A top level page to point to postings about Not Running Out.
There is a common “Scare” used to herd people, control the money harvesting, and scare the children. That is the “Running Out” scare. It has been used for a very long time, but came to global prominence in the 1970s with “The Limits To Growth” by Meadows et. al. (sponsored by The Club Of Rome – purveyors of scare stories and Malthusian Doctrine for the masses).
That book used computer “models” (really a trivial math function run on a computer) to predict (though they like to style it a ‘projection’… a distinction without a difference in the Scare Story Motif) that we would run out of darned near everything by various dates (mostly all in the past now…) They simply took the then-present known economic supply of resources, predicted an exponential growth of demand with exponential growth of world population and where the linear supply was crossed by the exponential demand growth predicted doom in our time. Well, really their time, often way in the past. I remember Natural Gas was supposed to run out in the 80s… Oil shortly after.
There are many faults in that approach. I’ll be posting articles dealing with it all, so don’t expect more than a link here. I will give a short and unsupported listing of the main lumps.
Problems With “The Running Out! Scare” – a short list
Populations do not grow exponentially. They grow in an S shaped curve. Population is far below their predictions.
Resource demand does not grow exponentially. As prices rise, demand slows, so it, too, has an S shaped demand.
What is a resource changes over time. Prior to 1800, oil was of only very limited use. Prior to the age of semiconductors, many metals and semi-metals were mostly curiosities, such as silicon, germanium, indium. Today few of us fret about The Coming Hay Crisis and how to feed our horses. Nor is manure high on our list of either pollutants or resources. Similarly, coon skins for hats and beaver pelts for top hats are not high on our concerns. Nor are we much bothered by a shortage of obsidian to make our knives and arrows.
The amount of “resource” is a function of price. Take, for example, copper. First mined as free copper on the surface, then from very high grade ores. As bronze was developed, the Bronze Age took off and demand soared. Prices rose. The supply was not sufficient and folks found ways to use ever more dilute ores. As you move to more dilute ores, the quantity that is worth mining expands exponentially. There is far more dilute ore than concentrated.
At high price, resource substitution happens. The Iron Age replaced the Bronze age when bronze became too expensive. Iron was harder to work and needed new methods, but with a little motivation, it was found more than good enough. Eventually steel was made and even raw iron got replaced. We now rarely worry about insufficient bronze for our swords, shields, and helmets. (As recently as a few decades back, we replaced the Steel Helmet in the US Army inventory with the plastic helmet made of Kevlar… resource substitution marches on…)
Then, the biggie: Where is “away”?
When we’ve “used up” all the sliver and it has all “gone away”, just where did it go? Other than a trivial amount shot into space (and most of it is in an earth orbit that eventually decays, so it returns) it didn’t go “away”. It is still right here on earth. For any resource that consists of an element (like metals and non-metals) the resource never does go away. At most it becomes more dilute. Only molecular mixes can ‘go away’ by changing them to another molecular mix. Like oil can be burned to make gasses. Yet even there, our mastery of chemistry has given us the power to make just about any molecular mix we want. We can now make “petro” chemicals from any carbon source. Even garbage. So no worries about running out of oil for chemicals… I doubt we will ever have a shortage of garbage. Trees pull those oil derived gasses from the air, and we make paper. Then that paper can go on, once it hits the garbage, to again be made into oil, if we desire to do so.
Those are the “big lumps” in the critique of the Running Out Scare. I’ll be writing articles on various aspects of it, and linking them here, as time permits. I’ve already written several, so those older links will be put here for reference as well (along with any new and re-write links). The older postings have suffered some link-rot over time, and one of my tasks is to go back and find the original linked pictures or stories, or find suitable replacements, and save them as a copy of my own rather than a link. But they are still pretty good even if some of the links are now dead links.
One of THE biggest “Scare Stories” is “The Energy Shortage”. Yet there is no energy shortage and their can not be one given what we now know how to do. The ultimate end game is nuclear energy. Even there folks have tried to invent a scare of Running Out! of Uranium. Just silly, really. We can harvest Uranium from the ocean at acceptable prices and effectively unlimited quantities:
There are LOTS of other energy resources available to us. Some at prices a bit higher than today (but still acceptable if we needed to use them) so not presently considered a ‘resource’. Raise the price just a tiny bit though, and they become a massive “resource” of energy.
One of my earliest postings was about the general need for “stuff” to make things from. A wide ranging look at resources for making things (which is most resources other than energy and food):
Lately the Running Out Scare has moved on to more esoteric things like Rare Earths, that sound highly limited and rare, but are not:
Or Lithium, as though there were no alternatives to lithium batteries:
Well, it turns out you can make very similar batteries using Potassium or even Sodium, you know, like from table salt:
Ultimately, we might end up using rocks as raw material, even replacing things like Stainless Steel (my kitchen knives are now a set of ceramic knives that work better…) and iron in rebar:
Despite the Dire Pronouncements of running out of things like Natural Gas, when we need more and go looking, we find more. Sometimes a lot more. It is just that when we have enough, there is no reason to spend money looking for more in harder to reach places:
Even agriculture and food is in plentiful supply and will stay that way as long was we wish to do so:
I’ll be adding more as I get time to dig through the archives here, but those are the big lumps.
Not Running Out! or “Unlimiting Resources”
Future Articles to be added here.