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Resources Are Infinite

 
 
Reply Mon 22 Mar, 2010 12:52 pm
Are you concerned about the unsustainable use of resources? There is no reason to. Resources are finite and can run out? No, they are not.
How resource economics really works is somewhat counterintuitive and hard to explain, but once understood it makes much more sense than the conventional wisdom that you sadly hear repeated everywhere.

This is how the conventional wisdom goes: There is a finite amount of resources on earth. They are running out of them because we use them unsustainably. We need to "do something" because the free market can not take care of it.

This is how resource economics really works: Humanity uses some resource. Our use of that resource increases. This leads to increased short-term scarcity of the resource. However, instead of running out of it, short-term scarcity leads to progress; we find more, make more, increase efficiency, or find alternatives. And after that progress we are usually better off than if we had not run into that short-term scarcity.
Then we continue the use of resources with the now improved methods, again unsustainably, until one becomes scarce again. Which again will lead to progress. Which again will mean that we are better off than before.
This dynamic incrementally repeated over and over again since the dawn of man. Hundreds of once vitally important resources are no longer scarce at all.

In this sense resources on earth are not finite in any meaningful sense. Counterintuitive as it may seem, resources are not just carried off a stash and used up, they are created by humans. If resources were finite, we would have hit a physical limit a long time ago. Or we would live sustainable and not witness progress. Therefore the view that resources are finite is self-contradicting.
Imagine this: 10.000 BC the earth could feed 4 million people. If resources were finite, how can there be 7 billion now?

This is why the doomsday predictions always turn out wrong; progress does not come by the clock, things improve because of scarcity. The shortage of firewood in the 16th century led to the use of coal. Fear of coal reserves running dry in the 19th century led to the use of oil. The oil crisis in the 20th century led to the use of natural gas and nuclear energy.
At any point in time the use of resources is unsustainable, it would be odd if it were any different, because progress comes from scarcity. Because of this dynamic any projection of resource use into the future will always be bound to predict that we are about to run out. And it will always be wrong.

Examples:
Humans were hunting and gathering wild seeds and animals for 99% of our history. There was little to no progress, because there were enough wild seeds and animals. Only after humans became numerous enough that just gathering resources was no longer sufficient progress came. This lead to the advent of agriculture around 10.000 BC. Agriculture was an important step that allowed us to slowly lift ourselves above subsistence living.

The use of horses in 1890 was unsustainable. In the year 1890 large cities had 150.000 horse carcasses to dispose of a day. The streets were often completely congested with carriages. The pollution from the manure was immense. Any extrapolation of these trends would have predicted that these cities can't grow much more. Then the car was invented, which completely changed our dependence on the former resource. But because of cars we are now using oil unsustainably. Which will cause us to invent, say, hydrogen-powered jetpacks. And completely change the dependency on the resource.

Imagine they had mandated a sustainable use of horses in 1890. The incentives to develop cars would not have been the same. We would have little worry about running out of horses, but we would live without many of the modern conveniences that we take for granted. And with an infant mortality rate 20 times that of today and an average life expectancy of 42.

Imagine they had done something similar in the year 10.000 BC. They could have carried on with no worry of running out of wild seeds and animals. But we would all day be scavenging around for the next meal. At least those of us that survive infancy, as infant mortality would be around half. Average life expectancy would be around 25.

The same is true today, if we coerce the sustainable use of resources, as some are demanding, we will just stifle future progress. It would mean denying our children a better life, and denying the third world the move out of poverty. Just so we can feel safe, and feel like we did something noble. That's very selfish.

The argument from the other side, of course, is that we can not depend on such future progress. We need some sort of plan to be sure or we would just be marching into uncertainty, maybe off a cliff. I think they lack imagination. The odd thing is that today we have greater reason to imagine future progress than they had in the past, yet today we are vastly more scared about this stuff than they were in the past. For someone in 1890 to imagine that hundreds of millions of motorized vehicles would serve humanity was quite a leap. For someone today the technological possibilities of the future are not that hard to imagine, many of them already run on an experimental level.
Two centuries ago most people would have had trouble foreseeing computers. They might have foreseen some steampunk future, but electricity was a concept they did not understand. But for us to imagine matter replicators or nuclear fission is not that difficult.
And the there's all those changes that we can't even imagine now.

Progress doesn't just happen. For 99% of human history there was little progress. If there is no scarcity, there is no reason to develop alternatives. If we were living sustainable, there would be very little progress. In the modern age scarcity is conveyed through prices. Scarce resources become expensive. Finding an alternative will be valuable. This will cause entrepreneurs to try to find alternatives. Therefore the free market is the best way of dealing with resources. Prices will always direct ingenuity to where it is needed.
The notion that any actions beyond the free market are necessary is nonsensical. Scarcity is reflected in prices. High prices means that a resource will be used less. If there was danger of running out that would be reflected in todays prices, since investors would buy up that resource to profit from future prices.

Therefore it makes little sense to view resources as fixed. If you feel better recycling, then go ahead. But demanding that government coerce others into saving resources is misguided and morally wrong.
Even with current technology the peak human population of 9 billion could live the standard of living of Americans. That they do not is entirely a political problem and economical mismanagement. We do not need to summon the political will to "do something". The way to a better future is letting the free market work.

---------- Post added 03-22-2010 at 08:25 PM ----------

If you want to learn more, you can read The Ultimate Resource:
The Ultimate Resource II: People, Materials, and Environment
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xris
 
  1  
Reply Mon 22 Mar, 2010 01:27 pm
@EmperorNero,
Very plausible argument but the facts of life are very much different. When you look closer, great upheavals have taken place through over using the resources available. Plagues and famine are usually caused by abuse and lack of planning. The south American Indian societies have been prime examples.


In previous centuries when commodities became difficult to secure we never had the massive populations to feed and supply, like we do now. Im glad your optimistic but this is dooms day minus twenty years and we are running out of time.
prothero
 
  1  
Reply Mon 22 Mar, 2010 05:43 pm
@xris,
xris;142250 wrote:
In previous centuries when commodities became difficult to secure we never had the massive populations to feed and supply, like we do now. Im glad your optimistic but this is dooms day minus twenty years and we are running out of time.
I hope you are wrong, and I hope he is right; but I have my doubts so it seems to me a little prudent planning is in order.
0 Replies
 
bmcreider
 
  1  
Reply Tue 23 Mar, 2010 08:41 am
@EmperorNero,
Strangely enough I just recently started researching "peak oil" and even "peak oil debunked" (Which, strangely, wasn't really debunked - just dedoomed, really). I have heard similar viewpoints to the OP basically having faith in technology to save the day.

But as most people I am reading about, talking to, or researching are saying is that we have no real substitute for oil. We may have 20 band aids of solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear, etc - but nothing to take the place of oil. Hybrids and efficiency are only going to offset the decline, assuming of course everyone bought them, and assuming that the process of building it didn't take extractions of various things to make the batteries, etc, etc...

Honestly, I believe that sitting back and thinking nothing's wrong, or will be wrong, that we'll "figure it out" is ignorantly optimistic. I do not have faith in the market because, as most honest people will tell you, they really don't care about the future past their date of death. I think it is a healthy mindset to think, if we don't figure out somehow to replace oil in our economy, and way of life, then we will be up a creek.

Wishing doesn't make it so, however.
0 Replies
 
Pyrrho
 
  1  
Reply Tue 23 Mar, 2010 09:38 am
@EmperorNero,
EmperorNero;142237 wrote:
Are you concerned about the unsustainable use of resources? There is no reason to. Resources are finite and can run out? No, they are not.
How resource economics really works is somewhat counterintuitive and hard to explain, but once understood it makes much more sense than the conventional wisdom that you sadly hear repeated everywhere.

This is how the conventional wisdom goes: There is a finite amount of resources on earth. They are running out of them because we use them unsustainably. We need to "do something" because the free market can not take care of it.

This is how resource economics really works: Humanity uses some resource. Our use of that resource increases. This leads to increased short-term scarcity of the resource. However, instead of running out of it, short-term scarcity leads to progress; we find more, make more, increase efficiency, or find alternatives. And after that progress we are usually better off than if we had not run into that short-term scarcity.
Then we continue the use of resources with the now improved methods, again unsustainably, until one becomes scarce again. Which again will lead to progress. Which again will mean that we are better off than before.
This dynamic incrementally repeated over and over again since the dawn of man. Hundreds of once vitally important resources are no longer scarce at all.

In this sense resources on earth are not finite in any meaningful sense. Counterintuitive as it may seem, resources are not just carried off a stash and used up, they are created by humans. If resources were finite, we would have hit a physical limit a long time ago. Or we would live sustainable and not witness progress. Therefore the view that resources are finite is self-contradicting.
Imagine this: 10.000 BC the earth could feed 4 million people. If resources were finite, how can there be 7 billion now?

This is why the doomsday predictions always turn out wrong; progress does not come by the clock, things improve because of scarcity. The shortage of firewood in the 16th century led to the use of coal. Fear of coal reserves running dry in the 19th century led to the use of oil. The oil crisis in the 20th century led to the use of natural gas and nuclear energy.
At any point in time the use of resources is unsustainable, it would be odd if it were any different, because progress comes from scarcity. Because of this dynamic any projection of resource use into the future will always be bound to predict that we are about to run out. And it will always be wrong.

Examples:
Humans were hunting and gathering wild seeds and animals for 99% of our history. There was little to no progress, because there were enough wild seeds and animals. Only after humans became numerous enough that just gathering resources was no longer sufficient progress came. This lead to the advent of agriculture around 10.000 BC. Agriculture was an important step that allowed us to slowly lift ourselves above subsistence living.

The use of horses in 1890 was unsustainable. In the year 1890 large cities had 150.000 horse carcasses to dispose of a day. The streets were often completely congested with carriages. The pollution from the manure was immense. Any extrapolation of these trends would have predicted that these cities can't grow much more. Then the car was invented, which completely changed our dependence on the former resource. But because of cars we are now using oil unsustainably. Which will cause us to invent, say, hydrogen-powered jetpacks. And completely change the dependency on the resource.

Imagine they had mandated a sustainable use of horses in 1890. The incentives to develop cars would not have been the same. We would have little worry about running out of horses, but we would live without many of the modern conveniences that we take for granted. And with an infant mortality rate 20 times that of today and an average life expectancy of 42.

Imagine they had done something similar in the year 10.000 BC. They could have carried on with no worry of running out of wild seeds and animals. But we would all day be scavenging around for the next meal. At least those of us that survive infancy, as infant mortality would be around half. Average life expectancy would be around 25.

The same is true today, if we coerce the sustainable use of resources, as some are demanding, we will just stifle future progress. It would mean denying our children a better life, and denying the third world the move out of poverty. Just so we can feel safe, and feel like we did something noble. That's very selfish.

The argument from the other side, of course, is that we can not depend on such future progress. We need some sort of plan to be sure or we would just be marching into uncertainty, maybe off a cliff. I think they lack imagination. The odd thing is that today we have greater reason to imagine future progress than they had in the past, yet today we are vastly more scared about this stuff than they were in the past. For someone in 1890 to imagine that hundreds of millions of motorized vehicles would serve humanity was quite a leap. For someone today the technological possibilities of the future are not that hard to imagine, many of them already run on an experimental level.
Two centuries ago most people would have had trouble foreseeing computers. They might have foreseen some steampunk future, but electricity was a concept they did not understand. But for us to imagine matter replicators or nuclear fission is not that difficult.
And the there's all those changes that we can't even imagine now.

Progress doesn't just happen. For 99% of human history there was little progress. If there is no scarcity, there is no reason to develop alternatives. If we were living sustainable, there would be very little progress. In the modern age scarcity is conveyed through prices. Scarce resources become expensive. Finding an alternative will be valuable. This will cause entrepreneurs to try to find alternatives. Therefore the free market is the best way of dealing with resources. Prices will always direct ingenuity to where it is needed.
The notion that any actions beyond the free market are necessary is nonsensical. Scarcity is reflected in prices. High prices means that a resource will be used less. If there was danger of running out that would be reflected in todays prices, since investors would buy up that resource to profit from future prices.

Therefore it makes little sense to view resources as fixed. If you feel better recycling, then go ahead. But demanding that government coerce others into saving resources is misguided and morally wrong.
Even with current technology the peak human population of 9 billion could live the standard of living of Americans. That they do not is entirely a political problem and economical mismanagement. We do not need to summon the political will to "do something". The way to a better future is letting the free market work.

---------- Post added 03-22-2010 at 08:25 PM ----------

If you want to learn more, you can read The Ultimate Resource:
The Ultimate Resource II: People, Materials, and Environment



That is as fine a piece of sophistry as I have read in some time. It is the same sort of reasoning as saying, because I have never died in the past, I will never die in the future. And, of course, the argument also fails to examine what happens to individuals when there is turmoil. Sure, the human race still exists, but that does not mean that everyone had a good life and that no one was harmed during periods of upheaval. The argument also involves outright falsehoods, such as the idea that resources are infinite. If that were true, every person could use the energy of a thousand suns, and there could be an infinite number of people. Sometimes, the bigger the lie, the harder it is for people to spot it.
0 Replies
 
EmperorNero
 
  1  
Reply Wed 24 Mar, 2010 03:10 pm
@EmperorNero,
It's actually kind of silly once you think about it.

What is a resource? - It's stuff that humans need, which we have less of than we would prefer.

Is the amount of physical stuff on earth finite? Yes. (At least in a practical sense.)

Does that mean that resources - the stuff that humans need - are finite? No.

To illustrate:
1. For most of human history oil was worthless. If you ever came in contact with it, it would be a hazard, not something you'd appreciate. Today oil is very valuable and we go through immense trouble to get to it. Thus, while the physical amount of stuff on earth did not increase, there are more resources - things we need - now than there were before.

2. Because of human action, the amount of physical stuff on earth is actually not really finite. There is more of it now than there was before because we created more. Two generations ago chicken was something you eat on Sunday if you were lucky, factory farming made it one of the most abundant meats available.

3. There is a long list of resources, that are abundant today, which at some time in history were in short supply. Thus, while the physical supply of stuff on earth remains the same, and our use of it increases, it's abundance can grow. This is the case for most resources.

What does this show? That the physical finiteness of stuff on earth does not imply the finiteness of resources; i.e. stuff humans need. And therefore resources are not finite.
xris
 
  1  
Reply Wed 24 Mar, 2010 03:22 pm
@EmperorNero,
COD and yet less COD. Tin and even less TIN..
0 Replies
 
bmcreider
 
  1  
Reply Wed 24 Mar, 2010 07:00 pm
@EmperorNero,
Not to cherry pick and tap dance around your argument, but, chickens have resources of their own, like feed and water, and whatever else. All those things are heavily dependent on oil.

So - ya oil could be goobersnot or poopsickle and you would be right in your analogy, and you are, that human resources change, and are thus infinite. Unless we can smoothly find a way to transition our ways of living off of oil, and use goobersnot, poopsickle, or some other resource - then we are enslaved to oil, because all other forms of energy, just for fuel purposes, not the products of oil like plastic, have severe limitations from a net energy standpoint.

But I like your thinking, I hope it pans out that way, and one day it very well may - we will be forced to adapt to whatever situation awaits us, but it currently looks as if most governments, corporations, and the people they serve, are simply ignorant of what looms ahead. Or they have shallow pipe dreams of alternative energy, or hybrid Escalades, of somehow saving the day.
EmperorNero
 
  1  
Reply Wed 24 Mar, 2010 08:34 pm
@bmcreider,
bmcreider;143330 wrote:
Not to cherry pick and tap dance around your argument, but, chickens have resources of their own, like feed and water, and whatever else. All those things are heavily dependent on oil.

So - ya oil could be goobersnot or poopsickle and you would be right in your analogy, and you are, that human resources change, and are thus infinite. Unless we can smoothly find a way to transition our ways of living off of oil, and use goobersnot, poopsickle, or some other resource - then we are enslaved to oil, because all other forms of energy, just for fuel purposes, not the products of oil like plastic, have severe limitations from a net energy standpoint.

But I like your thinking, I hope it pans out that way, and one day it very well may - we will be forced to adapt to whatever situation awaits us, but it currently looks as if most governments, corporations, and the people they serve, are simply ignorant of what looms ahead. Or they have shallow pipe dreams of alternative energy, or hybrid Escalades, of somehow saving the day.


Yes, to a degree all comes back to energy. When we used up the stuff that's lying around for free, it is possible to get more, but it requires energy. Therefore energy is the master resource. If the cost of usable energy is low enough, all other important resources can be made plentiful.

We are "enslaved to oil" in the sense that it serves us. Like we were enslaved to horses and coal a century and a half ago, and we were enslaved to physical human labor for most of human history. Being dependent on oil is not necessarily a bad thing. You notice we move on to progressively more efficient energy sources. It sets us free, it allowed for unprecedented standards of living. Not being a slave to any resource would mean near-subsistence living. Saying that oil enslaves us is like saying that you are a slave to your car (which might be true if it's a Toyota:)); you are dependent on it, but it allows you to have a better life than you would without it.

But can the pumps run dry? Not in the foreseeable future. Since resources are not finite in any meaningful sense, measuring how much physical stuff there is in the ground, and extrapolating when that will run out, always leads to meaningless predictions. It might take a while to adapt 600 million cars to whatever replaces oil. But no energy source ever ran out before the transition to the next one finished. The history of energy economics shows that, in spite of troubling fears in each era of running out of whichever source of energy was important at that time, energy has grown progressively less scarce, as shown by long-run falling energy prices.
One of the peculiar issues about oil is that known reserves are assumed to be fixed. The rationale is that "resources on earth are finite, including oil, and known reserves are x". But known reserves are not a fixed amount by any means. We only find more when we need more. Why invest in finding more when there are 50 years of known reserves?
Also known reserves actually increase without finding any new oil fields. Oil comes in many different forms, we only count it towards known reserves when it can be extracted at a certain net energy cost. Better extraction technology changes the energy cost of extracting oil.
You might have heard that there are vast reserves in ANWR, they are just not worth extracting yet.

You might counter that spewing CO2 into the atmosphere is harmful. But the change of CO2 in the atmosphere, that was caused by humans is like 3 particles out of 10.000. Only 3% of carbon emissions are man made. The atmosphere is fine.
Actually, the big problem with oil is that the air is brown. Asthma causes 180.000 deaths each year. What government does by overtaxing oil is reducing the incentives to find an alternative and thereby delaying the next, possibly cleaner, energy source.
0 Replies
 
bmcreider
 
  1  
Reply Wed 24 Mar, 2010 09:22 pm
@EmperorNero,
How long did it take for you to come to these decisions you stand by today?

I agree that we are only "enslaved" in the sense that life is better with the tools and technology that we grow to depend on. But if we didn't depend on it, what use would it be? I would ask what your sources may be for your views on oilfields, like we haven't looked for any because we have x amount of reserves already - but, unless I misunderstood, you said you couldn't say we had x amount because that number can change. Now, whether you just meant that, we can add to it by discovering new fields, or some such other way, I have to disagree.

As far as the research I have come across, it seems to lend credence to the peak oil graph aka Hubbert's Peak. US discovery peaked in 1930, and US production peaked in 1970 or so, as apparently was foretold by Hubbert himself. According to peak oil supporters, global discovery peaked in the 60s, and thus global production is due to peak soon, if it hasn't already, which many claim has.

It seems that Saudi Arabia is the single largest holder of oil, and their numbers are apparently not allowed to be scrutinized by any third parties - and no international or private corporations or entities are allowed to investigate. As I have heard from my sources, it appears that US foreign policy regarding Saudi Arabia hinges on faith that what they say is true - or what is said publicly, anyhow.

Also, apparently, they have mapped out most of the Earth with pretty advanced technology and I have so far been presented with a seeming consensus that we are never going to find more oil tomorrow than we did yesterday, discovery has and always will be in decline. Accordingly, ANWR that you mentioned is only kicking the can down the road, sorta speak, as any new oil discoveries today seem to do. Tar sands are bad for net energy, and also too small to matter.

It seems we are in agreement, by your lack of disagreement, that we will probably not find anything to replace oil - other than more oil via your predictions.
EmperorNero
 
  1  
Reply Wed 24 Mar, 2010 10:33 pm
@bmcreider,
Actually it came to me quickly and pretty recently after having read The Ultimate Resource by Julian Simon. You find the link to the full book at the end of the first post. Before that I was convinced of 'peak everything', meaning not only oil but other resources as well.

My sources are pretty much that book, but once I got that view of things, all sorts of information I had read before clicked in my head. It has a few chapters on oil and energy, I couldn't tell you where specifically the part about oilfields is.
Exploring for oil, as far as I understand, means drilling a hole to probe if there is any. Of course they make an educated guess where to drill, but they don't have a computer that simply tells them where all the oil is.
This is mostly done by private companies in search for profit, and they have no reason to find new oilfields unless those discoveries are worth the investment. The bottleneck for oil companies is not the oil, but the capital that is tied up extracting it; the capacity of the "taps" that they plug into oil fields, capacity of pipelines, tankers and trained workers.
It makes little sense to spend a bunch of money finding new oil fields, when they can just increase output by plugging more taps into the existing ones. Companies think short term these days.
Fewer discoveries doesn't have to mean that there isn't any oil left to discover, because companies won't bother to discover them until they have to. Over the last decades other investments yielded higher returns than finding new oilfields, therefore investment into finding more oil fields was shunned. For example during the IT bubble. Why would they invest into finding oil fields, which would take 25 to yield any return, when they could make a quick buck by investing their capital into computer companies.

Take such a statement as "US discovery peaked in 1930". Unless we assume resource finiteness, that statement does not even imply that oil in the US was used up. Maybe we just stopped digging for oil at home because we could get it cheaper from foreigners. Didn't we start importing cars from Japan, plastic products from China and steel from India around the same time? It only makes sense that we started importing oil from Arabia for the same reason, not because we used up our own.

All the data I came across before I read The Ultimate Resource suggested the stuff you say as well. It is astounding that it's just this one narrow view of things that gets repeated all the time. Bad information does drive out good information some times. But that a view is coming at you from all sides does not mean that it is correct. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks.

I would absolutely say that we will find something to replace oil. Once we need to. Maybe hydrogen, nuclear fusion or nuclear fission, or something we can't imagine yet.
But my main point here is that peak oil assumes a finite stock of oil, and since you seem to agree that resource finiteness doesn't make sense, the very concept of peak oil makes little sense. "Peak" means that annual supply is the greatest when a finite resource is half way used up. Something which is not finite can not be half way used up.
0 Replies
 
bmcreider
 
  1  
Reply Wed 24 Mar, 2010 11:26 pm
@EmperorNero,
Well, I would like to take your viewpoint - honestly. I just want to have a clean conscience about it, and feel that it is, of course, true.

As you, I think, understood, the data I have come across states that oil is soon to go, and oil is imperative to our way of life. I think we could come to some quasi-agreement that eventually, this will happen or could. Oil, physically, in and of itself, is finite. We both agree.

The general statement of the book, I imagine, is that human intellect, thus technology, will save the day. This may be true, but without an understanding of the consequences that would be brought upon the world if it didn't will not help spur along the technological miracle we may be looking for.

(BTW, as far as the 1930 peak, I won't call you any names for disagreeing, because at the moment I can't say.)

edit: I am reading the book, btw.
EmperorNero
 
  1  
Reply Wed 24 Mar, 2010 11:37 pm
@bmcreider,
bmcreider;143400 wrote:
Well, I would like to take your viewpoint - honestly. I just want to have a clean conscience about it, and feel that it is, of course, true.

As you, I think, understood, the data I have come across states that oil is soon to go, and oil is imperative to our way of life. I think we could come to some quasi-agreement that eventually, this will happen or could. Oil, physically, in and of itself, is finite. We both agree.

The general statement of the book, I imagine, is that human intellect, thus technology, will save the day. This may be true, but without an understanding of the consequences that would be brought upon the world if it didn't will not help spur along the technological miracle we may be looking for.

(BTW, as far as the 1930 peak, I won't call you any names for disagreeing, because at the moment I can't say.)

edit: I am reading the book, btw.


Feel free to state any objections you can come up with. I like my ideas to be challenged.

And take another look at my last post, I did some important editing after you were already reading it.

Yes, human intellect will save the day. As it always did. I suppose it feels awkward to not be sure if things work out, therefore we want some plan. But I would say that fear is irrational. It worked out until now, and unless our time is somehow special, it will continue to. I think it is more useful to ask "is there a reason to believe it's going to be different this time around?".

Since the solutions are free market forces, planning only makes matters worse.
0 Replies
 
bmcreider
 
  1  
Reply Wed 24 Mar, 2010 11:49 pm
@EmperorNero,
If we are to use history as a lesson for the future, even though we shouldn't be planning (maybe just observing), isn't the world of today dependent on many more processes and technology? All of which, according to "doomsayers," is oil. To me, it makes sense. Oil is involved with our economies on the most basic levels, the technology we enjoy is fueled by oil, the agricultural system we employ depends on oil, our suburban way of life, the global economy, etc.

Assuming that we are on the decline of finding new oil, and thus heading for a decline in production (if it's not been hit already) are assumptions I still hold. Accordingly, I would perceive that sooner, rather than later, anything dependent on oil will ultimately have to be dependent on something else, some other resource technology can harness.

In my reading, from things "debunking" peak oil, to general wiki entries on alternative energy, there isn't anything in sight prepared to take the place of oil. Nuclear energy was also what I used to think would be the cure, as it is pretty powerful, but also pretty rare itself. And, as any peak oiler would tell you, it relies on oil to be built, the materials in it, and etc etc. Wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, clean coal, etc are all too small scale, and are only sources of electricity - but not raw material to be made into plastics, pesticides, whatever else oil is a component of other than fuel.

So, to me, you are correct that somehow we will find a way to fill our needs, we always have. But, how grueling will the process be in the meantime? I certainly haven't gone to buy boxes of MREs yet, so I am not too much of a "doomer" but I see no reason to have faith that the very likely future not containing much oil will be a smooth transition - with no wars (already witnessed those), no scaling back, or sacrifice, etc.
0 Replies
 
EmperorNero
 
  1  
Reply Thu 25 Mar, 2010 01:09 am
@EmperorNero,
It's absolutely right that we are dependent on oil in every aspect of life. I even think our dependence goes deeper than where it is as visible as with transport and agriculture. I don't think that part is doomsaying, saying that supplies are finite is. As we agree, resources are not finite in any meaningful way.
Since only around 10% of known oil reserves are currently exploitable, changes in technology could make the whole notion of peak oil obsolete.

It is an empiric fact that we are on the decline of finding new oil. And US discoveries first peaked, after which production in the US peaked. All these observations can be made. But the reasons why we observe these trends are more complex and diverse than these being consequences of oil being finite. So we are not heading for a decline in production, and there is no real urgency to find an alternative.
In the following I mostly speculate. I think it sounds plausible though.

First why worldwide discoveries are in decline.
We do find fewer new oil fields each year. But not because there isn't any more oil left to discover. Not oil findings themselves have peaked, but "ease of discovery" has peaked. What I mean by that is that we only bother to find more when we need more. But when humanity started using oil, we happened to just sit on a bunch of oil that was easily found, for example because it is close to inhabited areas, or for other reasons easy to find. (It doesn't have worse net energy surplus.)
There is plenty more oil to find, because it's not finite, but any oil company shuns investing to find new reserves while they can just use up our initial finds. So the decline in discoveries that we are witnessing is not due to there being less oil to discover, but due to our chunk of initial findings being used up before we bother to find any more. You could say that production has to catch up with discoveries. That investments in oil discovery have been declining for decades would confirm that view. If there simply was no oil left to discover, oil companies would spend huge sums in futile attempts to find more.
Therefore I predict that once the capacity of pumps and pipelines is surpassing what discovered oil fields can deliver, we will start seeing an increasing number of new discoveries again. (I am willing to bet someone if that could be organized in a reliable way.)

Now why discoveries and production peaked in the US.
Discovery and production of oil declined in the US around the same time as production of cars, steel, toys and everything else declined. That is a pretty clear indicator to me that the decline in US oil production, which peaked around 1970, was not due to physical lack of oil, but for economic reasons. Oil imports went up at the same time, so the question is whether we had to import because we ran out at home or stopped producing at home because importing it from foreigners was cheaper. Since so much other stuff started being imported for economic reasons, it is more plausible that this was the case for oil as well. Thus US production declining is not a sign of resource finiteness.
Steel production for example peaked in 1953. It's not too hard to believe that we stopped searching for oil around 1930 for some similar reason.

As for nuclear energy, it being finite is based on the same mistaken rationale as oil being finite.
All that fancy new stuff, like wind or solar, is just a drop in the bucket. And Hybrids are just a status symbol for the rich, to offset the oil that is needed to produce the high tech equipment you'd have to drive them longer than that equipment can endure.
0 Replies
 
bmcreider
 
  1  
Reply Thu 25 Mar, 2010 10:14 am
@EmperorNero,
Is technology the only thing that can reverse this apparent trend of nations "peaking?"

Peak oil - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Also, according to wiki, the US kept it's oil import quotas until 1972, because US production hadn't peaked. Now, I know, that ANWR is there, or they could just go get some more oil if they really needed it and it was worth the investment, you may say.

But, this may have nothing to do with this, I live in Texas - and I see new oil wells popping up everywhere - in the city, next to parks, next to highways, everywhere.

So it looks, to me, just from my own 2 eyes and what I read, that oil is harder to find in the US - as you may agree. But, there are more and more oil wells I see popping up but I think oil production is still in decline in the US. They are getting less and less oil each time they drill somewhere, it seems.

edit: After further reading of the book, it seems that he is rather convoluted, first of all, but secondly, he seems anchored to the notion that falling energy prices is exactly correlated with the amount of said energy. IE: Since, before his death, they were constantly falling, especially oil, you would think and agree (as you do, I suppose) that scarcity doesn't exist, or else it would be reflected in the market, in its price tag.

But - as we now know, and as he doesn't since he's dead, and this book is over 10 years old, oil prices skyrocketed to an all time high of around $140 a barrel at the end of June, 2008. Soon after we hit a recession, and most would say we are still there.

I know he made a bet on energy prices in 1980, and the bet was up in 1990. I know that confirmed all that he said, and lends credence to his theory. But, would you make a bet with me today that oil prices will be lower in 10 years?
bmcreider
 
  1  
Reply Thu 25 Mar, 2010 12:23 pm
@EmperorNero,
YouTube - The Most IMPORTANT Video You'll Ever See (part 1 of 8)
0 Replies
 
EmperorNero
 
  1  
Reply Thu 25 Mar, 2010 04:31 pm
@bmcreider,
bmcreider;143572 wrote:
Is technology the only thing that can reverse this apparent trend of nations "peaking?"

Peak oil - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Also, according to wiki, the US kept it's oil import quotas until 1972, because US production hadn't peaked. Now, I know, that ANWR is there, or they could just go get some more oil if they really needed it and it was worth the investment, you may say.

But, this may have nothing to do with this, I live in Texas - and I see new oil wells popping up everywhere - in the city, next to parks, next to highways, everywhere.

So it looks, to me, just from my own 2 eyes and what I read, that oil is harder to find in the US - as you may agree. But, there are more and more oil wells I see popping up but I think oil production is still in decline in the US. They are getting less and less oil each time they drill somewhere, it seems.

edit: After further reading of the book, it seems that he is rather convoluted, first of all, but secondly, he seems anchored to the notion that falling energy prices is exactly correlated with the amount of said energy. IE: Since, before his death, they were constantly falling, especially oil, you would think and agree (as you do, I suppose) that scarcity doesn't exist, or else it would be reflected in the market, in its price tag.

But - as we now know, and as he doesn't since he's dead, and this book is over 10 years old, oil prices skyrocketed to an all time high of around $140 a barrel at the end of June, 2008. Soon after we hit a recession, and most would say we are still there.

I know he made a bet on energy prices in 1980, and the bet was up in 1990. I know that confirmed all that he said, and lends credence to his theory. But, would you make a bet with me today that oil prices will be lower in 10 years?


You have to understand that resources are not finite in any meaningful sense. The whole notion of peak oil operates under the assumption that oil is finite. The very concept doesn't make sense.

Only 10% of known oil reserves are currently exploitable. Technology that makes further 5% exploitable would evaporate that whole concept of peak oil. Oil is important because it's a mobile energy source. But a cheap immobile energy source could make it feasible to extract oil out of ANWR tar sands. Therefore a cheap immobile energy source would make oil abundant as well.

The reason we're getting oil from Arabia is that there oil is close to the surface and in the right type of sand, so it's super cheap to extract. Not because it's the only left. As for humanities oil drilling history, we have been doing it for a mere 160 years, we are really just in the early stages of picking at the very prime sources. All we do is plug holes into oil fields where oil just bubbles up. Yes, net energy surplus will go down once we move to less prime sources, but we can afford that because of improved technology. That's what the "law of diminishing returns" doesn't take into account. It's like your way to work is longer, but now you have a car to drive instead of walking, so you get there faster.

What Julian Simon is talking about is long term trends. A ten year trend can't possibly be a good indicator for such a thing as an entire resource running out. Short term trends fluctuate, especially those of oil.
If oil prices were high because we don't have any more of the physical stuff left, the price hadn't just evaporated to a low of $30 Dollars (or was it $25?) in the recent recession. It's simple economics. This shows that high prices were man-made, not due to physical scarcity. Obviously a bunch of people, from environmentalists to speculators, have an interest in rising oil prices.
When prices were high, how often did you hear the reason is that China and India are consuming now? When prices went down, did China and India suddenly quit their consumption? Oil prices weren't high because of physical scarcity.

That video you posted is utter nonsense. I know it from a while ago. What such academics do all day is improving their skills of convincingly delivering their simplistic nonsense. You mentioned that Julian Simon's writing style is convoluted. If all you care about to be convinced of a theory is that it is represented in a simplistic way, then you are bound to believe the most simplistic explanation available. Since they can usually be described in a simple, linear argument. The actuality of resource economics, sadly, is convoluted to explain.
The video alleges that human population growth is simply exponential, and kept in check by disease and starvation once it exceeds capacities, which is simply factually incorrect. Actually human population growth adjusts to production capacity, rather than being uncontrolled:
The tool-using and tool-making revolution kicked off the rapid rise in population
around 1 million BCE. The aid of various implements "gave the food gatherer and hunter
access to the widest range of environments." But when the productivity gains from the use
of primitive tools had been exploited, the rate of population growth fell, and population
size again settled down near a plateau.
The next rapid jump in population started perhaps 10,000 years ago, when people began
to keep herds and cultivate the earth, rather than simply foraging for wild plants and
game. Once again the rate of population growth abated after the initial productivity
gains from the new technology had been exploited, and once again population size settled
down to a near-plateau, as compared with the rapid growth previously experienced. The
known methods of making a living constituted a constraint to further population growth
once the world's population reached a certain size.
These two previous episodes of sharp rise and subsequent fall in the rate of
population growth suggest that the present rapid growth - which began perhaps 300 or 350
years ago, in the 1600s - may settle down again when, or if, the benefits of the new
industrial and agricultural and other technical knowledge that followed the early
scientific and industrial revolutions begin to peter out. And population size may again
reach a near-plateau and remain there until another "revolution" due to another
breakthrough of knowledge again suddenly increases the productive capacity of mankind.
In this long-term view population size adjusts to productive conditions rather than being an
uncontrolled monster. (We should keep in mind, though, that our present, technical
knowledge will support vastly larger populations than at present.)
0 Replies
 
bmcreider
 
  1  
Reply Fri 26 Mar, 2010 12:36 am
@EmperorNero,
I will state that I don't look for simplistic explanations. If I did, I would not be on this forum, I would be watching American Idol because I thought all I needed to know was delivered in between commercials, before sports, at 5:00 on weekdays.

Now, other than that. That guy, Simon, is not convoluted just in his thought process regarding his theory, he is convoluted as an author. He cannot keep a coherent stream on the page, he jumps around too much. There is a difference between convoluted and detailed. A detailed argument is fine, I am taking place in one now in this thread. A convoluted, bullshit argument, is what is given in that book.

Not to be mean, but, I don't see any other sources for what this guy believes other than himself. I see no geologists in agreement with this, no real influential scientific board or individual, nobody but people looking for profit. Then, those same people, people who I am sure are a bit right leaning (as you may say I am a bit left, in retort) such as yourself, will try to present a picture that A) Technology, that we make, and we sell, at profit, will save the day and B) That is if the day even needs saving, which is only purported (apparently) by people looking to profit from doomsaying.

I know that the Earth is not flat, and it is not black and white. I know that a long term trend is more important than a short term trend, and that neither one of us, or our sources, are ever 100% right or wrong. But there is a distinction between BS and reality. It is, as I have alluded to earlier, tantamount to religious faith to believe in our own human ability to be imminent master of our domain to the point of never having to worry about resources, and thus labeling them as infinite - as opposed to finite.

It is simply not true if you understand how people, like geologists, with years of experience and learning about geology alone come to their conclusions about estimates of oil remaining in the ground - that is all oil, period, that they are estimating. Oil companies, unlike yourself, do not just sit on what reserves are in the ground now thinking that they will always be able to find more tomorrow, they are constantly competing with other companies to find more oil. Or ways of extracting it.

How is it that these exact scenarios I am describing of peak oil have played out in several, several countries with exponential rises in production followed by a corollary fall, yet you do not believe that a country wide scenario can play out globally. After all the countries in the world have used up their oil, how will the world get any?

Any new finds, any, are only touted as some new found gusher of sustainable energy demands by people looking to profit off of the perceived reality that statement implies, not the true one. The can is continually kicked down the road. Any new find, any reserve like ANWR (Never heard of ANWR tar sands btw, only Canadian near there), or pond of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, is large enough to supply, in cooperation with all feasible alternative energy, and other piddly reserves, a couple of decades worth - and that's negating the fact that we are experiencing (undoubtedly), exponential growth and consumption (whether or not you believe in a possible decline).

You simply have no real evidence, other than illusory economics, and one dead guy, to support your view. It is very optimistic, and very unpopular among any but the Forbes crowd.
0 Replies
 
EmperorNero
 
  1  
Reply Fri 26 Mar, 2010 01:15 am
@EmperorNero,
Okay, it's your right to believe that.

Resources - i.e. stuff that humans need - are not finite; physical material is finite, not resources. You seemed to agree with that from my earlier examples.
Just by looking at how much physical stuff there is, you are bound to come to the conclusion that we are running out. Because you can't do that without assuming finiteness.
If you apply a model, which has to assume finiteness, to a entity which is not finite, it may sound very plausible, but it doesn't accurately describe reality. That's just how it is. That a majority, including leading researchers, doesn't seem to grasp this doesn't change reality.
0 Replies
 
 

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