Climate Change vs Depletion of Finite Resources vs Population
A while ago there was a rather interesting exchange of ideas around the above topics I succinctly brought in a recent post of mine (http://goo.gl/fRQ398
then raised a couple of points which I found best to address in this separate post.
✚ If a particular resource becomes scarcer, harder to get, that drives up its price, which creates an incentive to find ways of economizing on its use, replacing it, recycling it
That is certainly the general idea but in the particular case of petroleum, which is incidentally a very significant source of past and present CO2 emissions, we are using it not only to extract energy but also in countless other processes and byproducts. To quickly illustrate, here is an extract from one of the many online lists available, that one being rather tutti frutti I must admit:
"Ammonia, anesthetics, antifreeze, antihistamines, antiseptics, aspirin, contact lenses, cortisone, denture adhesives and fillings, deodorant, detergents, dyes, epoxy, fertilizers, food preservatives, hair coloring, skin lotion, heart valves, insect repellent, insecticides, linoleum, nylon rope, paint, perfumes, refrigerant, shampoo, shaving cream, soap, solvents, toothbrushes, toothpaste, vehicle tires, water pipes."http://goo.gl/RLvib
Petroleum based chemicals are present in all of these products because of price vs. benefits considerations. As a direct consequence, when the price of oil increases, then the commercial margin reduces or the final price increases or both as currently the case.
Alternatives to petroleum chemicals are also often in limited supply, being themselves non-renewable natural resources. Their prices is then to increase following the exact same mechanism you described.
In short, all prices are bound to increase
and will keep doing so for as long as our economic system is based on growth building it itself with finite resources. The following graph gives an overview going beyond petroleum.http://goo.gl/wZ9pyc
So yes, I agree with the overwhelming majority, that oil a precious gift from nature but, unlike the sun, it is a finite one and we must thus use it very wisely. It shouldn't be burnt for heating or to produce electricity, certainly not for the many recreational usages we also make with it.
I find it perfectly ok to end up burning most of it at the end of recycling processes in climate changing CO2 and other dirty gases or byproducts but we've got to do it over several thousands of years, not just a mere couple of decades.
This reminds me Paracelsus where I'd just extend the notion of dosage with that of time which is fact are always going very well together."Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy."Paracelsus
Provided with enough time, ecosystems will adjust and they will keep us alive with them, this is assuming, of course, that we have kept them alive in the first place. Not exactly what we are seeing today.
In view of these considerations and because of the incredibly global nature of petroleum in all of our modern societies, if we were reasonable enough we wouldn't wait economic incentives to begin saving it.
Yet, as we all know, we are letting prices driving it, as with all of our other limited resources, as it if were a nearly renewable commodity like soy or corn where clearing new patches of virgin tropical forests for, say, more palm trees to accommodate more demand is a very easy concept to grasp indeed.
✚ If that runs short, there is a very large thermonuclear reactor conveniently located only 92 million miles from here and unlikely to run out of fuel any time soon.
I wouldn't be so sure about that either. In the short term the scarcity problem appears to be even bigger than with the oil, gas and coal based sources."After 2015 uranium mining will decline by about 0.5 ktons/year up to 2025 and much faster thereafter... Assuming that the demand side will be increased by 1% annually, we predict both shortages of uranium and (inflation-adjusted) price hikes within the next five years."http://goo.gl/1t9IXs
It does look a bit better in the longer term as future nuclear power plants will probably make use of fast neutron reactors and the likes:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fast-neutron_reactorhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_IV_reactor
But the Fukushima disaster and Chernobyl before it have underpinned many such projects whilst, unfortunately at the same time, indirectly prolonged the existences of those with older, dangerous, polluting and wasteful designs.
About the notion of carrying capacity
Four years ago I read the "Myth of Progress" from Tom Wessels which I'd recommended to anyone without hesitations and here I'd better let Tom speaks:http://goo.gl/kkHGOH
"The carrying capacity is the maximal population size that can be supported without degrading a population’s ecosystem. However, for humans the concept of carrying capacity needs to be adjusted to account for differing cultures that influence use of resources and patterns of consumption. Not all human populations have the same carrying capacity. Yet our ultimate ecosystem is the biosphere, and collectively as a global population we have exceeded its carrying capacity."
"Every example that we have of systems that can sustain themselves and prosper is based on limits to growth. At maturity they all reach a state of dynamic equilibrium.""The idea that unlimited economic growth will bring continuous progress has no scientific foundation. In fact science tells us just the opposite – Unchecked growth generates its own negative feedback."
"We need to embrace another model of progress that is compatible with scientific law, a model already developed by economist Herman Daly (x). But to engage in such an economic system will first demand major changes in institutions, both corporate and governmental, and possibly more importantly in our own cultural values"
✚ And what about the foreseeable future?
Fusion energy keeps staying the same number of decades away from us, about 3 to 5, and this since the early 60s (http://goo.gl/DeJlBt
) until today (http://goo.gl/u3wnNk
). Hoping is good but preparing is better.
What will limit the size of our population?
And I should probably also shed a few words about the 213'000 additional
humans coming online every single day (http://goo.gl/vVIg1U
Today, tomorrow and next week, month, year... they all need or will need additional space to live, extra water, more food, not yet existing jobs and they understandably will all aspire to start a family and have children. Like it or not, we'll have to share those same finite resources with them, with our very own children.
Going from vegetables to meat
The acquisition of the America's largest pork producer Smithfield Farms by the Chinese last year is also reminding us that more food does not only mean more rice, wheat and maize. Those pigs will have to eat too otherwise our knifes will have nothing to cut into. http://goo.gl/0yM0VK
More tundra, taiga, savanna, grassland, temperate deciduous forest and tropical rainforest surfaces will need be converted into crops so that we can feed our cattles because our oceans are already becoming free of fishes."Attention has focused on oil insecurity, and rightly so, but it is not the same as food insecurity. An empty gas tank is one thing, an empty stomach another. And while there are substitutes for oil, there are none for food."
–Lester R. Brownhttp://goo.gl/SCoh0b