps the politicians might try to find out next time what WOULD make me vote.

          Example is those rock-solid Labour constituencies in the Welsh Valleys. Labour never did anything directly for them because the leaders knew they had their votes whatever they did.

          1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

            Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

            I'd rather that there was a box labelled "none of the above".

            At least this way the politicians won't decide that with a majority of returned results in a voting area, that they have a mandate to do whatever they feel like and screw the entire electorate. Given that a winner may have only 40% of the votes and only 40% of the people in an area might vote, that means that only 16% of the voters in the area approve of them.

            So mandatory voting and a box labelled "none of the above" please. We shouldn't have to vote for the one that we least dislike.

            1. moiety

              Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

              To misquote Robert Heinlein: There may not be anybody you want to vote for, but you can be sure that there is somebody that you want to vote against.

            2. Nigel 11

              Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

              So mandatory voting and a box labelled "none of the above" please.

              No and Yes.

              My view is that the vote of a person who doesn't want to vote is not worth counting, and at worst they might distort the results. Not voting means they've chosen to accept whoever is chosen by those who do vote. I'd go further. Postal votes are too easily stolen or cast without thought. Return to the old system where you have to walk to a polling station unless you can show why you can't (away from the constuituency on polling day, or infirm. I would add being over seventy, and living more than a mile away from your polling station, as acceptable reasons for obtaining a postal vote).

              But when I choose to exercise my vote, I'd definitely like to have "none of the above" as a choice. Further, if "None of the above" won the election, there would have to be another election a reasonable time (say two months? ) later, in which none of the candidates who were rejected the first time would be allowed to stand.

          2. h4rm0ny

            Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

            >>"I don't agree. Why should I indicate approval of anyone I don't agree with?"

            A person who will not vote has low demonstrable worth. They may become a voter if motivated, but the opportunity cost is low. If they do not see any differences worth choosing for between such divergances as the Greens, the Tories, LibDems, Labour, SNP, whoever, then they're likely only going to be motivated to actually vote by extreme differences. And few sensible people want to adopt extreme positions for two reasons - they're usually a bad idea and unless you live in the Weimar Republic or similar, they're guaranteed electoral failure.

            Ergo, if you don't vote, you're not worth pandering to.

            If you do vote, whoever you vote for, your value has just rocketed. NOW you're worth pandering to. Even if you're likely to vote for a particular party regardless, there's enough targetable edges around any party's support base to make it worth pursuing you. And by pursuing you, I mean catering to your needs / desires. Even if your party wont get elected, your support of them increases pressure on rivals to adopt some of those policies. Neither the Tories nor New Labour give that much of a shit about the environment. But they both look at the 5-6% the Greens get and think "maybe I can get some of that". So even though we're unlikely to see a Green Party prime minister, each person voting for the Greens helps move Britain toward Green Party politics. (Which unfortunately doesn't include nuclear power but that's a rant for elsewhere).

            Basically, a non-voter is a potential resource with a low-chance of realization. An active voter is a confirmed resource worth appealing to. You have to think past just the next election. Humans got where we are by the ability to envisage different futures. Focusing on each election as if it's a unique event that will never happen again is an obvious mistake. Yet people do it.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

            If you look at all the candidates standing in your constituency, you may well not approve of any of them.

            But look again and decide if there are some that you disapprove of more than others? If yes, then by definition you approve of some more than others and - IMHO - that's the basis of deciding who to vote for. Every vote for one one party/person decreases the share of the vote for every other party/person.

      3. Mage Silver badge

        Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

        You must vote for the least bad.

        Otherwise the Extremists will get a majority, as they get near 100% turnout of their supporters.

    2. tony72

      Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

      I'm not not sure it's even that. We've all been there; a manager wants to know how long something is going to take, or how much it's going to cost. You start explaining what's involved, and analysing the factors that might impact the answer. The manager holds up his hand, and says "Give me a number." So you make up a number, he puts it in the plan, and that number that you just pulled out of your arse is now a "fact". Management types and leaders like the certainty of such "facts" so they can forge ahead confidently with their plans, and look competent and assertive, but it doesn't really matter if the "facts" are actually true, as long as they came from a sufficiently credible source to let said manager or leader make the claim, and have someone to blame if it's wrong. This is especially true of politicians making long term plans, because they're going to be long gone from their post before the shit hits the fan. They're perfectly capable of understanding the problems, they just don't need to, because they just need plans that sound credible, not plans that actually work.

      1. Tom 13

        Re: they're going to be long gone from their post before

        I wouldn't say that exactly. Maybe on your side of the pond, but I doubt it even there. We have idiots who manage to stay on the high salary plus retirement benefits public dole for 30+ years. They're always in office when it hits the fan. They're just good at shifting the blame.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

      I'm hoping the next Parliament is hung one - I'll even help build the gallows.

      1. Bob Wheeler
        Black Helicopters

        Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

        I'll bring the rope.....

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

          is it some sort of perversed variant's of Lenin's claim that "we shall hang the capitalists on the very rope they'll sell to us"?

          oh, I see, MPs, v. capitalists, sorry, different breed, my mistake.

      2. string

        Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

        Why bother building gallows? It sounds like you'll have a hammer handy, so smash their heads in with that, and spend the spare time and money you've saved down the pub.

        1. Tim Worstal

          Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

          "Why bother building gallows?"

          Quite, that's for the long drop painless method. The short drop tap dancing on air method takes longer, is more painful, and only requires a beam to throw the rope over. Economy and efficiency in one move.....

      3. madick

        Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

        I've been investing in lampposts for nearly 20 years - I was hoping to sell them at a profit, but if you're willing to do the equivalent job for free, then I'll just have to donate them to a worthy cause.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

      "We're ruled by arts graduates who don't merely fail to understand the problems we face, but fail to understand the importance of hiring advisers who do".

      There is a logical problem here. If (like almost all of the great and the good) you don't begin to understand the fundamental principles of science and scientific research, how can you possibly decide which scientific views should carry most weight?

      Climate change and nutrition are two controversial topics which Western governments have got wrong in many ways. A classic example was Senator George McGovern's public statement that "...we Senators don’t have the luxury that a research scientist does of waiting until every last shred of evidence is in". In fact, the report issued by McGovern's committee ignored virtually all the evidence and started the 35-year bandwagon of cholesterol phobia and "healthy whole grains" that is only just beginning to lose impetus.

      We are so often told by politicians that they sought and followed "the best scientific advice". What I want to know is how they could possibly tell good scientific advice from bad. What I suspect is that they simply consult the highest-paid scientists they can find - who are not only liable to be out of date, but also very likely to be in the pay of commercial interests.

      1. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

        Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

        @Tom Welsh

        An arts degree teaches you to write essays. A science or engineering degree teaches you to do sums.

        There are too many innumerate but opinionated people in politics and journalism.

        1. Equitas

          Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

          Primus Secundus Tertius wrote

          "There are too many innumerate but opinionated people in politics and journalism."

          True. But there are also too many people who may be numerate but lack the capability of putting their statistics in context.

    5. Equitas

      Re: I would argue the situation was even worse

      That may all be true, but sadly science graduates show no evidence of being any less clueless. Rigid specialisation in any subject tends to produce graduates who are clueless about the world outside their own specialisation which itself may be proceeding on unsound foundations. After all, universities receive funding only for politically-correct "scientific" research and staff are accordingly required to be politically correct.

  3. hidaraf

    I would argue the situation was even worse

    Assuming that they ARE graduates. Maybe only literate, able to read the sports page. Or..

    Oh, yes, they do know how to play "get the quango" but..

  4. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Coat

    Now the only resource left to worry about

    Is barium-cobolt-nitride.

    I understand we get it from pigs.

    1. ElectricRook

      Re: Now the only resource left to worry about

      Guano . . . we did run completely out of guano just in the past century. And we have been struggling to make gunpowder and nitrogen based fertilizer ever since. Or maybe we have found a substitute sources of nitrogen.

      1. Chemist

        Re: Now the only resource left to worry about

        "been struggling to make gunpowder and nitrogen based fertilizer ever since"

        Suggest you Google Nitric acid and Ammonia synthesis. Massive scale industrial processes, 10s of millions of tonnes annually (Ostwald & Haber ) that only use nitrogen, hydrogen to yield all the nitrates and nitrogen-based fertilizers you could want.

        Guano is a very good source of phosphates but (from Wikipedia) "The importance of guano deposits to agriculture elsewhere in the world faded after 1909 when Fritz Haber developed the Haber-Bosch process of industrial nitrogen fixation, which today generates the ammonia-based fertilizer responsible for sustaining an estimated one-third of the Earth's population"

        1. Pat Volk

          Re: Now the only resource left to worry about

          That explains a lot. I've put ammonia on my plants, and they turn brown. So I got the strongest nitrogen mixture I could (it's a liquid, must be strong because it smokes, and really smokes if I try and add water), and that made my plants crumble. Also seemed to kill the grubs, which is a plus. I thought about the Nitric Acid, but the brown smoke from it and the stains I got seemed scary. I'll take the white smoke and grey spots on my hands using the pure nitrogen (cheaper than the miracle gro).

          The pure liquid nitrogen seemed to work best. Now if you'll excuse me, I just got a call from the fire department. Saying there was an explosion in my shed.I didn't know the stuff was flammable! I got 12 litres of it, used about half, and put the rest in a sprayer. Had to close it tight.. dang thing kept smoking.. I didn't want to lose any. Although if it smokes, maybe I should've known. Wow... my hands are stinging now...

        2. Oninoshiko

          @Chemist

          I would suggest you google sarcasm.

  5. PhilipN Silver badge

    Deja Voodoo

    This kind of "Everything is going to run out. We are all doomed" nonsense comes up all the time.

    I remember reading such a prediction for the first time in OZ magazine in around 1970. The 2nd or third issue after the Schoolkids one if memory serves.

    If that article had been correct by now we would all be wearing synthetic garments and eating food from chemical plants... oh ... hang on a sec...

  6. Roo
    Black Helicopters

    Tin Foil Hat Deployed

    If the facts don't fit the arguments it's a fair bet that there is another agenda in mind. In times gone by resource scarcity has been engineered in order to achieve control over a population. The resource exhaustion story appears to be driven by ruling classes, so it seems possible that they are seeking greater leverage and control over the plebs.

    As to why they want more leverage over plebs - perhaps they are worried that the Far East is going to turn their political & financial empires upside down...

  7. JayBizzle

    I enjoyed this article, so thanks.

    Slight concern you mentioned recycling in a possibly negative light, unless there is a particular reason that it is a bad thing to recycle metals?

    Material control is what makes people money, so their agenda will be to control it. We can look outside of metals and look at De Beers as a good example for this.

    Would be interested to also see the numbers behind coal, gas and oil examined similarly please.

    1. Tim Worstal

      I divide recycling into three types

      There's profitable recycling: that's great, the profit is the evidence that value is being added. I once recycled nuclear fuel tubes into MAG alloy wheels for buy racers for example. Made enough to buy a house outright. That sort of thing (and thus melting down old cars to make new ones, collecting copper scrap etc) is just great.

      We can recycle absolutely anything if we expend enough energy on it. We could turn old tower blocks back into virgin Portland cement if we wanted to. But that would be insane. Better to go dig up more Portland and put the rubble into that nice new hole we've got.

      And there's a middle group, where the recycling itself isn't profitable, but there's some other concern that makes it so. I'm involved in cleaning up a radioactive dump for example. Not worth it for the metals that can be extracted/recycled. But everyone would rather not have thorium laden dust blowing around and if it's got to be cleaned up then why not extract/recycle to defray costs?

      What worries me about "recycling" rather than recycling itself is that people claim that we're running out of things, when we're not, and therefore argue that we've got to do a lot more of that second, wasteful, type of work. Got no problems at all with the first sort, indeed make my living some years doing it. And the third type is fine as well, as long as we look carefully at those other reasons. But, as above, the wrong reasons can mean that we get pushed into doing the third type, the type that makes us all poorer.

      1. Hollerith 1

        Re: I divide recycling into three types

        Depends on where you live. I've watched teams of workers dismantling old ships by hand in India. It was a messy, hard business, but when you have areas of acute poverty, recycling what we in the UK or USA would leave to rot makes economic scene.

        1. Tom 13

          Re: areas of acute poverty, recycling what we in the UK or USA

          It is rare to find a statement which is absolutely true, so within certain limits, yes. Sometimes those areas of acute poverty are taking things apart by hand because a shyster has sold them a bill of goods without explaining about the toxic materials involved. Absent that I concur.

      2. Mage Silver badge

        Re: I divide recycling into three types

        Also sometimes we recycle when re-use or dumping is better.

        Glass:

        We are NEVER going to run out of sand etc.

        It is no harm to fill a hole in the ground.

        It may take more oil etc to recycle than make new glass.

        If colours are mixed in the waste glass it's a problem.

        Reuse can save energy.

        Paper may also be problematical. It's interesting that you have to now pay paper factories to take old paper. Also there are different kinds of paper made:

        Kleenex / Kotex type stuff isn't really paper

        Wood pulp based paper

        Rag based (presumably it matters if Cotton, Linen, Wool etc and if a mix)

        Paper with surface finishes (glossy magazines, inkjet photo paper).

        I presume this why unsorted waste paper has negative value.

        It makes sense to recycle Lead Car & Truck batteries. Possibly in recycling Lithium batteries (but primary are 4 technologies and rechargeable are different). But is there really value in recycling an unsorted mix of Layer, Alkaline, Zinc Carbon, Zinc Chloride and Zinc Air batteries?

        I don't know but I'm suspicious.

        1. Clive Galway

          Re: I divide recycling into three types

          I agree - recycling for recycling's sake (especially giving incentives to make it financially viable, when it isn't) seems stupid to me.

          Landfill is not a long-term problem surely, mining rights are already being sold for landfill sites, and as technology progresses this will probably only become more widespread.

        2. Nigel 11

          Re: I divide recycling into three types

          f colours are mixed in the waste glass it's a problem.

          Not exactly. Slightly contaminated clear glass comes out green. Worse contaminated glass comes out brown to black. You see all of these being used as packaging. We use far too much clear (virgin) glass in order to advertise its contents. Things keep better in brown glass - it protects the contents from photo-degradation.

          There are also good uses for the lowest grades of contaminated recycled glass. It makes the coloured chips that are used to mark roads (bus and cycle lanes) and the high-grip surfaces in locations where sharp braking is most likely to be required. It's also blended into insulation materials (rockwool).

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I divide recycling into three types

        The back of my mind tells me that the chemical process turning Portland Cement into concrete is pretty much one-way. These people seem to agree with me.

        Other than that, though, agreed !!

        1. Tom 13

          Re: I divide recycling into three types

          there is no practical way to decompose it into the basic elements of sand, water, aggregate and cement that went into its formation. emphasis added.

          It doesn't say it can't be done. It says it isn't practical to do so. Which was exactly his point. Theoretically, you can do it. Even if it involves a nuclear reactor and targeting particles at certain nuclei. But that isn't necessarily practical.

      4. Nigel 11

        Re: I divide recycling into three types

        We can recycle absolutely anything if we expend enough energy on it. We could turn old tower blocks back into virgin Portland cement if we wanted to. But that would be insane. Better to go dig up more Portland and put the rubble into that nice new hole we've got.

        Was that meant in jest? Seriously, living next to a site where an old concrete building is being replaced by new concrete buildings, I saw the old concrete being crushed(*) (to reclaim the scrap iron rebar), screened into appropriately-sized rubble, and used as ballast in new concrete.You can't recycle concrete 100%, but they do a lot better than they used to.

        (*) first stage was more like "eaten" by something that looked a lot like a robot T-rex.

      5. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: I divide recycling into three types

        "We could turn old tower blocks back into virgin Portland cement if we wanted to."

        In Sheffield they demolished a crappy long-estate block of flats and ground it up into hardcore for the new bypass that was being built at the same time.

    2. Stuart Van Onselen

      There are two potential problems with recycling, that may only apply in certain cases (The upsides are obvious.)

      1) Sometimes it's much cheaper to extract more virgin material than to recycle old. Or it may be cheaper in simple monetary terms, but require lots of energy, which may cause environmental damage down the line (e.g. greenhouse gasses) meaning what you save now you pay for later.

      2) Maybe the intention isn't to actually get the public to recycle, but to set them up as the scapegoat when (possibly artificial) shortages occur. "See, we told you to recycle, but you didn't. Now we have a scarcity, so you must pay more. No, it's not us being incompetent/greedy, it's you being too lazy to recycle."

    3. oddie

      recycling of metals

      Recycling isn't always a good thing

      it isn't just 're-using' the metal, it requires obtaining the thing that the metal is in (logistics), stripping it out of the thing, isolating the metal you want, processing it for new use (simplified).

      So, you then have 2 scenarios:

      1. Recycling/Reprocessing metal A requires less resources / pollutes less than digging up and refining from scratch.

      2. Recycling metal A requires MORE resources / pollutes MORE than digging up and refining from scratch.

      If its 1, then recycle away :D.

      If its 2, then be careful of recycling away, as you are polluting more than you have to, but at the same time you get that warm fuzzy feeling from recycling and saving the planet (so you think you are doing good, but you aren't).

      There is a question of where to put the thing with the metal in it after it is no longer required wanted (like an iphone 4s now that iphone 5 is out).. if scenario 1 and 2 are roughtly the same you may make the suggestion that scenario 1 is better as it cuts down on needed space for landfills. Or you could make the point that if we put it somewhere with others like it then we will have a known source of materials in the future...

      Philosophical question: If at some point in the future we start to mine landfills for materials, are we then recycling previously abandoned waste, or are we extracting ore from the ground, or both?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Where's Lewis?

    Not written anything for a couple of months. Gap year?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Where's Lewis?

      No. I saw him yesterday campaigning for the Green Party in the Euro Elections.

      1. John 62

        Re: Where's Lewis?

        He's the Register's overall editor big cheese now.

        War Is Boring at medium.com has plenty good weapons coverage if you need your fix of that.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Forecasting is so depressing

    Any worthwhile economic forecast should include a reference to the previous one. So the next time you see a price prediction for oil, gas or similar in a years time it should include a comparison of today's price and the previous forecast.

    Maybe you will be surprised by their accuracy, but I doubt it.

    Is part of the problem that only hysterical forecasts and reports get any coverage?

  10. Notrub

    In the Western world, Sales type personalities are far more compelling than Engineer types.

    All of our politicians and many of our senior managers/directors are all in the business of Selling stuff and rely on charisma and force of conviction to persuade others.

    The people who actually know stuff are usually consigned to advisory committees and the problem is that these committees are rarely listened to, particularly by politicians.

    That's why China is eventually going to stuff the lot of us.

    Incidentally, I see the point of recycling not so much that it's about saving natural resources - after all, the first things to be recycled were glass and paper, and there's practically limitless quantities of both. No I thought the point is to reduce the amount of waste going into landfills.

    1. Stuart Van Onselen

      A properly-designed landfill is perfectly safe, and it's not like we're ever going to run out of holes to dump things in. For example, every mine-pit we dig up now is a potential land-fill site later. It's like a special case of recycling, come to think of it. ;-)

      1. PhilBuk

        @Stuart Van O

        There is one country where landfills don't work - Holland. Guess who pushed through the EU regs on reducing landfill use.

        Phil.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Not quite so fast

        You cannot put a landfill just anywhere. You currently need a deep clay layer which can be capped once the landfill is considered full. The clay layer is expected to prevent heavy metals etc leeching into the local water supply.

        Landfill sites in Essex took most of London's waste for decades but are now running out of space and the price has gone up accordingly. Which is why loss making recycling can still be cheaper than burying it (I know that some recycling ends up being exported to China on otherwise empty cargo vessels, but I do not know how much).

        You could lower standards to make more sites viable, reduce the thickness of the clay layer, allow cheaper, less flexible materials to used etc. But that doesn't seem to be considered an option yet.

    2. squigbobble

      You can recycle energy as well

      Manufacturing glass from raw materials is way more energy intensive than recycling it so by recycling glass you reduce the total energy required for manufacturing new glass things. In a sense, you're recycling the energy that was put into processing the raw materials into raw glass.

      Paper recycling, however, is more about saving the trees.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: You can recycle energy as well

        Paper recycling is about feeling like you are doing something and a little about landfill volume.

        The trees you are saving are farmed pine forests, more trees are planted for every one that is harvested - "saving them" is like recycling flour to save the wheat.

        It's horribly energy inefficient to collect and recycle paper and involves lots of nasty chemicals - but it is also expensive to bury large amounts of paper that never rots.

        1. Nigel 11

          Re: You can recycle energy as well

          Surely the best way to recycle low-grade paper is to burn it to generate green electricity? (CO2 goes up the chimney. New trees grow and absorb the CO2. The trees are made into paper and the cycle repeats)

          Landfilling paper generates methane by anaerobic decomposition. If that leaks into the atmosphere it's a rather more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. Yes, a well-built landfill site can trap the methane and feed it into a generator, which may be less polluting than burning paper directly -- but there's always going to be some methane leakage in that process.

      2. Mage Silver badge

        Re: You can recycle energy as well

        I'm not sure that's true about glass. Also factor shipping to one of few glass factories vs a nearer hole in ground. But Re-use of glass is certainly good?

        Also unlike doors, window frames and floors etc, trees for paper are planted especially to cut down later. Not all paper comes from trees though.

        Paper rots quite quicky. Glass never does, but you can crush it.

        1. Tom 13

          Re: Paper rots quite quicky.

          Not in a modern land fill. And by modern, I mean pretty much anything after 1930. There was an archeology class that did a "dig" in a landfill. They pulled out readable newspapers from 1945.

          In an attempt to do away with the awkward smell of your typical dump, we've created zones where no decay mechanisms are at work. Clay lined pits, no drainage into the local water system, etc. It seems to me sensible garbage processing would find ways to easily extract the recyclable bits, then turn the rest into a sludge that you purposely decompose, possibly yielding other resources that while not directly profitable at least offset some of the cost of rendering the garbage into something that is more readily disposed. But again, its a game of price point numbers.

    3. cupperty

      'Gold gets dug out of the ground in Africa, or someplace. Then we melt it down, dig another hole, bury it again and pay people to stand around guarding it. It has no utility. Anyone watching from Mars would be scratching their head.'

      - Warren Buffett

      1. Tom 13

        A small amount of gold is used in almost every sophisticated electronic device. This includes: cell phones, calculators, personal digital assistants, global positioning system units and other small electronic devices. Most large electronic appliances such as television sets also contain gold.

        One challenge with the use of gold in very small quantities in very small devices is loss of the metal from society. Nearly one billion cell phones are produced each year and most of them contain about fifty cents worth of gold. Their average lifetime is under two years and very few are currently recycled. Although the amount of gold is small in each device, their enormous numbers translate into a lot of unrecycled gold.

        http://geology.com/minerals/gold/uses-of-gold.shtml

        It's not often one gets to call Warren Buffett and idiot, but in this instance he is.

  11. Perpetual Cyclist

    Energy return on investment.

    Yes there is a vast amount of resource under the ground. These can be divided fairly neatly into two - minerals that are used to build things /grow food, and minerals/liquids/gas used as a source of energy. Extracting anything from the ground uses energy. An energy source that use more energy to extract than it usefully provides is not an energy source, it is a sink. We may get to the point where drilling for oil is a net energy sink, because oil is so much more useful to society than coal, that we are prepared to still extract it using energy from coal at a net loss. However, we will never mine coal at a net energy loss. And coal is still the single biggest source of energy in the industrial world. All the easy sources of energy are mined first. That means, unless technology improves exponentially, the net energy from each KWh of energy extracted must decline, relentlessly, regardless of how much is under the ground. All the easy sources of all minerals are also mined first. They need ever larger amounts of energy for each Kg on mineral extracted over time, unless technology can improve exponentially. And the mining of energy needs ever more kg of minerals as people dig and drill deeper and further.

    So over time, we spend more and more energy extracting the same amount of minerals, and more and more energy and minerals extracting the same amount of energy. More and more of the global resources of both minerals and energy are used to keep the mining industry expanding, and less and less is left over for the rest of society.

    This is not sustainable. Long before the total energy budget peaks, industrial society peaks. Demand for the ever more expensive minerals and energy cannot be sustained, the price falls below that required to invest in further mines and oil fields in ever more extreme environments, and investment collapses. Then industrial society collapses.

    We are at that point. All the major private oil companies are way past peak production, and are cutting their capital budgets because they cannot find more oil to drill at an affordable price, even though the price rose FIVE FOLD in a decade.

    Yesterday, the official estimate of shale oil (as in fracking) resource in California was cut by 13 billion barrels, or 95%. That oil is still down there, but it is going to stay down there. For ever.

    1. Tim Worstal

      Not quite

      "So over time, we spend more and more energy extracting the same amount of minerals, and more and more energy and minerals extracting the same amount of energy."

      This isn't true though. I agree that logically it should be. But we didn't first survey the entire world and then decide to mine the cheapest deposits. All much more random than that. For tin, for example, we mined Cornwall first, then the Krusny Hory (where I am now) which are both high energy requirement hard rock deposits. It's only in recent decades that we've been mining the alluvial deposits in Indonesia which are so low energy that you can (quite literally) pick up the tin ore and separate it from the beach sand with a vacuum cleaner electric motor.

      1. Perpetual Cyclist

        Re: Not quite

        Of course as industrial society expanded we found more and more resources of key minerals and even energy supplies. However, we have now surveyed the entire planet (apart from the deep oceans) and we have a very good idea of what is down there. Shale oil has been known about for 50 years or more, but it was only a five fold increase in price (and incremental technology improvements) that brought it on tap in the US. Production from that source will peak in the next 3 YEARS.

        Oil is the first major energy source to hit the buffers. It will not be the last. technology cannot outpace depletion for ever.

        1. h4rm0ny

          Re: Not quite

          >>"Oil is the first major energy source to hit the buffers. It will not be the last. technology cannot outpace depletion for ever."

          True, but Uranium and Thorium both have one Hell of a headstart.

          1. Nigel 11

            Re: Not quite

            technology cannot outpace [energy] depletion for ever

            In human terms, yes, it can. Dare I say fusion power?

            Please don't laugh. We may even be able to get it working down here on Earth, if we really try hard enough. But if not, it's already working up there in the sky, keeping us all alive, and we now know how to harvest it. Just cover a smallish fraction of the Earth's deserts with solar panels (or with mirrors and systems for turning the capured heat into electricity - the jury is still out on whether solar-thermal might beat solar-PV).

            Solar power will be as good as it is today for a lot longer than the Earth will remain habitable.

            (BTW that's not a prediction of man-made eco-doom. It's just the fact that the sun is naturally getting hotter as it oh-so-slowly uses up its Hydrogen. The Earth will turn into a Venus clone a long time before Sol finally goes nova. Maybe as little as hundreds of My hence).

        2. Tim Worstal

          Re: Not quite

          "However, we have now surveyed the entire planet "

          Apologies, but no, we haven't. We really, really, have not. This is my industry and we are nowhere near having done that as yet. Hell, we've not even surveyed Yorkshire properly yet.

    2. earl grey Silver badge
      Mushroom

      OMG, the sky is falling

      The oil will stay in the ground in california because it's a NIMBY state. they use more oil, gas, and electricity than any other state, but don't want anybody drilling in their precious reserves. well, let me give them a big boo hoo. Peak oil nuts are proven wrong, so wring your hands elsewhere.

  12. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Confirmation bias

    Confirmation bias.

    Confirmation bias.

    It needs repeating over and over again.

    Policy lobbyists genuinely believe what they say, and think they've seen the evidence.

    But the only evidence they see is the evidence they look for. And it doesn't have to be "arts graduates".

    It's the same for all sorts of areas.

    For nutrition . Because of a bias in nutritionists who don't seem to believe that food can be pleasurable, ( roughly summed up as if it's nice it must be bad for you).

    For Education, because of a grouping of policy makers who think that rote learning and slogging are the way to learn (Only phonics work. And we must have a lousy education system because we do poorly in a set of tests that is biased towards that type of slogging ).

    Health. I have a deep suspicion that the people who want to ban e-cigarettes work in this way. I've never smoked, but the claims of anti-ecigarette campaigners do seem to be based on desperately looking for reasons why these things can't be as good as they seem.

    And I'm sure many other areas too.

    Of course that could be my confirmation bias.

    1. Anonymous Coward 101

      Re: Confirmation bias

      "I have a deep suspicion that the people who want to ban e-cigarettes work in this way. I've never smoked, but the claims of anti-ecigarette campaigners do seem to be based on desperately looking for reasons why these things can't be as good as they seem."

      It's the quest for purity. They cannot envisage an imperfect answer to a problem, so would rather people give up their addiction altogether - or die in the attempt.

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Confirmation bias

        "They cannot envisage an imperfect answer to a problem,.... "

        Yes, I agree with that, from experience.

        I recall a meeting in a big room full of council worthies and front-line managers.

        We were setting healthy eating targets for kids and they decided that our target had to be the 5-portions-a-day.

        I tried very hard to argue that we needed a target of every child eating f and v at least once every day. Which I thought was more important and attainable.

        I lost.

        Of course I lost.

        It had to be 5!

        Is every child eating 5-a-day or even close to that?

        What do you think?

        Is every child even eating *some* f and v every day? Only if their school works hard to make them - and since that was never the target.............

  13. sandman

    One resource that's limitless

    Stupidity.

  14. Andrew Torrance

    You might want to dial back on the smugness . What about unobtanium ? If that was so plentiful then why do we have to go so far to get it ?

    1. hplasm Silver badge
      Happy

      Unobtainium-

      There's loads of it. But it always just moves out of reach- that's what makes it special!

  15. Geoff May

    Don't panic (in large friendly letters)

    There'll be another Chicxulub impact that will replenish all the minerals mankind consumes.

  16. Nuke
    Facepalm

    Don't worry about this stuff, it will be banned first

    A greater problem than the resources running out is the materials being banned. This is on the cards with coal (was it here we had a report of a campagn to buy up all coal mines and close them?), and lead only survives in use because car batteries still need it. So what does it matter what coal is still under the ground? I am holding my breath waiting for zinc to be banned (like lead, it already is banned in paint).

    Never mind that exterior timber rots and steel rusts for want of creosote, lead primer and galvanising, or that energy prices are sky-rocketing and will go higher because we must susidise windmills and solar panels, and pay the Russians and Arabs for gas; the Greens will be happy.

  17. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    More top quality stuff from El Reg

    An excellent account. I only wish stuff half as well-informed came from "our leaders".

    BTW, if you want to wind up your green friends tell them we haven't started to mine the mantle yet!.

    1. caradoc

      Re: More top quality stuff from El Reg

      Think of all the energy from the methan clathrates in the Arctic....

  18. Panicnow
    FAIL

    Read the paper, not the report

    Lazy journalism is where they recycle other journalists output, without going back to the original source.

    Certainly the UK running out of energy report, was about the LOCAL reserves, if International trade shutdown. E.g. The Ukraine became a east-west showdown.... The report SHOULD be a wake-up call to pollicy makers who assume business as usual has permanence!

    Second, true we will never "runout" of resources. But the price and the cost of extraction can change very rapidly.

    Third, one has to look at the timing supply chain adaptation. It has taken nearly a decade to restart the non-chinese rare-earth extraction supply chain. Converting refineries to changing raw materials...

    Poo-pooing these reports is a dangerous game.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Shock, horror, Scargill was right - minerals no use without miners!

    We may well be "pretty much built on a bed of coal", but it's no use to us under the ground, and I can't see any future government reversing the Thatcher-orchestrated destruction of the mining industry, so we probably are going to 'run out' - in the sense of no longer producing any of our own - when the remaining few mines are tapped out in the fairly-near future.

    1. Chris Miller

      Re: Shock, horror, Scargill was right - minerals no use without miners!

      Oh for heaven's sake. Mrs T was not the primary cause of deep mining effectively ceasing in the UK. The cause was the development of efficient surface transport technology (mainly shipping) that allowed open cast coal from the US and Australia to be delivered to Europe at a price well below that of deep mined coal. If you want to persist in your belief that 'Fatcha dunnit' you need to explain why deep mining ceased in Germany (for example) at exactly the same time.

  20. Jim O'Reilly
    Pint

    Common sense at last!

    Now that there's a big chill on Anthropogenic Global Warming, it looks like the professional doomsayers are out finding the "Next Big Thing" (NBT). As with all fortune-tellers, predicting a disaster is better than predicting good news. If the disaster happens, the fortuneteller was right, and if it doesn't, everyone is so relieved they forgive the lie.

    The NBT is going to be resources. We are raping the Earth and using them up without recycling - right! Soon we'll have calls for recycling every gram of metal into component elements, and plastics recycling will require us sorting every plastic type into unique bags. I can't wait!

  21. Arthur the cat Silver badge
    WTF?

    Either my maths is wrong, or Tim's is

    "If you put the right doohicky on the side of this plant then you get the gallium out. It's at about 100ppm, 100 grammes per tonne of bauxite processed. Some 8,000 tonnes a year passes through those plants, which is useful because only a few of those BP plants have the doohickeys and globally we only use around 400 tonnes of gallium a year."

    100 g/t * 8,000 t/yr = 800,000 g/yr = 800 kg/yr = 0.8 t/yr of gallium with 100% doohickeys fitted.

    That's not going to cover 400t/yr. Have we lost or gained a thousand somewhere? Given that world-aluminium.org reports primary (i.e. non-recycled) Al production last month was 4,169 kt maybe that should 8,000 kt of bauxite a *month*? That would need only 5% doohickeys.

    1. Tim Worstal

      Re: Either my maths is wrong, or Tim's is

      8 k tonnes of Ga......there's hundreds of millions of tonnes of bauxite that pass through these same plants. Mebbe, just under 100 millon tonnes on reflection.

  22. JLV Silver badge

    Sadly, quite representative of a lot of green- endeavours

    Take a real problem, screw up the science, propose half-baked solutions.

    Get the politicians aboard. Screw things up some more.

    Just as an hypothesis, let's postulate that climate change, due to CO2 is a problem (I do think it is, but that doesn't matter to my argument). How do we respond?

    Germany - go all solar & wind. No more nukes. No more nukes. Oh, wait, that nasty little problem of needing to provide backup capacity to said renewables? I know, let's use brown coal for baseloads. Result: more CO2 and more expensive energy.

    US. Ethanol, ethanol. Corn-based, 1st gen. Save the planet. And it looks green too. Does it save CO2 over oil cradle-to-grave? Hmmm, no, but the farming states' voters are grateful for the $ubsidies.

    UK and its windfarms? Nice, but what about the intermittencies? No matter, it loooks green.

    Canada - I could probably get a subsidy for a Tesla S, if I had the cash to buy it. Good of all the taxpayers to chip in for my chick magnet, neh?

    If we ever get the public behind real CO2 limitation, the first thing to do is to _price_ CO2. I.e. tax it and offset other taxes downwards. Once dollars and cents get involved, the emperor's clothes will flutter away and people will find real solutions.

    Same thing with the metal shortages. Given a shortage, there will be more recycling, less use and more prospecting. Let it come.

    One exception being the Helium shortages the US govt might be running us into by forcing a premature cheap sell-off of what is admittedly their reserve. Politicians meddling again.

  23. Chimel31

    OK, not in 15 years, but...

    Lots of sensationalism, as always in the news, but even with deadlines in the thousands of years, I find it scary. Does it mean that human civilization relying on technology is doomed at such a short term notice (in historical terms)? This eventual shortage of resource availability is certain of causing wars between countries on the scale that will make WWI and II look like how we look at some African or Balkans regional conflicts today, except it will be us involved directly, nor far away countries.

    We'll eventually need to remove the concept of countries and national governments, or to ensure there is a full cooperation and distribution of resources with no possibility of one country attacking another, or to go past the dependency on such metals and chemicals for a more sustainable technology, or some other solution to address the problem before it arises and takes catastrophic proportions.

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: OK, not in 15 years, but...

      It's unlikely.

      The Great Horse Manure Crisis is a great example of an insoluble problem that was actually solved. When it comes to resource depletion then you've got recycling first and foremost (if you absolutely cannot mine many new materials then the cost of mining goes up then recycling the already mined stuff gets more viable)

      Plus, given that our currant rate of scientific advancement over the last century, I suspect that in several thousand years a future civilisation might create scarce materials with nano technology or something similar.

  24. WibbleMe

    I recall someone in the Thatcher goverment saying that we had 800 years worth of coal

    There 50 years worth of Oil under Surrey/Buckinhamshire but the snobs do not want drills in THERE backgarden

    Between Brazill and Austrailia alone we have at minimum 300 years of minerals and Oil for the whole world

    Research history, there a little building in central london who controls the world "grain market" supply and demand is just a balance of profit

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Disruption

      Coal in UK maybe hasn't been Globally competitive since early 1900s. During WWI and WWII it was important and production increased as fuel was hard to import. In 1920s a lot of miners unemployed. Mines have closed not because coal is exhausted but it's not competitive and not the demand there once was (Town Gas used to be made from coal).

      There might even be several 1000 years of coal in UK. It depends how badly it's wanted. Coal now is out of favour. If there was no oil and gas you can be sure non-polluting Coal power stations and Gas production would be built. Meanwhile the Arab strangle-hold on Oil and Russian on Gas in Europe may be broken in a year or two as more shale & fracking comes online. USA may be net exporter rather than importer.

      DISRUPTIVE TECH

      Maybe solar energy will be deployed on African coast to make LPG from sea water and waste carbon, which can be then more easily/cheaply transported long distance than Electricity or Hydrogen. Or the problem of harnessing Fusion will be solved.

      I don't think we are due to run out of anything even in our Grandchildren's life.

  25. Porco Rosso

    The Planet is fine, the people are fucked!

    George Carlin - "The Planet is fine, the people are fucked!"

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NL8HP1WzbDk

  26. Mussie (Ed)

    Thanks for the facts...

    People who do bad science should be taken out the back and beaten with a hefty stick.....

  27. lucki bstard

    @theModge

    'We're ruled by arts graduates' - Correct speaking as an ex-arts graduate I fully agree that the situation is bleak. (Hey the course was easy and 70% female).

    What you have to remember is that an Arts graduate doesn't have to know 'facts' as such (yes to a limited degree but wait a moment longer). They have to know how to present what facts they do know to successfully create a theory that matches those facts. ie its all about the spin.

    Arts Graduates are good at spin.

    Understanding a topic takes time to learn. Most people are more interested in hockey then working hard to understand something. So people listen to the spin, and believe it.

    If you really want to teach people anything, then teach them to think and how to find and judge informations and sources.

  28. Justthefacts

    I get the point of the article as it chooses to phrase the problem - and very interesting too.

    But that's too narrow a definition of "resources", just to talk about elements or even compounds. Here are some resources of special interest to me, as hobby of stone carving and jewellery.

    Spoiler alert: if your only definition of value is to weigh the stuff, then yes we have plenty. But for much of the real world, that rather misses the point.

    Blue John fluorite. Only two sources known: classic Derbyshire mine is finished. There is NO MORE. Fragments, but if you want to carve a small bowl like those that were done a century back, you are out of luck. There is a Chinese mine, and it is nice, but just not the same - not as veined and decorative.

    Alabaster. The largest and best quality mines are all mined out. You can still get good quality stuff, but only relatively small chunks now. "The ancients" had access to fault-free chunks at multi cubic meter sizes, and there are existing sculptures to prove it. Now, at whatever price, to get a single fault free cubic meter is no longer possible. There just aren't any left.

    Marble - not as extreme as alabaster, but we are starting to suck the dregs on top quality vast chunks. Kitchen work tops, fine. If you wanted to carve Michelangelo's Slaves out of top quality Carrara, tough. You live three centuries too late, you missed your chance.

    Diamonds. These are plentiful, made rare only by monopoly. But if you want a flawless 1000+ carat, the last of those was found in 1905 (cullinan). Despite the total diamond mining throughput being orders of magnitude greater now, the goodput of vast diamonds dropped through the floor nearly a century ago.

    Good quality nephrite jade. Hundreds of tonnes plentifully available still mined. But by comparison to classic sources, small and flawed. Only useful for tiny dragons now.

    Emeralds. Modern emeralds of significant size AT ANY PRICE are basically shitty, flawed and with lousy colour. I have some old photos of my grandmothers emerald necklace. Central stone 30 carat flawlesst, plus another 20 carats in medium size stones. Today - that would buy palaces. Then, a middle class woman could wear it on an evening out.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      @just the facts

      there are still good quality gems out there - its partly the extraction methods that cause fault.

      OK big diamonds were naturally sorted and lying around on or near the surface* - possibly similar for emeralds. But extraction methods for big hunks of jade are not suitable for making a profit from large deposits of poor jade so the good quality stuff comes up in small hunks. Making things cheap - well makes things cheap!

      *though maybe there are large quantities of good quality stones in vaults to keep the price high!

    2. TopOnePercent Silver badge

      Diamonds. These are plentiful, made rare only by monopoly. But if you want a flawless 1000+ carat, the last of those was found in 1905 (cullinan).

      We can make diamonds pretty well as large as we want. The scientific and engineering processes are solved, but it's just not cost efficent - despite the wholly artificial scarcity brought about by monopoly.

      Much the same we can and do grow sapphires - military equipment use larger sapphires than we'd ever find naturally occurring in any quantity.

      Your point, particularly with reference to Blue John (which I'd never heard of) seems sound, not least because we don't fully understand how its colouring works. However, had we not used the resources we would not have had the art work produced with them to enjoy down the centuries.

      There's a whole scary debate of who the worlds resources belong to in global generational terms, but ultimately posession is 9/10ths of the law and its always 'current' generations that have the strongest claim resulting from their current possession of the resources.

      1. Nigel 11

        We can make diamonds pretty well as large as we want. The scientific and engineering processes are solved, but it's just not cost efficent - despite the wholly artificial scarcity brought about by monopoly.

        Not sure that's true for large gem-quality diamonds. The problem is making anvils that can maintain sufficient pressure and temperature for long enough for a large flawless diamond to crystallize. It's certainly a problem where the difficulty comes close to the edges of what is physically possible with known materials.

        There are all sorts of rocks which in chemical terms are similar to other rocks available by the gigatonne, but which have unique aesthetic properties. Blue John is one. Opal is another. But if they weren't rare, it's probable that they'd come to be seen as common or vulgar, and something else would come to be seen as beautiful and desirable. Fashion is arbitrary and fickle. Why do rubies have to be natural to be valued as gems? In a big laser, you'll find artificial (and therefore completely flawless) ruby disks many inches across. Could one fake them with natural-looking flaws? The gemologists claim not ... I have my doubts. Could you manufacture statue-sized chunks of flawless artificial marble? I suspect there's just not a big enough market for anyone to build the plant to make it.

        On the aesthetic front, there are also new discoveries to be made. Tanzanite is a new gemstone (and one that will soon run out!). As for marble, at some point it may be worth someone's while to go out and core-drill some of the vast known deposits of metamorphised calcium carbonate that don't naturally outcrop. Find a beautiful one near enough to the surface, and open a quarry.

        BTW someone mentioned Unobtanium. I think it's been obtained in very small quantities and christened Lonsdaleite. It's yet another carbon allotrope, considerably harder than even diamond. It's formed naturally as very tiny crystals by large meteor impacts on graphite deposits, which mercifully don't happen very often!

        1. Chris Miller

          But if they weren't rare, it's probable that they'd come to be seen as common or vulgar, and something else would come to be seen as beautiful and desirable.

          «Réjouissez-vous, chère amie, disais-je un jour à madame de Ville-Plaine; on vient de présenter à la Société d'encouragement un métier au moyen duquel on fera de la dentelle superbe, et qui ne coûtera presque rien.--Eh! me répondit cette belle avec un regard de souveraine indifférence, si la dentelle était à bon marché, croyez-vous qu'on voudrait porter de semblables guenilles?»

          ‘Rejoice, my dear,’ I said one day to Madame de Ville-Plain ‘a loom has just been shown to the Society for Encouragement on which it will be possible to manufacture superb lace for practically nothing.’ ‘Why’, the lady replied, with an air of supreme indifference, ‘if lace were cheap, do you think anyone would want to wear such rubbish?’

          Physiologie du goût - Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)

        2. Justthefacts

          What actually does valuable resource mean?

          Genuine question.

          So, the point made about diamond and other jewels is that yes we can manufacture. And even if we can't manufacture at scale, that's "just" a technology issue which could be solved if we threw enough brainpower at it.

          But (and I checked) my wife doesn't want artificial diamond at any size or purity. She's not an arts graduate, she has scientific background like me.

          I disagree with my wife on that one (!risky business!), but I think you are right that the rarity value is the value. If people accepted artificial diamonds culturally, and they could be made flawless, they would probably no longer be valuable enough to be worth the energy expenditure to make them. Sapphire and ruby probably would (easier to make). I don't think that means we are fickle and arbitrary though, just human.

          But it does ( unfortunately) mean that the end-stage of this in a century might be a capitalist wet dream / dystopian nightmare, where all jewellery is branded, and works by monopoly. There will no longer be diamond or sapphire jewellery, because those are cheap crap that can be made by any sweatshop in Malaysia. There will only be Diamonds(TM) designed and brought to you by Gucci, whose value is the Gucci logo on the side, and protected by copyright law. How miiserable.

          Differentr issues with marble for sculpture. In principle, someone will be able to additively manufacture at nanoscale to mimic the properties at arbitrary fidelity, to produce a block of raw marble. The sculptor would buy that and chisel away until they had made what they want. But really, why would they? Culturally and as art, how would that make sense? I still maintain that the resources will never again exist to carve Michelangelo's Slaves

          . You can never step into the same river twice, because its not the same you. So, I'm starting to think we will never run out of resources, because instead we redefine what is a valuable resource. But I can't shake the feeling that we lost a lot on the way.

  29. Norman Nescio Silver badge

    Chemical vapour deposition diamond manufacture

    http://www.cvd-diamond.com/faq_en.htm

    Manufacture of diamonds is routine - it just needs a lot of power for the vapour deposition. Diamond 'windows' in high-vacuum apparatus to allow spectroscopy at wavelengths absorbed by quartz are entirely normal (if expensive). [ http://www.diamond-materials.com/EN/products/optical_windows/uhv_vacuum_windows.htm ] If anyone wanted to grow a diamond with greater mass than the Cullinan diamond they could.

    I believe you can also buy manufactured diamonds to use as gemstones. The website is given as an example, not as an endorsement. There are other vendors. [ http://gemesis.com/education/faqs/ ]

  30. h4rm0ny

    I'll say this for your article...

    ...You get a much better class of discussion on this than most of the stories on El Reg. You seem to attract readers of a higher average intelligence, regardless of agreement. That's got to say something good about your articles.

  31. caradoc

    Is Oil a Fossil Fuel?

    Coal has been running out since at least 1789:

    http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/156521/

    "ONE of the earliest writers who conceived it was possible to exhaust our coal mines was John Williams, a mineral surveyor. In his "Natural History of the Mineral Kingdom," first published in 1789, he gave a chapter to the consideration of "The Limited Quantity of Coal of Britain."

    Peak Oil should have been in 1970:

    http://arcticcompass.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/peak-oil-scam.html

    Meanwhile, it seems there are more oil discoveries almost every month, especially in the South Atlantic, which is why Argentina is making noises about the Falklands again.

    Some depleted oil fields, just aren't,

    http://www.science-frontiers.com/sf124/sf124p10.htm

    "a platform designated Eugene Island 330 began producing about 15,000 barrels of oil per day in the early 1970s. By 1989, the flow had dwindled to 4,000 barrels per day. Then, suddenly, production zoomed to 13,000 barrels. In addition, estimated reserves rocketed from 60 to 400 million barrels. Even more anomalous is the discovery that the geological age of today's oil is quite different from that recovered 10 years ago. What's going on under the Gulf of Mexico?

    It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the oil reservoir at Eugene Island is rapidly refilling itself from "some continuous source miles below the earth's surface." In support of this surmise, analysis of seismic records revealed a deep fault which "was gushing oil like a garden hose."

    The deep-seated oil source at Eugene Island strongly supports T. Gold's theory about The Deep Hot Biosphere. Gold holds:

    "that oil is actually a renewable, primordial syrup continually manufactured by the earth under ultrahot conditions and tremendous pressures. As this substance migrates toward the surface, it is attacked by bacteria, making it appear to have an organic origin dating back to the dinosaurs."

    http://www.wnd.com/2008/02/45838/

    "Discovery backs theory oil not 'fossil fuel'"

    "New evidence supports premise that Earth produces endless supply"

    North Sea Oil is running out:

    "Running on fumes"

    http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21597890-scottish-nationalists-are-right-charge-britain-has-mismanaged-north-sea-oil-unionists

    Or is it?

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/2131258/North-Sea-oil-will-last-for-100-years.html

    I suppose it depends whether you are English or Scottish...

    http://www.oilofscotland.org/scottish_north_sea_oil.html

    1. The Dude
      Happy

      Re: Is Oil a Fossil Fuel?

      Obviously, oil is the milk that mother earth produces and gives to us, her beloved children.

  32. The Dude
    Mushroom

    ...ruled by the misinformed ...

    "And if you're not worried that the world is ruled by the misinformed who want to plan your life on the basis of their misunderstandings, then what would it take to scare you?"

    Which is where I place the whole AGW scheme and all the "climate scientists" and politicians and bureaucrats who are wailing about this non-existent problem...

  33. Nathanial Wapcaplet

    bowlocks

    Innacurate reporting and overhype (in the style of the Daily Mail for example) is the bugbear of modern life.

    They can kiss the piles on my indium gallium arsenide.

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