back to article Limits to Growth is a pile of steaming doggy-doo based on total cobblers

Keeping a technologically based civilisation on the road isn't all that easy. There must be stuff available to make stuff from and there's got to be energy to do the transforming of that stuff. If we posited something like The Culture by Iain M. Banks, where there's a universe of stuff to transform and an entire universe's worth …

  1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    Enery is the secret

    Well, it is not really "secret" as being unknown, more as the key. If you have plenty of cheap enough energy then you can recycle the elements used to create past crap Xmas toys, etc, from the landfill in to something you really need and want right now, like the latest Orgaimator2000 robotic dildo or whatever.

    I'm not sure how an economist would see it, but if someone succeeds in generating a lot of energy cheaply and reliably and without needing resources in a few politically unstable regions of the world, a lot of societies problems would be over.

    Except maybe over-population, but decent education and an endless supply of the Orgaimator2000 should see to that....

    1. Tim Worstal

      Re: Enery is the secret

      There's actually an ecologist out there who insists that humans having energy is a really bad idea:

      "Giving society cheap, abundant energy at this point,” says Paul Ehrlich, “would be the moral equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun."

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Enery is the secret

        Aside from AZ and civil-war-ravaged countries, people like to avoid giving machine guns to children.

        I think Paul Ehrlich's a tad too pessimistic. It's easy to get consensus on doing good when the good's cheap. Cheap, abaundant dirty energy would indeed be bad, cheap, abundant clean energy would be utterly awesome.

        1. Steve Crook

          Re: Enery is the secret

          "cheap, abundant clean energy would be utterly awesome"

          Not to those who believe we are a plague upon the Earth despoiling the once beautiful face of Gaia.

          The deferential way the Ehrlich's prognostications are received reminds me of the treatment of sports 'heroes' who do something utterly brilliant once, then live off that one event for decades afterwards. People seem unwilling to believe that someone who did a wonderful thing is incapable of similar brilliance afterwards.

          Oddly, in the music business they're called one hit wonders, and everyone is happy to forget about them until the next pop quiz comes around. Hohum.

        2. Robinson

          Re: Enery is the secret

          I could think of a few things to do with a machine gun involving Paul Ehrlich.

          1. Tom 13

            Re: I could think of a few things to do with a machine gun

            I can too. But I wouldn't waste the bullets.

      2. Sander van der Wal

        Re: Enery is the secret

        "And they are no exception to this anti-development mentality: “Giving society cheap, abundant energy at this point,” says climate change star Paul Ehrlich, “would be the moral equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.” Or, Amory Lovins: “If you ask me, it'd be little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it. We ought to be looking for energy sources that are adequate for our needs, but that won't give us the excesses of concentrated energy with which we could do mischief to the earth or to each other.”"

        Sigh. Mischief to each other. Have these people heard of knives? Sticks? Stones? Fists?

        Maybe, bit a bit of luck, a NEO becomes a HEO (Hitting Earth Object) and they will see some proper mischief.

      3. SisterClamp

        Re: Enery is the secret

        Because, of course, the way we're doing it now - with energy cartels, anti-competitive legislation, oligarchs, people freezing to death every winter, frequent black- and brown-outs, and grand-scale exploitation of most by the few very very rich - is working out so well.

      4. TheOtherHobbes

        Re: Enery is the secret

        And you think this makes less sense than:

        "Starvation is a substitute for food, playing with oneself is a substitute for a willing and able sex partner and, yes, we do generally think that minerals and metals are substitutes for fossil fuel energy."

        And *you're* the one claiming everyone else is talking bollocks?

        Of course if you build minerals and metals into renewable power sources you might have something resembling a not entirely hairy and round point. But I don't suppose you approve of those, given your record of hand-waving swivel-eyed nonsense on pretty much everything you've ever written about.

      5. dredmorbius

        Re: Enery is the secret

        That ecologist is correct.

        Ultimately, humans must learn to live within limits.

        Or the lesson will be imposed on them. Or they'll fail to survive.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Enery is the secret

      "an endless supply of the Orgaimator2000 should see to that...."

      Upvoted for the sensible comments, but I think you meant an Orgasmatron.'s the weekend.

    3. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

      Re: Enery is the secret

      That would be "Our 'Enery"? Him wiv the left 'ook? 'Enery's 'Ammer? Who died in 2011...

    4. Mark 65

      Re: Enery is the secret

      and as we all should know, even though the Greenies will decry such a thing, cheap energy is how industrial revolution and bumper growth comes about. Make energy expensive and it all goes to shit.

    5. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Enery is the secret

      As is time.

      The common theme to all the stuff that has been published since circa 1970 is that our existing population growth, resource consumption etc. are un-sustainable and therefore we need to do something.

      There is disagreement about what that something is, but even Tim Worstall in his attempt to discredit the "Limits to Growth" accepts that we must change, just that his view of the change needed is different.

      The key to all of this is time, either we do something eg. get innovating, or the resources will run out and our ability to and options for self motived/generated change become very restricted.

    6. Denarius

      Re: Enery is the secret

      overpopulation is already over. By 2050 on current trends the worlds population will be decreasing.

      1. itzman

        Re: overpopulation is already over. (was) Energy is the secret

        Hola Hola!

        Thanks to Ebola!

      2. Matt Bryant Silver badge

        Re: Denarius Re: Enery is the secret

        "overpopulation is already over. By 2050 on current trends the worlds population will be decreasing." Well, yes and no. Population growth in much of the Western World (and other 1st World economies) is slowing as we tend to have smaller families, but there is still quite rapid growth in Secondary and Tertiary economies, especially those with religious restrictions on birth control. That means the problems for those Secondary and Tertiary economies will continue. Add to that the trend for some countries (especially China in Africa) to buy up farming in Third World countries and the 'overpopulation' problem could actually become much worse in such parts of the World.

        It is often quoted that the whole World's human population could be fitted onto the Isle of White if standing shoulder to shoulder. Even if we require a slightly larger island for the same feat by 2050, the real challenge for equality of live (if not opportunity) is to manage the World's resources in such a manner that everyone gets an equal share. Which is very unlikely as long as we have countries and their individual control of resources, and the concept of sovereign countries and their unquestioned acceptance is enshrined in the only Worldwide governing body, the UN.

        1. Tom 13

          Re: is still quite rapid growth in Secondary and Tertiary economies

          Not like it had been. Poverty begets population explosions, prosperity begets nuclear (four person) families. China in fact has a serious negative growth rate with its current policies.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Denarius Enery is the secret

          "but there is still quite rapid growth in Secondary and Tertiary economies, especially those with religious restrictions on birth control."

          That probably is a factor but I suspect it pales into insignificance against the "children are my pension" attitude in many low economy countries with little to no welfare or pension provision. Likewise, until relatively recently, infant mortality was very high, so more babies means more survivors (still is in some places) so when you get old you have a few grown-up off-spring to keep you in your dotage. As people and countries get richer, there is a lag between the big family and nuclear family.

          According to a census from just over 100 years ago, 12 people lived in my house here in the UK and that was fairly common. I'd be surprised if a house this size had more than 3 or 4, 5 at a push most places in the UK.

        3. DaiKiwi

          Re: Denarius Enery is the secret

          "It is often quoted that the whole World's human population could be fitted onto the Isle of White if standing shoulder to shoulder."

          Only when the world's population was less than a couple of billion. John Brunner got the current scale right when he said 'Stand on Zanzibar' (7+ billion, ~1500 sq km). With a more generous 3 people per sq m we might be able to stand on Réunion (2500 sq km)

    7. Stoke the atom furnaces

      Re: Enery is the secret

      Excellent post, and no little wonder the green blob despises nuclear power.

  2. Trigonoceps occipitalis

    Added to my Lexicon of Useful Phases

    It's bollocks – it's obviously bollocks – but unfortunately it's influential bollocks.

    1. SoaG

      Re: Added to my Lexicon of Useful Phases

      That and "policy-based evidence-making tricks".

      1. Tim Worstal

        Re: Added to my Lexicon of Useful Phases

        Sadly, that one "policy based evidence making" isn't original to me even though I love using it. Can't though recall who used it first.

        1. Joe 37

          Re: Added to my Lexicon of Useful Phases

          From fallible memory it was first used here to discuss our previous government's policy based evidence making which they did a lot. This seems to have started in medicine where "evidence based" means submission to those who get to say what is, and is not, evidence.

          1. dogged

            Re: Added to my Lexicon of Useful Phases

            I think it's first attributable to Professor David Nutt.

  3. Kurt Guntheroth

    Doing More With Less

    It is not obvious to me that society has continuously to have more to do better. Do we need more, faster cars using up more stuff? There are examples of cities and whole countries with efficient rail transport where owning an automobile is not required. Do we need more phosphorous to grow more crops? No, there are experiments going on right now with high-rise agriculture, and less stuff-consuming substitutes for eating cows. Do we need more energy every time we screw in more lightbulbs? I would say the sweeping appearance of long-lived, low-power LED lightbulbs proves we don't.

    Could we, as a society, "survive" a radical change in our stuff usage? Could we eat pasta instead of meat, and walk or ride horses instead of driving cars, and still have our iPhones and our sattellite TV? Arguably it is possible. It is therefore difficult to imagine how any mere shortage would cause civilization to collapse.

    That is not to say that the future is not going to really suck for the most vulnerable among the world population, just like it really sucks today. And it's not to say that we can continue to do exactly what we're doing today for ever and ever. But "the world" is a really big and robust place. People forget just how big and robust it is. Unless we manage to poison the whole planet systemically, all at once, we will continue to muddle through, building and painting and inventing and all the things we believe make us civilized, even if we run short of stuff. As long as we don't run out of Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen, and Carbon, we're gonna be pretty much ok.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Doing More With Less

      "ride horses instead of driving cars"

      Acre upon acre of fields growing oats and grass just to feed millions of horses, stables on every street corner, and every city street a foot deep in horse shit. We've already been there and moved on.

      1. Captain DaFt

        Re: Doing More With Less

        Ironically, around the turn of the last century, it was the automobile that was praised as the end of city pollution just because of this.

        Petrol stations miles apart to replace those stables on every corner, fields now available to feed a growing human population instead of feeding horses, and millions saved in waste disposal and disease prevention because cars only produce exhaust that disperses on the wind instead of tons of manure.

        Of course, 50 years later, the auto had become just as bad as horses, and the nostalgic and clueless were pining for the good old days of horses everywhere.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Doing More With Less

      "Could we eat pasta instead of meat, and walk or ride horses instead of driving cars, and still have our iPhones and our satellite TV?"

      Pasta yes, horses no. The primary result of fast transport on society is that people are now able to live far from where they work. Take away the fast transport in favor of horses, and people will be forced to crowd together in big cities, as was the case previously. But now the population is many times larger, and such hive-cities would not be much fun to live in. Also, horses have to eat and poop, and there would have to be a LOT of horses. We really don't want to go there.

      Besides, even if you force people out of their cars, that's just peanuts compared to bulk industrial transport, which cannot convert to muscle power without a huge decline in output, along with a similar huge decline in population, one way or another.

      Currently humanity is on a high-tech high wire. If we don't keep all the machines fed and humming, most of us will die very unpleasantly.

    3. Tim Worstal

      Re: Doing More With Less

      "It is not obvious to me that society has continuously to have more to do better." an economist not quite so. More "stuff" entirely true. But we do want more value added. That can be more value added in services, in mothers' smiles, in vaccines given to those who would die without them, in just in general more and better calories. But more "value added" is the name of the game.

      For the simple reason that how well anyone lives their life (um, OK, the standard of living they have while living that life) is determined by how much of the value added by other people they get to consume.

      We want economic growth simply because GDP is a measure of the value added. The more of that there is the more people get to consume. But note, it's "value added" not "stuff".

      1. dredmorbius

        Re: Doing More With Less

        And what, exactly, is "value"?

        Is it "wealth"? Because that's unambiguously defined by Adam Smith in the beginning of Wealth of Nations: "the annual produce of the land and labour of the society".

        Or is it the market value? Again, Smith finds that labour is the basis of value, and that the "real price" should be based on the labour required to produce it. Modern economists extend this further to the concept of "marginal cost", but it's effectively the same thing (scaled for varying costs at varying levels of production). And those costs ultimately reduce to the energy inputs, which is to say that value is measured in energy -- kilowatt hours or joules or barrels or tonnes of oil.

        There's use value, but that too is given as the offset equivalent labour, and hence energy cost. We're back to material foundations again.

        I really don't see how you can go about increasing "value" in perpetuity without some additional inputs. And there are limits to those, whether you agree with the Meadows, et al, Turner, OPEC, or the IPCC, on what specific resource and sink limits are, there's going to come a point where, on this pale blue dot, you've run out of things to toss and places to toss them.

        What then, Mr. Worstall?

    4. bep

      Re: Doing More With Less

      But it depends on what you call civilization, doesn't it? At the moment we are building lots of stuff while simultaneously significantly polluting the planet and driving hundreds of plant and animal species to extinction. Does doing what you've always been doing constitute civilization, or should that term imply a continuous increase in knowledge and good outcomes for the whole planet?

      1. Denarius

        Re: Doing More With Less

        @bep, not really. As technology improved, cars got much cleaner. So did coal power stations. Pesticides are getting used less and are less damaging. In the developing world it is messier, but even that is changing for the better. As London cleaned up Thames because it ran under the noses of Parliament, Beijing will clean up its air, because even senior cadres breathe.

    5. ElectricRook

      step outside of your city mind

      Open up Google earth and look at all of the land too steep or rocky for farming practices and consider that this is where the cows are raised. Very few of the global cow, goat, sheep herd are fed stuff from the farmable land. They also eat a large amount of the byproduct of human food production, such as orange peels and almond husks, asparagus stalks (the 2/3rds of the stalk that you don't see). Plus the fact that the food supply is a web and not a chain. There are many grains used to feed livestock and people. When the grains fall short the livestock become too expensive to feed. The livestock are slaughtered and become part of the food chain easing up the supply and feeding the people thus further easing up the food supply. The global exchange of food and commodities keeps us all fed. The real danger is the possibility that some pointyhead politicians will put their grubby mits into the works and mess it up (ala Mao Zedong and Stalin) that is how starvation happens on earth. All of our recent incidences of starvation have political causes.

      1. itzman

        Re: step outside of your city mind

        actually these days cows are factory farmed on agricultural fodder. Sheep are commonly grazed around arable land that is perfectly suitable for crops/.

        However, browsers are often suitable for land that is not suitable for agriculture at all. Grazers like grass, and grass means 'suitable for cereals'

    6. Jeff Lewis

      Re: Doing More With Less

      Or.. we could just have fewer people. I mean we just don't need all these people. And don't give me the 'but you would eliminate the next Einstein' argument -it would do no less than our existing system of education, employmemt and self-actualization does - half the population where everyone who is born is given the chance to be the most they can be is better than double the population where 3/4s of the population is born into poverty (which is where we're heading now).

      1. Denarius

        Re: Doing More With Less

        you and yours first to slaughter house 5 ?

    7. LucreLout Silver badge

      Re: Doing More With Less

      "Could we, as a society, "survive" a radical change in our stuff usage?"

      I could. I arguably have. I avoid buying dust gathering tat at every opportunity, and prefer to fix things when they break, rather than replace them with something shinny.

      However, I also fly regularly to visit family abroad, commute 2 hours each way to work, drive fast cars (ensuring these get faster with every replacement), and desire to own a significantly bigger home.

      “Could we eat pasta instead of meat”

      No thanks. I eat pasta, usually with meat, but see no logical reason to reduce meat consumption. There is vastly more land available to farming than we need. You’ll know when that isn’t true, because the CAP will end decades before we get there.

      “walk or ride horses instead of driving cars”

      No thanks. I do walk short trips, but often drive 500+ miles in a weekend. Horses are simply too slow and the range is too limited to accomplish that. Added to the fact that I dislike horses but love fast cars.

      “still have our iPhones and our satellite TV”

      I have neither. Tell you what… you keep your chav telly and hipster gadgets, and I’ll keep eating meat and driving fast. Sort of live and let live. It’s almost like I have no wish to make you conform to my way of living, while having no wish to conform to yours.

      The real question is why anyone would be so self righteous and arrogant to think they have some better way of living life than anyone else. They don’t. I don’t. You don’t. You only get one life so you really do need to live it your own way.

    8. itzman

      Re: Doing More With Less

      There is a graph somewhere of 'civilisation' versus energy usage per capita.

      Various metrics define civilisation like infant mortality life expectancy and education.

      Cuba does the best with the least, but overall the trend is that the less per capita energy you have the poorer and less civilised and more likely to die young you are.

      Sure there is always room to scrape a percent in efficiency, but overall supplying things like clean water and basic refrigeration and house heating take a certain amount of energy to do even before you factor in the inefficiencies that you might improve upon.

      One man can drink from a stream and shit in the woods and catch a deer every week for breakfast, 5 million cannot. The price of high populations is technology, and technology means stuff and it means energy.

      reduce that energy and your population goes down, all by itself in very nasty painful ways.

      1. John Sanders

        Re: Doing More With Less

        "Cuba does the best with the least"

        WHAT THE F**K

        If you call living in almost MISERY CONDITIONS doing the best with the least,you're either insane, or have no clue what it is to live in Cuba.

        Food is rationed there, there is a lack of most basic resources, ranging from most common things like screws to tap water 24/7, people there get a generous chicken egg per month, and if they get it.

        You're probably one of those romantic types who believe in marxism worker's paradise utopias, well, WAKE UP!

    9. Tom 13

      Re: Doing More With Less

      Interestingly, when George Washington was experimenting with crop rotation on his farms, one of the rotations was sheep to help replenish the soil. Also, he was constantly looking for new sources of manure to fertilize his fields as he simply couldn't produce enough. I can see however that you could have quickly rectified that problem.

    10. shales

      Re: Doing More With Less

      "Doing more with less" is the definition of capitalism. That is what innovation does, increase efficiencies by creating new markets and new demand. Without capitalism innovation would remain unrealized. This is the primary error of "The Limits to Growth", ignoring how the world actually works. The fact that per capita use of resources is falling is not a signal of decline but rather of efficiency of use which drives profits higher. Falling fertility is not a sign of decline but rather the success in lowering infant mortality and making childhood a happier time across the world because of growing prosperity.

    11. dredmorbius

      Re: Doing More With Less

      Unfortunately, and Mr. Worstall's assertions notwithstanding, not all things are perfect substitutes.

      Pasta (a simple carbohydrate) doesn't provide you the proteins, essential fatty acids, and B vitamins a grass-fed steak will provide (though carefully balanced grains and legumes will provide you the essential amino acids your body requires). Grains and grass are inputs to meat production, whether you're talking beef, pork, lamb, or poultry, and it takes a much larger quantity of feed to generate meat than you receive in calories. That old trophic level at work.

      Horses provide less transport service while requiring greater inputs (in the form of hay or oats) and outputs (in the form of manure and urine) than automobiles. At the turn of the 20th century, New York City was home to some 120,000 horses, not posh pets but draught animals used in drayage. And producing some 22 pounds of manure each, per day, some 1,320 tons for the city. As well as another several gallons of urine each. Even their dead bodies littered the streets.

      Where Worstall goes wrong with his supposings is in thinking that economic substitutes are perfect (they're not), that they're infinitely fungible (they're not), and that there's always a happy ending (only in porn films).

      Contrary to your own assertion, it's all to easy to imagine how "any mere shortage" could cause civilization to collapse. The situation in Liberia at the moment, with Ebola spreading unchecked and doubling in a matter of 3 weeks, is testimony to that: a civil infrastructure operating in dire poverty, stretched to its limits, rampant illiteracy, minimal medical services, but sufficient transportation that a sick person can easily travel tens, or hundreds, of miles, to infect a new village or city. It's an example of what happens as the trappings of civilization finally give way.

  4. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    It's a shame.

    The Guardian has really slipped over the last few decades, from a mildly entertaining but sometimes insightful organ to the new National Enquirer.

    1. Dave Bell

      Re: It's a shame.

      I suspect that there is a political motive behind many criticisms of The Guardian, and a hard core of truth, such as this article.

      And there is also George Monbiot. The Register has one or two equivalents, I tend to be wary of what Andrew Orlowski writes on copyright issues. Some people don't notice such things, and some over-react to them.

      1. breakfast

        Re: It's a shame.

        I'd say Monbiot is accurate way more than the time and is endlessly less deliberately contrarian than certain locals whose surnames begin with O. He's one of the few journalists in the area who is putting a decent effort into understanding the science he is talking about and who suggests solutions rather than just writing reams of "we're doomed" which is a common trait amongst environmental writers.

        I'm probably biased - I like the environment so much that I live there - but maybe reading some of his work would allow you to have an informed opinion. Hating someone because Jeremy Clarkson told you to is a little embarrassing.

        1. MyffyW Silver badge

          Re: It's a shame.

          I don't always agree with Monbiot, but I do respect his opinion. He reviewed the evidence on nuclear power and was courageous enough to change his mind - in favour.

    2. itzman

      Re: It's a shame.

      I thought it was in fact closer to Правда these days.

  5. Barry Rueger

    Watch the Funny Man!

    Admittedly, TL;DR entirely, mostly because I've heard more or less the same hackneyed arguments for many, many years.

    It borders on idiotic to suggest that (lacking lots of cheap space flight options to exploit extra-planetary resources) a) infinite growth (of anything) is possible; or b) that any specific resource will not, eventually run out.

    You can debate the end dates for either, but cannot reasonably or intelligently argue that either will not happen.

    And that's leaving aside the varying definitions of "growth" that only measure selective targets that suit the people who most stand to profit from "growth."

    I am not remotely in the neo-Luddite, hemp will save us, and we should all ride bicycles and eat home brewed tofu camp, but neither am I so blinkered as to ignore the very real consequences of our current business and economic practices.

    What we know:

    More industrial production almost invariably leads to more green house gas production, or, as we called it in olden days, "pollution."

    By "pollution" I mean "stuff that is unhealthy for people, animals, or plants."

    Somewhere along the line we have been convinced that the almighty need for "growth" trumps any need for clean water, air, or even a habitable planet. Is this in any way sane or reasonable?

    In the absence of government regulation many, if not most corporations will pollute with impunity, will drive incomes down endlessly, and will as quickly as possible exploit a given resource and then leave the clean up for whoever is left behind.

    Go on, show me a country without strong regulation where these things don't happen.

    No matter how you look at it (and debunking fairly ancient Club of Rome projections is really quite beside the point) the trend is towards more people, more use of finite resources, and more pollutants dumped into our environment.

    Regardless of "growth," there comes a point when people start dying off, or critical resources start disappearing. And no, recycling old Christmas tat won't fix it - only in science fiction is any industrial process 100%. And the idea that you can always just substitute resource A for resource B is equally daft: all that does is speed up the eventual depletion of Resource A.

    At some point you wind up at Resource Z, and need to figure out how to drive an entire global economy with nothing but lead and belly-button lint. It may be possible, but I don't want to be around when it happens.

    It is telling that the people who write drivel like this article never really offer up a solution to these problems, aside from the magical promise that either the "free market" or technology will fix everything.

    When people like Worstall start telling us explicitly how they will maintain endless "growth," while simultaneously reducing the amount of pollutants generated, and how they will deal with the eventual loss of resources, I'll bother to read their articles.

    "Er, we're not all going to die. Sorry about that"

    Er, yes we are. All of us. The only question is how fast, and how soon.

    1. Tim Worstal

      Re: Watch the Funny Man!

      "When people like Worstall start telling us explicitly how they will maintain endless "growth," while simultaneously reducing the amount of pollutants generated, and how they will deal with the eventual loss of resources, I'll bother to read their articles."

      Fair enough. Economic growth is defined as increasing value added. It is *not* increasing consumption of resources, it is increasing value add. As technology marches on we can add more value to whatever resources we have available.

      So, as long as technology advances we can have growth. Pollutants? Tax the shit out of those who express them. I'm, for example, a supporter of the carbon tax. And the eventual loss of resources? Something that may or may not happen in 1,500, 7,500 years, well, that's a problem for the future. I'd note blame someone in 500 AD for immigrating to England because the oak trees might run out when Nelson needs a fleet. Should you?

    2. John Savard Silver badge

      Re: Watch the Funny Man!

      We're not all going to die at once, together with our descendants. That's what was meant.

      It certainly is true that just because the Club of Rome made a right bosh of it that we're entitled to assume we have nothing to worry about simply because it's too hard to figure out how much in the way of mineral resources we really do have.

      It is true that making use of mineral resources isn't as easy as it once was; this is why people are looking for minerals in places like Africa instead of just getting them from easy places closer to home. And there is a problem with some forms of energy; we're having problems figuring out how to make cars work just as well as they did with gasoline by using electricity instead. And even using thorium breeder reactors for electricity, we might eventually run out sooner than we would if we had fusion power, which we don't.

      So it's not true we have no problem at all, although the problem is vastly smaller than the Club of Rome seemed to think. As far as running out of stuff is concerned.

      But what about growing food? Increasing land area through artificially-lighted multi-storey greenhouses will be much more expensive than just using arable land that is just sitting there. At seven billion people in the world, and assuming we want them all to have a decent diet (i.e. the same as enjoyed in North America or western Europe), we've already crashed into a limit.

      The problem of feeding the entire existing human population is not as trivially solvable as the problem of ensuring that the goldfish in one aquarium are fed; the resources available to humanity are not essentially infinite, vastly in excess of any reasonable needs. We should already be thinking of that as a problem, and be working on the technologies needed to fix it.

      1. Tim Worstal

        Re: Watch the Funny Man!


        "It is true that making use of mineral resources isn't as easy as it once was; this is why people are looking for minerals in places like Africa instead of just getting them from easy places closer to home."

        I'm working on the Czech/German border these days. Looking at mines that have been worked since, oooh, 1400 AD or so. Closed in 1992 most of them (1945, 1950 others of them).

        They did not close because they were exhausted. Rather, they closed because the richer mines in Africa were *easier*.

        Same is true of Cornish tin mines. Entirely possible to extract loads more tin there. But why bother when it's *easier* to do so in Indonesia?

        What you're getting wrong is this idea that the *easy* minerals are at home. If that were true then we'd all still be digging them up. The *easy* minerals are right where people are mining them right now. The reason they're doing so? Because that's where the easy minerals are.

        As an example, Cornish (or Czech) tin requires a stamping mill. You have to crush the granite to small enough pieces that you can wash the tin ore out of it. In Indonesia the rivers have done this for you over the millennia. You can use a Mr Henry (no, really!) to suck the tin out of the sand on the beach.

        We've not abandoned the easy mines, we've gone to them.

        1. DaiKiwi

          Re: Watch the Funny Man!

          Remembering also that one of the contributing factors to "easier" is laxer safety and environmental restrictions when yield is on the same order.

      2. Matt Bryant Silver badge

        Re: John Savard Re: Watch the Funny Man!

        ".....But what about growing food? Increasing land area through artificially-lighted multi-storey greenhouses will be much more expensive than just using arable land that is just sitting there. At seven billion people in the world, and assuming we want them all to have a decent diet (i.e. the same as enjoyed in North America or western Europe), we've already crashed into a limit....." There is a common misconception that many parts of the Third World are incapable of producing enough food to support their populations in comfort. That idea is complete male bovine manure - people tend historically to group where the land provides, not the areas that don't. What is usually the problem is the politics of the region, not its possible productivity.

        An example very unpopular with trendy metrosexuals is pre-'liberation' Rhodesia, known as the breadbasket of Africa, where the knowledge from white farmers meant not only an excess production of foodstuffs but also of cash crops such as tobacco. Fast-forward to Zimbabwe and Uganda and the break up of the white-owned farms for 'traditional, black farming' (ruining prime grazing and crop lands by running goats on them) and Zimbabwe has been reduced to a net importer of food. So-called 'revolutionary economics' haven't helped Zimbabwe or Uganda much either.

        1. squigbobble

          Re: John Savard Watch the Funny Man!

          To me, it looks like 'traditional black farming' is just Mugabe's cover story. He's deliberately crippled agriculture (usually, when the farms get taken over they're gifted to one of his cronies and asset-stripped) and the monetary system in order to keep the populace weak and create a dependence on his regime.

          Food scarcity ensures that people spend much more of their efforts on acquiring their next meal and less on things that might be detrimental to the regime a la the Ministry of Plenty and (this is a pretty wild guess) imported food should be easier to control the distribution of than locally-grown stuff, ensuring that regions with more Mugabe supporters get fed better.

          Hyperinflation can also be worked to an advantage. The moment a trillion-Zimbabwean Dollar note is printed it starts to lose buying power. The older that note is, the less you can buy with it. This means that the people closest to the mint (Mugabe's followers) are automatically wealthier than people further away from it, thus creating a dependence on the Mugabe Bunch.

          1. itzman

            Re: John Savard Watch the Funny Man!

            ..except that everyone trades in dollars or SA rand now.

            The zimbabwean dollar is so debauched only a man with a gun can force you to take it as payment. And in general the man with the gun doesn't offer payment anyway.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Ah, Zimbabwe

          "An example very unpopular with trendy metrosexuals is pre-'liberation' Rhodesia, known as the breadbasket of Africa, where the knowledge from white farmers meant not only an excess production of foodstuffs but also of cash crops such as tobacco."

          The tourism slogan used to be "Come to Rhodesia; visit the ruins of Great Zimbabwe". Now it should be "Come to Zimbabwe; visit the ruins of Rhodesia".

          I went for a photo walk, on a recent visit to Harare? How much development has there been? Well some of the grids have "City of Salisbury" on them, and the post boxes belong to South Rhodesia GPO. So plenty of development under Mugarbage and his cronies.

          Anon because I frequently have to go back. Lovely country and people, but a basket case of a government.

        3. John Sanders

          Re: John Savard Watch the Funny Man!

          You do not know much about what's going on there do you?

          However I can sense a lot of the good old politically correct liberal white guilt.

          No, things do not work that way in Africa.

    3. thames

      Re: Watch the Funny Man!

      - "More industrial production almost invariably leads to more green house gas production, or, as we called it in olden days, pollution."

      Why? I hate to burst your bubble, but the air and water have been getting cleaner and cleaner in the countries that are willing and have the ability to pay for clean air and water. It's the poor countries that tend to be massively polluted. When those poor countries get wealthier they'll pay to clean up their environment as well because it's something the public values once they're no longer living in poverty.

      If the world really does start running out of resources we're definitely not going to see a return to some mythical pastoral past. Instead it will be a Mad-Max sort of world with teaming millions living in hive cities amidst unbelievable pollution while we strip mine the world's garbage dumps for traces of metals.

    4. itzman

      Re: we're not all going to die.

      The only question is how fast, and how soon, and HOW PAINFULY.

    5. Tom 13

      Re: cannot reasonably or intelligently argue that either will not happen.

      Yes I can. Malthus is only the most visible example of the old farts who argued as you do, not the oldest. All of them have been tested, all of their predictions have failed. We will continue to defeat your pessimism on production. The only real question is do we blow ourselves up. You lot seem intent on getting us to do that sooner rather than later.

      1. SDoradus

        I'll back the beast with two backs

        The only production we will continue to defeat pessimism on is reproduction,

      2. SDoradus

        Re: cannot reasonably or intelligently argue that either will not happen.

        "We will continue to defeat your pessimism on production. The only real question is do we blow ourselves up."

        Whatever new rabbits are pulled out of the hat by human ingenuity, this remains a finite planet, and sooner or later planet-bound solutions will run out.

        Malthus' thesis was the flash of inspiration for Charles Darwin in his theory of evolution by natural selection. It's fascinating that (by no coincidence) it was also the flash of inspiration behind Alfred Russell Wallace's independently derived theory along the same lines.

        The reason people persist in thinking Malthus an 'old fart' for arguing that the linear increase in resource availability will always be beaten by the exponential growth of population is that so far the brainpower of humans has opened new resource frontiers.

        But brain power is itself a finite capability. Sooner or later it too will be defeated by exponential growth. Notice this geographical variation, from <>

        Population growth 1990–2008 (%)

        Africa 55

        Middle East 51%

        Asia 35%

        Latin America 30%

        OECD North America 24%

        OECD Europe 9%

        OECD Pacific 8%

        Former Soviet Union −1%

        Non-OECD Europe −11%

        Notice how Mr Worstall's UK and Europe as a whole are quite low-growth areas. Do you really think a woman in Niger, who may expect to have eight children just so one or two of them might survive to take the place of a non existent social security, will have the same opinion of Malthus' prediction as an European armchair commentator?

        Perhaps more importantly, notice how the high-growth areas are also the high-population areas. And the mediterranean areas think they have a problem with illegal immigration now?

  6. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    Er... there's something missing here....

    ...and the something is Prof Julian Simon.

    Julian Simon pointed out back in the 1970s and 1980s that resources are NOT items like oil and coal.

    Oil and coal are RAW MATERIALS. If you take raw materials and multiply by HUMAN INGENUITY you get resources. That is why, for instance, we have composites and plastics nowadays while they did not have these in the 1600s - although they had the raw materials then. They just did not count rock oil and sand as useful raw materials because human ingenuity had not developed them at that time.

    In the 1600s they were VERY worried about running out of oak trees. It took a lot of them to make a fighting ship, and Britain depended on its navy. Navy procurement could easily see that, come the middle 1800s, we would have no wood to make ships, and could easily be invaded. And yet, by 1900, we had the biggest navy in the world.

    This happened because human ingenuity made a new and better resource out of something that had not been able to be used before. We do this all the time - throughout all recorded history. Various raw materials will run out at various times. But human ingenuity is probably infinite. Meaning that resources will never run out.

    Just look at the track record of the Club of Rome, and then look at the track record of human development. Different, aren't they...?

    1. Mark 65

      Re: Er... there's something missing here....

      It's simple when it comes to the likes of the club of Rome - the very concept and name should invoke fear in every taxpayer - all you need to do is follow the money. If their predictions were to influence the easily led political classes no doubt new laws and taxes would follow as well as subsidies to large companies for whatever snake oil solution was created. Massive kick-backs and concentration of wealth would ensue thank you very much. Pretty much everything these days that comes about via such "research" is just an attempt to bleed the taxpayer for personal gain by parasite politicians and their wanker buddies.

  7. Identity

    Parameter error

    Seems to me, just like The Limits to Growth cited (which, admittedly, I haven't read, so I'll go with Mr. Worstall's take), said Tim Worstall makes the same kind of error — when you limit either the information going in or the conclusions you'll allow, you're bound to come up with a crap conclusion. Here, we speak solely of energy and mineral resources (in the general sense). Without trying to make a detailed argument, factor this in:

    In 1800, there was one city with a population of 1 million — Beijing. By 1900, the population of the world was about 1 billion, mostly agrarian, with at least ten cities exceeding that population (London the most populous with 6,480,000, followed by New York with 4,242,000). By 2000, the world population was nearing 7 billion, with many cities around 20 million (Tokyo the largest at 26,400,000, followed by Mexico City at 17,900,000. New York, only the fifth most populous had grown to 16,600,000 — approximately a four-fold increase in 100 years). If we are able to survive and maintain that world growth rate, by 2100, there will be 49 billion people on the planet.

    Already, and for some time now, we have been having problems with our fisheries. According to Pew, about 10 years ago, 92% of large ocean fish were already extinct! Sure, we're doing fish farming (which is barely taking up the slack, if that, and we can switch to species that were hitherto distasteful, though history shows when we do that, we soon extinct them, too. Witness the Patagonian toothfish a.k.a. Chilean sea bass.

    Fisheries are not the only place where we are seeing scarcity. With more and more people, and increasingly those wanting the American lifestyle, the writing is on the wall. (I've heard —but can neither prove nor demonstrate— that if the current population were to live that lifestyle, we'd need four Earths.) However much there is of any given resource, that number is finite. If we do not get off this planet in a big way and find more resources, then there will be consequences that all the economists —of whatever stripe— in the world cannot solve. Other than that, any solution will have to rely on natural systems, whether that means living within the carrying capacity of the Earth or Mathusianism, I cannot say.

    I'm not altogether hopeful...

    1. Robinson

      Re: Parameter error

      " If we are able to survive and maintain that world growth rate, by 2100, there will be 49 billion people on the planet."

      Is this the same kind of extrapolation people used to work out how deep the horse manure would be across the entire city of New York by 2000 at current increase in horse ownership (1900)? If it is (and I think it is), you're an idiot. Population is predicted to level off at around 9bn and then start to fall. It falls as populations become wealthier, which totally destroys your stupid thesis.

      Answer: It was about head high, by the way.

      1. Identity

        Re: Parameter error

        @ Robinson

        I suppose ad hominem attacks are not beneath you, so I wonder what is?

        That said, 1) you missed the word "if" and 2) the idea that population will rise to 9bn and then fall due to wealth is a) rank speculation and b) not borne out by history. No one will deny that the wealth of the United States has only increased in 200 years, but population has steadily risen. True, poor agrarian families often a) feel the need for more hands to do the chores, so have more children and b) have little or no opportunity or desire for birth control. In such societies, often life expectancy is lower and infant mortality higher. However, in Africa, the main cause of population decline seems to be disease, which by the way is a function (though not sole, by any means) of concentrated populations.

        I have watched local populations of shorter-lived species, like squirrels, boom and bust, and there is no reason why humans cannot follow that path. Indeed, no one knows or can know what the human population will be in 2100. Perhaps we'll all stop breeding, à la Children of Men; perhaps we'll all be dead from hubristic actions or disease or perhaps those causes will result in a vastly reduced population. We use math to make some kind of an educated guess, even though the farther you get away from the known, the wider the margin of error.

        The point, dear reader, is not the numbers, but that we live in a finite situation, into which we cannot continuously inject more and more demand without limit. Optimism is all well and good, but it is no cure. As Mr. Worstall noted, "starvation is a substitute for food," just not a good one...

        1. Tom 13

          @ Identity

          Malthus is dead. So is his theory of population explosions and famine. It died because we're smarter than squirrels. And ALL data point to declining birthrates across the world. The only thing that might disrupt that is if the Jihadi's win their war and take us back to dark ages.

          1. SDoradus

            Re: @ Identity

            "Malthus is dead. So is his theory of population explosions and famine... ALL data point to declining birthrates across the world."

            Nonsense, except for Malthus being dead. Only those places passing through a demographic transition, like Europe and Russia, have even or negative replacement rates.

        2. John Sanders

          Re: Parameter error

          You're just scared of the future.

          And should read more, not just propaganda designed to influence who you vote.

          If you don't, you may end with your country overrun with windmills, and other expensive stuff that doesn't solve anything, increases debt and... Wait... What????

      2. SDoradus

        Re: Parameter error

        The UN's range of estimates goes from an optimistic 7 billion to a pessimistic 600 billion. 49 billion is actually quite a reasonable prospect. Regardless, there is an estimate out there that the planet can support 1.5 billion at a first-world standard of living. Whatever your estimate, it's far, far, far too high for a fair future.

    2. Irony Deficient

      Re: Parameter error

      Identity, I have on my bookshelf The Century Book of Facts, published in 1900. It lists exactly ten cities with a population of greater than one million:

      • 1. London: 4,231,431 (1891 census)
      • 2. New York: 3,200,000 (estimate from 1892 state census)
      • 3. Paris: 2,536,834 (1896 census)
      • 4. Berlin: 1,677,351 (1895 census)
      • 5. Guangzhou: 1,600,000 (estimate)
      • 6. Vienna: 1,364,548 (1891 census)
      • 7. Tokyo: 1,268,950 (1895 census)
      • 8. St. Petersburg: 1,267,023 (1897 census)
      • 9. Philadelphia: 1,142,653 (1892 state census)
      • 10. Chicago: 1,099,850 (1890 census)
      It didn’t go into detail as to why the New York population was an estimate, despite the census; since Brooklyn was a separate entry in the list, and didn’t become part of New York City until 1898, it’s not clear whether Brooklyn was included in New York’s total. As of 1898, China had never had an official census. Beijing was estimated at 1,000,000, and Moscow fell slightly under at 988,610 (1897 census).

      If your 1900 numbers are accurate, then London’s 53% increase in population over a nine year span is remarkable.

      PS: El Reg, please allow ordered list HTML elements in comments.

      1. Identity

        Re: Parameter error

        My information comes from

  8. Sebring

    "Move along; nothing to see here..."

    I could tell by the headline on the homepage who wrote this article.

  9. Panicnow

    Global Resource Observatory

    The project is looking to map the worlds resources and test the system for fragility.

    If you want to worry about anything, then it is POLITICS that you should care about!

    It turns out that we now have a finely tuned world. Like any system close to optimum, it is sensitive to perturbations of parameters,with wild swings E.g. Low global rice or wheat yields have resulted in riots.

    A major perturbation, such as a trade war between trading blocks, can make the whole thing collapse.

    E.g Europe is dependent on Russian gas, China is dependent on imported protein, etc etc.

    While a big earthquake or Volcano are non zero risks, the big risks are idiot politicians!

    1. John Sanders

      Re: Global Resource Observatory

      Idiot politicians, and the useful idiots who believe in them.

  10. Cipher

    A modest proposal...

    Human beings produce heat. Heat can be used to produce electricity...

    The excess population could be required to produce heat for us...

    We should do this Swiftly...

    1. DocJames

      Re: A modest proposal...

      only in Ireland...

  11. KPz

    "Er, we're not all going to die"

    Well, unless you know something I don't, we are all going to die.

  12. Jeff Lewis

    Between a rock and a crazy place...

    I'm not sure which is worse: the doomsday nuts or the unlimited everything nuts.

    The doomsdayers are disconnected from reality because they have a fundamental distrust of technology (which is ironic since many of them are also staunch defenders of science against the 'religious' elements of society). For them, the notion that science might hit on alternate ways to get basics (like algal fuel production) and that with enough energy you can fix almost anything (points at that big fusion reactor in the sky).

    On the other hand, you have the infinite-everything crowd who take this idea to insane levels by suggesting that we have those NOW and that if things get bad we'll invent more stuff faster than any problem can stop us. Also disconnected from reality.

    Somewhere between those two lies reality. The speed of light limits us. Gravity limits us. We don't have unlimited energy. We're consuming resources faster than we can replace them. We may well run out of some resources that truly are irrecoverable without massive expense, or are outright irreplaceable.

    We're affecting climate, and it's entirely possible we're close to a hysteresis point and if that's true and if it happens, fixing it won't be a matter of simply stopping what we're doing - it will take far,far more energy and work to undo the damage. The thing is - there ARE simple, sane ways to hold off any disaster that leaves us in a position to pick up and continue consuming at whatever level we want once we figure out how to deal with the consequences better.

    But in the end, there ARE real limits to what we can do, how many people can be here at one time and no - barring some spectacular discovery in physics - we're not going anywhere anytime soon in any numbers that makes any difference. This is all we've got. In the end, it's (accessable resources)/(population)... and that's the mistake being made - it's not a question of 'is it there?' but 'can we get to it at any price anyone can really afford?'

    The doomsdayers view is 'Game over, man' which is pointless (if the game really is over - then please go somewhere and stop bothering those of us trying to fix this). The infinite-everything camp, on the other hand, seem to believe the only way to get going is to set fire to the house, the car.. and hope that motivates us to invent a way to levitate or turn off fire before we all die.

    I can't help thinking sanity is somewhere between these two views.

    1. Sebring

      Re: Between a rock and a crazy place...

      A perfectly reasonable position to make - but what I'd like to know is who's the fucknugget that voted it down?

  13. jabuzz

    You can't beat theromodynamics

    Basically if energy usage continues to grow at around 2-3% even if we converted tomorrow to fusion reactors in a few hundred years we would simply boil the planet.

    1. itzman

      Re: You can't beat theromodynamics

      I think that isn't quite right.

      And there are ways of getting rid of heat into space at night by radiation, anyway.

      I take your general point, but not your actual numbers.

      1. SDoradus

        Re: You can't beat theromodynamics

        You have a point about needing justification for numbers.

        The UN has set itself the goal of containing ocean temperature rises to 2 degrees by around 2060, already far too high. Furthermore, "Rising greenhouse gas emissions this decade meant the 2 degree goal was “extremely difficult, arguably impossible, raising the likelihood of global temperature rises of 3 or 4 degrees C within this century.” That will cause chaos.


        I'd observe that getting rid of heat into space by radiation is calculated following the black-body radiation curve for the amount of heat which can be dumped.

        That's easily calculated for a given temperature difference between night-side Earth surface and the colour temperature of deep space. Nonetheless, when you perform the calculation you quickly realize that exponential growth (2-4% p.a.) implies black-body equilibrium at around six degrees celsius higher than at epoch 2000 in only a few decades.

  14. b2real

    The first publication of Limits to Growth was based on erroneous Malthusian exponential growth predictions.

    The authors of the update included AL GORE.

    Is it really possible to assign any credibility to anything Al Gore is involved in?

    Gore is a psaychopathic scam artist.

    1. LucreLout Silver badge

      "Gore is a psaychopathic scam artist."

      Indeed. The ONLY good thing about George W Bush, is that he isn't Al Gore. Can you imagine the global damage he'd have done as el Presidente? *shudder*

  15. kmac499

    Club Of Rome Defense;

    As I remember it ( for I was there) The Club of Rome authors of "The Limits to Growth" clearly stated their model was an approximation and the projections were wide crude estimates, They weren't so much doom mongers as some of the utra-greenies of the time were, but they were capitalist business people looking at possible future scenarios.

    In the opening pages they had two interesting concepts..

    1) A scattergram showing peoples attitude to events, the future and it's impacts on them. One axis was time and the other was 'distance form the event' Not surpisingly the points congregated around soon and nearby. Obvious really, but worth describing.

    2) The concept of "Indian Equivalents" or IE. That is the per capita consumption of the average Indian citizen back in the 70's. Given this base the consumption levels of individuals in other nations could be expressed in IE units. This allowed a standardised economic consumption population to be calculated for the planet It also allowed for growth to increase the value of a persons IE value combining physical population growth with economic growth giving a net figure. (I have no idea how those 70s IE numbers translate to today.)

    Although your article points out that the changing prices of resources will alter the amounts of materials that can be extracted or recycled there are a few things that are finite.

    A simple calculation of available land goes as follows.

    The Earths surface area 510 million sqkm of which only 1/3 is land between 7 billion people

    Gives each of us about 20,000 m2 each or a circle of ground about 160 m in diameter surrounded by a circle sea about 70 m wide. From that we extract and grow everything we need to sustain life and lifestyle Food,water, minerals, energy, entertainment, waste dumping etc.

    BTW when I was a lad my personal island was about 250m in diameter. How big will it be when my 9year old grandson is my age..

  16. mark 63 Silver badge

    "minerals and metals are substitutes for fossil fuel energy."

    "minerals and metals are substitutes for fossil fuel energy."

    An ecomomist would say that! Energy is the problem , not stuff, and the two are not interchangeable.

    Lack of energy will put us back in the stone age , imminently, there might be some other energy sitting around but we're not prepared to prepare to start using it , cos its too hard.

    Society will tear itself apart quickly, too quickly to adjust to the new "not a lot of energy" paradigm.

  17. itzman

    So tim, do you believe that there are no limits to growth at all?

    As the oak tree said to the sapling...

    1. Tim Worstal

      Depends on what you mean by growth

      Can we have an infinite amount of stuff for an infinite amount of people?

      No, clearly not.

      There are indeed limits to that.

      Are those limits anything that our current society should be worrying about for the next few thousand years?

      Yes, some are. I'd put over fishing and climate change as two that require at least serious consideration (fishing needs to be sorted out very quickly indeed, climate change not so much).

      But actual physical limits to the growth of the economy over anything like a reasonable timescale for us to worry about?


  18. Caaaptaaaain kick arse

    Bring on Utopia

  19. SDoradus


    "Limits to Growth is a pile of steaming doggy-doo based on total cobblers..."?


    Whatever the defects of the initial conditions supplied to the system of differential equations by which they predicted collapse - and I don't agree with all your analysis of that, either - the planet is still about to face a crunch between the immovable object of finite resources and the irresistible force of population increase.

    The first won't change short of space really being a new frontier - not bloody likely - and the second won't change till a great dying. Just when is a matter for debate. Say 2042. I won't be around to see it, thank a merciful providence. My (two) children might be.

    So might you.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is it reasonable???

    Is it reasonable to call something a resource when it is an ocean away and there are prohibitive shipping costs? Although shipping by burning diesel is currently economically feasible, what happens when oil costs tighten up? (next week, next year, next decade)

    In this oil-based economy (with many businesses employing just-in-time schedules), a small disruption in oil availability will have hard to predict effects on global shipping.

    Is it sane to declare something as an available resource if it's not at the factory door and shipping it has broken down? So much of our industry, both goods and services (e.g. continued power line maintenance requires fuel and hydraulic fluid), need an un-interrupted and cost-friendly supply of oil. With our economic and production systems so inter-connected, even slight ripples and increases become more magnified as we reach the point of exhausting the "low-lying fruit" and have to spend even more to produce the same amount of oil.

    BTW, how easy is it nowadays for oil producing businesses to get the loans they need?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't think anyone's disputing that these "resources" your target has attempted to quantify (admittedly a bullshit calculation) _exist_, it's that they take issue with the invariably ecocidal consequences of their extraction. All sorts of things are living on the strata above your purported deposits. Upending their habitat has consequences for humans too. Evapotranspiration of water from the leaves of plants contributes to local weather and climate; the decay of formerly living organisms in situ is an indispensable component of the process of soil formation which is itself somewhat prerequisite for any terrestrial ecosystem's long-term habitability. I suggest taking a longer view than what's profitable today.

    Capitalism won't save you from the consequences of vitiating this planet's other forms of life.

  22. dredmorbius

    This boils down to two arguments, both fundamentally erroneous

    Stripped of its barnyard epithets and insults (starting with the title -- really, Mr. Worstall, not a class act), this rant boils down to two critiques of Graham Turner's study. Both of Worstall's critiques fail to withstand the slightest intelligent scrutiny.

    His first: Misunderstating resource availability: "Let's assume, just because we want to assume such a thing, that there are not many more minerals out there for us to mine."

    His second: Assuming infinite substitutability: "To account for substitutability between resources a simple and robust position has been taken. First, it is assumed here that metals and minerals will not substitute for bulk energy resources such as fossil fuels."

    Given that Worstall seems to have a fundamental belief in continuous economic growth, that is, unlimited exponential growth, which means that resource consumption doubles on a regular basis.

    And that means that any linear increase in assumes stocks is eaten up quite quickly.

    How quickly?

    If 1x stock lasts you 1 doubling period:

    10x stock lasts you 3.3 doubling periods.

    100x stock lasts you 6.6 doubling periods.

    1000x stock lasts you 10x doubling periods.

    The formula, for the curious, is ln(stock)/ln(2). See:

    The result is that projections of exhaustion are extremely insensitive to increases in available resource. You need, as demonstrated, order of magnitude shifts in resource to provide only modest increase in fixed resource duration.

    This means that duration is also stubbornly resistant to increases in efficiency. While $GDP/bbl oil has increased by roughly 350% from 1980 to 2012, this corresponds to increasing the size of the petroleum resource by 3.5x. A quick trip through the land of logs tells us this increases our resource duration by only 1.8x.

    There's some more word-gamery concerning reserves and resources, for which I'll simply state that his presentation is 1) irrelevant given the exponential growth factor, 2) grossly misleading concering the terms, and 3) fails to accurately state standard usage of these terms (peculiar for a man with a background in the ores trade). See the USGS for more on this:

    Worstall's second category error is to rebut an assumption with ... another assumption. Which he them mis-states.

    Substitutability is not an economic fact but an assumption modeled mathematically. Yes, some inputs are substitutable, but only to an extent. No inputs are perfectly substitutable across a full range of inputs. Rather, you'll find a great deal of economic ink spilt over discussions of elasticity of substitution, which is to say, how the ratio of A to B you need to exchange varies over the range of substitution:

    In actuality, what one sees is better modeled via linear programming: there are fixed constraints, minima of a given input which must be supplied, or maxima of outputs.

    And then we get to this gem: "starvation is a substitute for food". In which case, I'd very much like to see how well Mr. Worstall gets on for the next six months on a regular diet of three squares daily of starvation.

    No, Tim, starvation is an alternative to eating, much as stupidity is an alternative to brains.

    That is all.

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