This page has been archived and commenting is disabled.

Guest Post: Why A Finite World Is A Problem

Tyler Durden's picture





 

Submitted by Gail Tverberg via Our Finite World blog,

Why is a finite world a problem? I can think of many answers:

1. A finite world is a problem because we and all of the other creatures living in this world share the same piece of “real estate.” If humans use increasingly more resources, other species necessarily use less. Even “renewable” resources are shared with other species. If humans use more, other species must use less. Solar panels covering the desert floor interfere with normal wildlife; the use of plants for biofuels means less area is available for planting food and for vegetation preferred by desirable insects, such as bees.

2. A finite world is governed by cycles. We like to project in straight lines or as constant percentage increases, but the real world doesn’t follow such patterns. Each day has 24 hours. Water moves in waves. Humans are born, mature, and die. A resource is extracted from an area, and the area suddenly becomes much poorer once the income from those exports is removed. Once a country becomes poorer, fighting is likely to break out. A recent example of this is Egypt’s loss of oil exports, about the time of the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 (Figure 1). The fighting has not yet stopped. 

Figure 1. Egypt's oil production and consumption, based on BP's 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy data.

Figure 1. Egypt’s oil production and consumption, based on BP’s 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy data.

The interconnectedness of resources with the way economies work, and the problems that occur when those resources are not present, make the future much less predictable than most models would suggest.

3.  A finite world means that we eventually run short of easy-to-extract resources of many types, including fossil fuels, uranium, and metals.  This doesn’t mean that we will “run out” of these resources. Instead, it means that the extraction process will become more expensive for these fuels and metals, unless technology somehow acts to hold costs down. If extraction costs rise, anything made using these fuels and metals becomes more expensive, assuming businesses selling these products are able to recover their costs. (If they don’t, they go out of business, quickly!) Figure 2 shows that a recent turning point toward higher costs came in 2002, for both energy products and base metals.

Figure 2. World Bank Energy (oil, natural gas, and coal) and Base Metals price indices, using 2005 US dollars, indexed to 2010 = 100.  Data source: World Bank.

Figure 2. World Bank Energy (oil, natural gas, and coal) and Base Metals price indices, using 2005 US dollars, indexed to 2010 = 100. Base metals exclude iron. Data source: World Bank.

 

4. A finite world means that globalization will prove to be a major problem, because it added proportionately far more humans to world demand than it added undeveloped resources to world supply. China was added to the World Trade Organization in December 2001. Its use of fuels of all types skyrocketed quickly soon afterward (Figure 3, below). As noted in Item 3 above, the turning point for prices of fuels and metals was in 2002. In my view, this was not a coincidence–it was connected with rising demand from China, as well as the fact that we had extracted a considerable share of the cheap to extract fuels earlier.

Figure 3. Energy consumption by source for China based on BP 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Figure 3. Energy consumption by source for China based on BP 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

5. In a finite world, wages don’t rise as much as fuel and metal extraction costs rise, because the extra extraction costs add no real benefit to society–they simply remove resources that could have been put to work elsewhere in the economy. We are, in effect, becoming less and less efficient at producing energy products and metals. This happens because we are producing fuels that are located in harder to reach places and that have more pollutants mixed in. Metal ores have similar problems–they are deeper and of lower concentration. All of the extra human effort and extra resource expenditure does not produce more end product. Instead, we are left with less human effort and less resources to invest in the rest of the economy. As a result, total production of goods and services for the economy tends to stagnate.

In such an economy, workers find that their inflation-adjusted wages tend to lag. (This happens because the total economy produces less, so each worker’s share of what is produced is less.) Companies producing energy and metal products are also likely to find it harder to make a profit, because with lagging wages, consumers cannot afford to buy very much product at the higher prices. In fact, there is likely to be the danger of an abrupt drop in production, because prices remain too low to justify the high cost of additional investment.

6. When workers can afford less and less (see Item 5 above), we end up with multiple problems:

a. If workers can afford less, they cut back in discretionary spending. This tends to slow or eventually stop economic growth. Lack of economic growth eventually affects stock market prices, since stock prices assume that sale of their products will continue to grow indefinitely.

b. If workers can afford less, one item that is increasingly out of reach is a more expensive home. As result, housing prices tend to stagnate or fall with stagnating wages and rising fuel and metals prices. The government can somewhat fix the problem through low interest rates and more commercial sales–that is why the problem is mostly gone now.

c. If workers find their wages lagging, and some are laid off, they increasingly fall back on government services. This leaves governments with a need to pay out more in benefits, without being able to collect sufficient taxes. Thus, governments ultimately end up with financial problems, if extraction costs for fuels and metals rise faster than can be offset by innovation, as they have been since 2002.

7. A finite world means that the need for debt keeps increasing, at the same time the ability to repay debt starts to fall. Workers find that goods, such as cars, are increasingly out of their ability to pay for them, because car prices are affected by the rising cost of metals and fuels. As a result, debt levels need to rise to buy these cars. Governments find that they need more debt to pay for all of the services promised to increasingly impoverished workers. Even energy companies find a need for more debt. For example, according to today’s Wall Street Journal,

Last year, 80 big energy companies in North America spent a combined $50.6 billion more than they brought in from their operations, according to data from S&P Capital IQ. That deficit was twice as high as in 2011, and four times as high as in 2010.

At the same time that the need for debt is increasing, the ability to pay it back is falling. Discretionary income of workers is lagging, because of today’s high prices of fuels and metals. Governments find it difficult to raise taxes. Fuel and metal companies find it hard to raise prices enough to  finance operations out of cash flow. Ultimately, (which may not be too in the future) this situation has to come to an unhappy end.

Figure 4. Repaying loans is easy in a growing economy, but much more difficult in a shrinking economy.

Figure 4. Repaying loans is easy in a growing economy, but much more difficult in a shrinking economy.

Governments can cover up this problem for a while, with super low interest rates. But if interest rates ever rise again, the increase in interest rates is likely to lead to huge debt defaults, and major financial failures internationally. This happens because higher interest rates lead to a need for higher taxes, and because higher interest rates mean purchases such as  homes, cars, and new factories become less affordable. Rising interest rates also mean that the selling price of existing bonds falls, potentially creating financial problems for banks and insurance companies.

8. The fact that the world is finite means that economic growth will need to slow and eventually stop. We are already seeing slower economic growth in the parts of the world  that have seen a drop in oil consumption (European Union, the United States, and Japan), even as the rest of the world has seen rising oil consumption.

Figure 5. Oil consumption based on BP's 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Figure 5. Oil consumption based on BP’s 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Countries that have had particularly steep drops in oil consumption, such as Greece (Figure 6 below), have had particularly steep drops in their economic growth, while countries with rapid increases in oil and other energy consumption, such as China shown in Figure 2 above, have shown rapid economic growth.

Figure 6. Oil consumption of Greece, Based on EIA data.

Figure 6. Oil consumption of Greece, Based on EIA data.

The reason why we are already reaching difficulties with oil consumption is because for oil, we are reaching limits of a finite world. We have already pulled out most of the easy to extract oil, and what is left is more expensive and slow to extract. World oil production is not rising very fast in total, and the price needs to be high to cover the high cost of extraction.  Someone has to be left out. The countries that use a large proportion of oil in their energy mix (like Greece, with its tourist trade) find that the products they produce are too expensive in a world marketplace. Countries that use mostly coal (which is cheaper), such as China, have a huge cost advantage in a cost-competitive world.

9. The fact that the world is finite has been omitted from virtually every model predicting the future. This means that economic models are virtually all wrong. The models generally predict that economic growth will continue indefinitely, but this is not really possible in a finite world. The models don’t even consider the fact that economic growth will scale back in mature economies.

Even climate change models include far too much future fossil fuel use, in both their standard runs and in their “peak oil” scenarios. This is convenient for regulators. Oil limits are scary because they indicate a possible near-term problem. If a climate change model indicates a need to cut back on future fossil fuel use, these models give the regulator a more distant problem to talk about instead.

10. Even the most basic economic relationships tend to be mis-estimated in a finite world. It is common for economists to look at relationships that worked in the past,  and assume that similar relationships will work now. For example, researchers like to look at how much debt an economy can afford relative to GDP, or how much debt a business can afford. The problem is that the amount of debt an economy or a business can afford shrinks dramatically, as the economic growth rates shrinks, unless the interest rate is extremely low.

As another example, economists believe that higher prices will lead to substitutes or a reduction in demand. Unfortunately, they have never stopped to consider that the reduction in demand for an energy product might have a serious adverse impact on the economy–for example, it could mean many fewer jobs are available. Fewer jobs mean less demand (or affordability), but is that what is really desired?

Economists also seem to believe that prices for oil products will keep rising, until they eventually reach the price level of substitutes. If people are poorer, this is not necessarily the case, as discussed above.

11. Besides energy products and metals, there are many other limits that are a problem in a finite world. There is already an inadequate supply of fresh water in many parts of the world. This problem can be solved with desalination, but doing so is expensive and takes resources away from other uses.

Arable land in a finite world is subject to limits. Soil is subject to erosion and degrades in quality if it is mistreated. Food is dependent on oil, water, arable land, and soil quality, so it quickly reaches limits if any of these inputs are disturbed. Pollinating insects, such as bees, are also important.

Probably the biggest problem in a finite world is the problem of too high population. Before fossil fuel use was added, the world could feed only 1 billion people. It is not clear that even that many could be fed today, without fossil fuels. The world’s population now exceeds 7 billion.

Where We Are Now in a Finite World

At this point, the problem of hitting limits in a finite world has morphed into primarily a financial problem. Governments are particularly affected. They find that they need to borrow increasing amounts of money to provide promised services to their citizens. Debt is a huge problem, both for governments and for individual citizens. Interest rates need to stay very low, in order for the current system to “stick together.”

Governments are either unaware of the true nature of their problems, or are doing everything they can to hide the true situation from their constituents. Governments rely on economists for advice on what to do next. Economists’ models do a very poor job of representing today’s world, so they provide little useful guidance.

The primary way of dealing with limits seems to be “solutions” dictated by concern over climate change. These solutions are of questionable benefit when it comes to the real limits of a finite world, but they do make it look like politicians are doing something useful. They also provide a continuing revenue stream to academic institutions and “green” businesses.

The public has been placated by all kinds of misleading stories about how oil from shale will be the solution. Quantitative Easing (used by governments to lower interest rates) has temporarily allowed stock markets to soar, and allowed interest rates to stay quite low. So superficially, everything looks great. The question is how long all of this will last. Will interest rates rise, and undo the happy situation? Or will a different financial problem (for example, a debt problem in Europe or Japan) bring the house of cards down? Or will the ultimate problem be a decline in oil supply, perhaps caused by oil and gas companies reaching debt limits?

2014 will be an interesting year. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed as to how things will work out. It is surreal how close we can be to limits, without major media catching on to what the problem really is.

 


- advertisements -

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Fri, 01/03/2014 - 20:41 | Link to Comment VD
VD's picture

QE4EVA is infinite and that's all u need to know, bityatch!

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 20:59 | Link to Comment max2205
max2205's picture

Seriously. ..the only people who listen to govt BS amounts to maybe 1 million...they play till is so obvious then punch out.

 

Aca BS audience is a lot more and most get that it is bend over time as they realize what they voted in

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:47 | Link to Comment Muppet Pimp
Muppet Pimp's picture

This piece was great and so easy to understand a caveman can do it, bravo. 

Now, what about Woar?  Can't Woar make the chart showing how much oil the US uses and how much the rest of the world uses mean revert?  And can we get a reference to the Georgia Guide(to the future)stones?

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:53 | Link to Comment jimmytorpedo
jimmytorpedo's picture

Resources - finite

Desire - infinite

That is all you need to know to be an economist.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 22:22 | Link to Comment DaveyJones
DaveyJones's picture

and a prostitute

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 07:55 | Link to Comment bentaxle
bentaxle's picture

The finite planet meme should just be common sense. If a human burns wood, for fire, and the trees start getting further and further away sooner or later even the dumbest human should be able to work out why. 

We all know, finite means finite!

But, yes, our desires are infinite and finite is awkward.

Luckily there is a solution! (Even though you, me and everyone knows damned well there is not!!)

If I could fix this problem and it wouldn't cost that much, (all I want is a banker's salary) and...........your vote and then I will make all these finite "problems" go away, would you do it, there's even a iPhone in it for yer. The "solution" is distraction, er sorry....economic growth. And we will measure economic growth with....GDP and we can increase GDP with "added value" and we don't even need real money any more. We can have all the energy we need supplied by nuclear and advancing technology means we can have growth by recycling most of our resources with "Total Factor Productivity" and to make sure we use what resources we have left sensibly, we will put ownership of them in the hands of a small number of people (an elegant solution for control purposes only, of course,) and then strictly regulate their release by committee etc......doesn't that sound like a great plan?  Sarc off 

 

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 08:09 | Link to Comment negative rates
negative rates's picture

It is until it isn't, by then it's too late for you!

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 20:48 | Link to Comment A Lunatic
A Lunatic's picture

The human race is it's own extinction level event.......

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 02:31 | Link to Comment Element
Element's picture

Humans are a self-regulating process like all other species. But due to our relative success at managing our destiny, i.e. engineering our own inevitable and quite routine dissolution (forgive me, I've seen far too many fossils in the rocks to take humans seriously as a special-case), we have made the very cute and innocent noobish mistake of assuming it'll be us who does the regulating.

 

BZZZZZZZZTTTTT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Most of the consternation and ideological thrashing that goes on around this topic is purely due to the ego's failure to come to terms with our total lack of any effective steering-role within the actual self-regulation mechanism.

 

Other than that, things are progressing extremely well. :-)

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 06:00 | Link to Comment stacking12321
stacking12321's picture

i don't know about you, but i intend to evolve into a being of pure energy.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 09:06 | Link to Comment Element
Element's picture

Good for you, but you are a being of pure energy right now.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 10:48 | Link to Comment FredFlintstone
FredFlintstone's picture

Kinda like a lump of coal?

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 11:00 | Link to Comment Element
Element's picture

Yeah, why not, it's all interchangeable. maybe put some ketchup on it.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 15:08 | Link to Comment Tall Tom
Tall Tom's picture

No, Element. He is NOT Pure Energy. He is made of Matter and exists in the Temporal Realm, as you. It is Mass that is Energy and Mass is just one property of Matter. Dimension is another property as Matter depends upon Geometry in order to define it as such. (Most Matter is vaccuous with concentrations of elementary Energy/Mass Fields)

 

It takes a transmutation of Mass with a concurrent loss of Dimensionality for the transformation of Matter into Pure Energy which is Light.

 

Currently we do this as we smash Atoms in Particle Accelerators. We are also pretty good at using Fission Reactors*** in order to transmute Matter into Energy. Of course an Nuclear Bomb is just a reactor in an Extreme Geometry.

 

***Fukushima Daiachi is just an example of how "good" that we are. It is uncontrolled but transmutating Mass into Energy effectively.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 20:01 | Link to Comment Seer
Seer's picture

Nice to see someone on top of the game :-)  Well stated!

Sun, 01/05/2014 - 00:33 | Link to Comment Element
Element's picture

Seer, after sufficient observation of your comments, I do not hesitate to say, you're a simplistic blinkered dickwad, looking down a drinking-straw of dippy theories, at the world around you.

There it is.

Sun, 01/05/2014 - 00:14 | Link to Comment Element
Element's picture

er, yeah, like I said first time, "it's all interchangeable" ... last I looked humans have no massless matter ... want some ketchup with that ... or maybe you'd prefer a waffle?

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 15:34 | Link to Comment TBT or not TBT
TBT or not TBT's picture

Faaar out.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 20:45 | Link to Comment Musashi Miyamoto
Musashi Miyamoto's picture

Finite world is reality. Problem is infinite expectations.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:04 | Link to Comment Par Contre
Par Contre's picture

Our planet may be finite, but the universe is infinite.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:19 | Link to Comment rsnoble
rsnoble's picture

Way too optimistic unless aliens come and get us.  Seeing how we can't even get shit straight here after being here for umpteen years forget it.   One things for sure if there was a capsule of some sort any alien race would be wise to destroy it before ever opening it.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 02:18 | Link to Comment TheLoveArtist
TheLoveArtist's picture

We just have to give religion to the aliens and they are going to be killing each other in a few generations anyways

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 04:46 | Link to Comment Pay Day Today
Pay Day Today's picture

If "aliens come and get us", it will probably be for snacks.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 15:33 | Link to Comment Tall Tom
Tall Tom's picture

The Universe is an adiabat and is finite. It had a beginning and will perish due to Entropy.

 

Furthermore we are at the Oldest Point in the known Universe. When you peer into the depths of space you are seeing what was and not what is, or, will be.

 

An image of a distant star is the evidence that a star existed at that position so many Years ago. The closest star, Proxima Centauri, is 3.2 Light Yers distant. It took 3.2 Years for the Light to arrive. Proxima Centauri has MOVED during that time. It is no longer where it appears to be.

 

Stars which are more distant have moved in the time that it takes the light to reach us.

 

As for Galaxies...M-31, The Andromeda Galaxy, the closest large Galaxy is 100 Million Light Years distant. It has moved much closer to the Milky Way as it appears as it is destined to collide with the Milky Way.

 

Astophysicists see images and NOT Objects. The images can be evidence of an Object's existence but can also be a reflection of another image.

 

The Universe is like a Carnival House of Mirrors. It is like a Kalideoscope. Most of it is illusion, distorted by the lenses of Dark Matter and Time.

 

But it does have a beginning and will have an end. Thus it is an adiabat, a limited, closed system.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 15:54 | Link to Comment lewietheparrot
lewietheparrot's picture

Tall Tom,

You know very well what the scientists say, or----what some say, but

'the universe is'

and there is nothing more to be 'said' about it

'infinity fits perfectly into nothingness'

or so said a very wise man before his death

the finite is our species, although, some would say 'limited' and

 not try to bridge the unknowable from the known or knowable

 and cheney has nothing to do with wisdom

just another parrot like me

thanks for trying to put some earrings on that mule, but

it is still just a mule

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 20:09 | Link to Comment Seer
Seer's picture

I think that you meant Rumsfeld and not Cheney.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 22:38 | Link to Comment lewietheparrot
lewietheparrot's picture

Thanks, Seer

But I could never tell the difference between them

I'm sure you must be correct---I can't remember

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:41 | Link to Comment samsara
samsara's picture

Ok, Here's a hammer and saw, and I'll even give you a pair of pliers, Go and get it for us....

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:53 | Link to Comment Musashi Miyamoto
Musashi Miyamoto's picture

http://www.buildtheenterprise.org

Go for it. I'm just sayin that we might not have the political and economic willpower to get out there before shit hits the fan and things get really really bad.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 05:33 | Link to Comment stacking12321
stacking12321's picture

political will?

you're not suggesting that the state will be the vehicle of interstellar exploration, are you?

back in the 60s space race, nasa recruited brilliant engineers from the private sector who knew what it meant to create, to innovate. and they acheived great results.

but over time they got absorbed into the behemoth of the state, their souls crushed, their innovation stifled.

what has nasa done since then except launch a few shuttles?

sadly, nasa has become a bureaucratic clusterfuck.

i am all for space travel, exploration, and research, absolutely 100%!

i just don't see the state as being the vehicle through which these dreams come to fruition - the state is an institution of violence and coercion, and they only thing they are good at is enriching the oligarchs, impoverishing the ordinary people, and crushing the human spirit underfoot.

if there is some hope for the frontier of space, it is in the private sector - the x prize, virgin galactic, felix baumgartner, etc. - the human spirit unfettered by the chains of state bondage will soar to the heavens!

 

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 20:14 | Link to Comment Seer
Seer's picture

"I'm just sayin that we might not have the political and economic willpower"

And I'm thinking that you don't have a clue about what this means, the realized impact.

If you take energy and resources to do something then that means it's not available for something else- "opportunity cost."  Are you aware that shunting such resources has a cost in terms of LIVES?  Yeah.  But us "wealthier" folks have becom accustomed to being hidden from these realities.

Further, I don't think that you understand the real impacts of exponential growth.  Educate yourself, look up Dr. Albert Bartlett's presentation Arithmetic, Population and Energy.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 22:22 | Link to Comment DaveyJones
DaveyJones's picture

like eveything, depends on its definition

cycle of big bangs?

the "stuff" beyond it?

"beyond?"

I'll ask God

and then Mr. Gore

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 23:26 | Link to Comment SAT 800
SAT 800's picture

This is so breathtakingly stupid; I can't help wondering if it's some kind of competition for stupidist comment on the internet. Who the fuck cares if the universe is infinite? Are you insane?

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 01:58 | Link to Comment akak
akak's picture

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity.  And I am not sure about the universe."

-Albert Einstein

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 03:27 | Link to Comment Element
Element's picture

 

 

Dear Sir,

I just want to point out that it's impossible for something finite to contain something infinite.

Therefore, if humans are indeed infinitely stupid, this would by implication be binding evidence that the universe is indeed infinite.

It is a little surprising that Albert did not twig to the ramifications.

As with assuming light speed is a universal constant, we can't test this everywhere, so we must necessarily defer to a Universal Principle which states that always and everywhere human beings will be observed to be infinitely stupid creatures.

Thereby conforming to a workable approximation the under-laying nature and extent of our as unseen deep-cosmos. I suspect we will make great strides if we fully explore this principle's deeper physical implications, though I suppose the limiting factor, even within an unlimited space, will be that the infinite stupidity itself will necessarily frustrate our inquiries.

 

Yours,

 

yada yada yada

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 04:51 | Link to Comment Pay Day Today
Pay Day Today's picture

Uh, stupidity is trans-dimensional.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 09:53 | Link to Comment thestarl
thestarl's picture

Nothing wrong with stupid people only stupid people who don't realise how stupid they really are.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 10:42 | Link to Comment FredFlintstone
FredFlintstone's picture

Correct. Without stupid people we would not be so smart ourselves. Stupid people who think they are smarter than they are become annoying (that is the genius of having a red arrow on this site).

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 15:21 | Link to Comment Notarocketscientist
Notarocketscientist's picture

Wake me up when you find another earth and you have a free ticket for me.  Until then stop wasting bandwidth ya

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 23:19 | Link to Comment zerozulu
zerozulu's picture

Finite world is a problem because Ctrl-P does not print resources.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 01:51 | Link to Comment FilthyPhil37
FilthyPhil37's picture

I think the author has not fully understood that inflation does not effect all commodities equally and can distort the economy by artificially changing [up/down] the prices in specific sectors dependent on who gets the [new] money first. A more correct--natural--distribution of savings would likely balance the use and production of energy, and all other commodities, in a more stable and sustainable way. We may live in cycles, but Ctrl+P magnifies crests and troughs. 

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 20:51 | Link to Comment NoDebt
NoDebt's picture

Heading quickly to the way it's been in most societies throughout most of human history:  small number of rich, vast number of poor and just enough middle class to service the rich.

The last century, particularly in the US, will be proven the rare eception to that rule.  One for the history books for sure, but less a daily reality with each passing year.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:10 | Link to Comment Skateboarder
Skateboarder's picture

And since the victors write the history, King Ben will go down in the textbooks as the leader of the exponential function.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 10:41 | Link to Comment FredFlintstone
FredFlintstone's picture

Exactly. Since ancient times about 85% of the population were serfs/slaves of the land or to a master. There were some brief periods where some elements of this group saw some relative prosperity and ate well for a generation or two such as after the plagues that caused labor shortages. Our recent housing bubble created a horde or temporarily rich contractors buying boats, Mustang GTs and McMansions.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 20:56 | Link to Comment GS-DickinDaMuppets
GS-DickinDaMuppets's picture

"It is surreal how close we can be to limits, without major media catching on to what the problem really is."

 

WTF, "major media" couldn't catch on to a booger stuck on to the end of their finger...major media -what a joke....

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 20:52 | Link to Comment New_Meat
New_Meat's picture

yep-Malthus predicted this ~200 years ago.

Got it -- NYET

- Ned

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:10 | Link to Comment Soul Glow
Soul Glow's picture

We weren't using oil for everything then, dude.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:21 | Link to Comment Vint Slugs
Vint Slugs's picture

Down arrowed you - I'm sure you would have said the same when whale oil was a major energy source.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 22:25 | Link to Comment DaveyJones
DaveyJones's picture

Some would say that comparison tells us your comprehension is "crude"

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 05:35 | Link to Comment stacking12321
stacking12321's picture

i up-arrowed you for down-arrowing soul glow - he sux!

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:17 | Link to Comment SelfGov
SelfGov's picture

Millions upon millions have died of starvation since Malthus made that prediction.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:20 | Link to Comment Vint Slugs
Vint Slugs's picture

Down arrowed you SG cause your point's not pertinent to the subject.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:22 | Link to Comment Vint Slugs
Vint Slugs's picture

Correctamundo, Ned.  Real (inflation adjusted) commodities prices have declined since 1793.   That's ample time to discredit any theory.  A graph illlustrating that fact shows that commodities prices are in a well defined 2-standard deviation channel.  Prices rebounded from its top-line a couple of years ago when the last price cycle peaked.  Plenty of room on the downside to accommodate ongoing "real" deflation.  Why Tverberg and other neo-Malthusians cannot confront reality and call it like it is remains a mystery to me.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 22:46 | Link to Comment brundlefly
brundlefly's picture

I down-arrowed you because logic. The earth is finite. Economic growth requires energy growth because economics must also conform to the laws of physics. The more goods and services that are created, the more energy is required to produce them, and everyone wants more GDP. That energy is primarily concentrated finite fossil fuel. The energy return on energy invested (EROI) for oil is dropping like a rock, meaning that it takes more and more energy just to get the stuff out of the ground. Low EROI also means low or no economic growth. 48 countries have now passed their peak rate of production (peak oil). The result is not just higher and higher oil prices, but higher and higher prices for everything which needs oil for its production or distribution, which is pretty much everything. This especially hurts if you're a net importer of oil, and you don't produce an equivalent surplus, but instead borrow lots of money (PIIGS, US, UK). In 6 of the last 7 years, the world has consumed more food than it has produced. When food prices go up because of increasing input costs and huge demand, what happens? Demand destruction isn't pretty when it involves food. Malthus was only wrong in his timing. Innovation can no longer defy physical limits.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 10:20 | Link to Comment FredFlintstone
FredFlintstone's picture

Some say that this was all revealed to a man exiled to an island about 2,000 years ago. It is in the last chapter in the most widely read book on the planet. According to him, it all ends badly for humanity.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:04 | Link to Comment Atomizer
Atomizer's picture

Enfin je me rappelai le pis-aller d’une grande princesse à qui l’on disait que les paysans n’avaient pas de pain, et qui répondit : Qu’ils mangent de la brioche

-Lady Antonia Fraser, Marie Antoinette: The Journey, p. 124n

By todays standands, Let them eat _________  {fill in the space}

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:17 | Link to Comment rsnoble
rsnoble's picture

If it's a finite world, which it is, then what's the point of keeping your fingers crossed?  I guess to extend "THE END" to the next generation would be the only benefit.

Of course building an entire civilization based on never ending growth was a recipee for disaster to begin with but due to human nature it's inevitable that greed will screw us everytime.

I highly doubt there will be any advanced civilization past the current one that is doing excavations and discovering how stupid we were because we're also to the point of FINITE STUPIDIDTY.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 22:33 | Link to Comment Peachfuzz
Peachfuzz's picture

I was with you right up to 'finite stupidity', I'm pretty sure that stupidity is one infinite, renewable resource on a finite planet (greed being another).

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 11:51 | Link to Comment rsnoble
rsnoble's picture

LOL I agree I just think we are zeroing in on the end due to countless stupid and greedy errors and anymore would just be icing on the cake.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:18 | Link to Comment logicalman
logicalman's picture

In 1967 (I was 12) during the Six Days War, there were all kinds of comments about how all the oil madness would limit economic growth and how this was a bad thing.

I remember asking my dad to explain this to me, because it seemed obvious that growth forever is not possible.

Shit, if it was obvious to a 12 year old 47 years ago, how did we end up here?

 

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:27 | Link to Comment rsnoble
rsnoble's picture

We ended up here because there were riches to be made and there still are and those prospects are even scarier.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 23:17 | Link to Comment logicalman
logicalman's picture

Define 'riches'

You own a lot of shit you don't need but the environment in which you live is toxic.

Not a good trade off.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 20:49 | Link to Comment Seer
Seer's picture

I think what rsnoble is saying is that this is the scam run by those with influence and that they'll toss a lot of people under the bus in order to push their schemes.  And, sadly, a lot of people are readily duped and they throw themselves under the bus...

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:18 | Link to Comment SelfGov
SelfGov's picture

Bravo, Gail. Bravo!

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:22 | Link to Comment Yenbot
Yenbot's picture

The Founders had an answer for this; but our later ancestors ruined the whole system BY OUTLAWING THE FEUD AND DUEL.

Once we curtailed the individual right to keep and bear arms (regardless of social class and "criminal history"), we poisoned the gene pool with parasites of all kinds.

Culling of the herd through ready violence keeps the species vigorous, the population within limits, increases the intelligence of the survivors and keeps discourse polite.

Just one Samurai's opinion...

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:37 | Link to Comment Anusocracy
Anusocracy's picture

"Culling of the herd through ready violence keeps the species vigorous, the population within limits, increases the intelligence of the survivors and keeps discourse polite."

If you want to create a Klingon society, sure.

Best way is to kick the fucking savages out. Instead, we put them on pedestals and worship them.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 05:46 | Link to Comment stacking12321
stacking12321's picture

i have no issue with two people that want to duel each other to the death, as long as the contest is voluntary.

reduces the count of bloodthirsty members of society by 1, each time.

i would expect over time the tendency would be away from the direction of the klingons, as the most aggressive weeded themselves out.

 

 

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 00:56 | Link to Comment MSimon
MSimon's picture

That is how the Jews got smart. Selection pressure.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 01:21 | Link to Comment bunnyswanson
bunnyswanson's picture

Preferential funding maybe.  Funding makes the world go around.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:36 | Link to Comment samsara
samsara's picture

Tyler, First Martin, Now GAIL ?

You are starting to bring the good stuff out....

Great Job.

Listen to GailTheActuary she KNOWs what she is talking about

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:40 | Link to Comment Anusocracy
Anusocracy's picture

Ya, just like the global warming and the Club of Rome idiots.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:53 | Link to Comment samsara
samsara's picture

Geology and the hard sciences weren't good to were they?

Oil declines have nothing to do with the bogus global warming.

your comment shows that you have no idea why one is true and one is false.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 20:58 | Link to Comment Seer
Seer's picture

Sam, waay back when we were wet behind the ears here on ZH it seems like none of this was being talked about.  I'd been harping about it from the get-go and now people are finally starting to get it!  And this is really my only personal goal- if there's to be any real chance of eveolving we're going to have to figure out how to do it in a non-growth world (or, we just wipe each other out and start the same thing all over).

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:39 | Link to Comment Milestones
Milestones's picture

Summed up simply (as many, many have already commented) "Infinite growth in a finite system" is absurd. As I have stated in one word POPULATION. THE ALPHA AND OMEGA OF THE ISSUE.                               Milestones

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 00:51 | Link to Comment MSimon
MSimon's picture

Special camps for the undesirables is the answer.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 21:53 | Link to Comment Cabreado
Cabreado's picture

" The fact that the world is finite has been omitted from virtually every model predicting the future."

And the fact that articles such as this omit the forces of corruption and control in this "finite world" render them to be propaganda, even if by default only.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 22:07 | Link to Comment Atomizer
Atomizer's picture

Wash, Rinse, and repeat.. CONgress, can you hear NSA now?

Housing Bust Recovery in 1930s

 

hahahahahaahaaa

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 22:11 | Link to Comment are we there yet
are we there yet's picture

I am 65 and young enough to have a clear memory and old enough to remember america from mid last century. Debt is a problem, but not THE problem. THE problem is that the higher quality intellects, character, and work ethic of that earlier era is inconceivable to the 20 and 30 year olds of today that should be generating the new products and ideas. Political correctness put aside, successive generations of the dumbist, laziest, and least abel have multiplied far beyond the best best that america used to produce.  My own memory tells me this. I see this long term trend continuing with a further decline of the average intellect, and work ethic.  I do not want this to be so, but it is what I see.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 22:43 | Link to Comment Jumbotron
Jumbotron's picture

Amen from someone turning 50.  Seen the same thing.  Sorry to say I saw the trend begin in my generation.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 22:52 | Link to Comment Peachfuzz
Peachfuzz's picture

Thought provoking comment you have there. I don't want to use too broad a brush, but it seems to me that the dumbing down of society at large has been a result of entitlement programs born on the backs of other people and future generations. If .gov was unable to use debt to pacify its subjects, there would be no entitlement systems as we know them today, and folks would be forced to smarten up and fend for themselves.
As far as your future projection, I offer this as reassurance: when the pain of change becomes less than the pain of staying the same, we change. In the broader picture, as an unsustainable entitlement society crumbles, the survivors will become more resourceful and be forced to educate themselves and equip themselves with whatever tools it takes to make it in the new paradigm. What was cast away as old and useless will be recycled and made new again. Those that take to new ideas while we still live in the good old days will discover it's easier than they ever imagined.
A brief example: Remember how closely guarded trade secrets were when you were a kid? There were apprenticeships for a reason. College was where you would obtain the bulk of higher learning for a future career. Now thanks to advances in technology and commerce, someone who has the discipline to educate themselves can learn to do things for themselves combing the internet and reading the best of the best material related to the subject through Amazon. We are living in the 'Brown's Bottom' of knowledge, and the people that are willing to get out there and get it will form the back bone of a great generation; if they choose to invest now.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 10:12 | Link to Comment FredFlintstone
FredFlintstone's picture

"when the pain of change becomes less than the pain of staying the same, we change." Fine observation/nugget of wisdom! Pondering this thought leads me to think we may be a long way off from a revolution. But things can change fast.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 12:09 | Link to Comment spinone
spinone's picture

Automation and offshoring has greatly reduced the amount of human labor necessary.  In addition, the golden age of the 1950's was due in large part to the benefit to the USA of every other industrialized nation being bombed to smithereens in WWII.

In our current situation without paying welfare and having the largest incarcerated population in the western world, our cities would be in flames.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 17:07 | Link to Comment assistedliving
assistedliving's picture

65 respect.  but respectfully, speak for urself and ur own children please.  this generations list of gifts to humanity (granted on a relatively war free platform provided by our generations fathers) is as great as the printing press or fire even.  more respect, but america "produced" some of those 'able' but attracted and kept, many many more of the best humanity had to offer.  we still live off those fruits.   one problem is we nurture them now but they return home. nevertheless, the world is a far, far better place on virtually any measure.  take care to avoid the mistake we are diminishing rather than the world is approaching faster than we are accustomed.  a problem for us one might argue (not me, we are best and will remain so for my lifetime) but a net benefit for the world.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 21:05 | Link to Comment Seer
Seer's picture

"THE problem is that the higher quality intellects, character, and work ethic of that earlier era is inconceivable to the 20 and 30 year olds of today that should be generating the new products and ideas"

"generating new products and ideas" has nothing to do with fixing the realities that we face today.

Technology is a process.

Ideas are, well, ideas.

None of that can be translated into the physical world without physical resources.  What Gail and others are trying to demonstrate is that we're incapable of generating growth w/o resources: and if populations continue to increase it's highly doubtful that we could, assuming that our economic system's collapse [it's based on growth] doesn't take us all down with it [wars], even tread water.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 22:13 | Link to Comment gwar5
gwar5's picture

So who said the world has to be finite? 

 

Get rid of shadow governments and central bankers.  Diversify the grid with cheap, clean thorium energy and free humanity to  unbounded limits. The only thing holding us back are the assholes controlling our countries like slave colonies.

Warmists and vegan doomsayers are not the way to go.

 

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 22:46 | Link to Comment Jumbotron
Jumbotron's picture

UUhhhh....the world says so asshole.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 00:51 | Link to Comment MSimon
MSimon's picture

Asteroid mining.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 08:06 | Link to Comment Adahy
Adahy's picture

How are you going to get it down?
Tons of heavy metals falling at 20,000+ mph tends to make lots of Krugman-style windows; so I guess that's bullish.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 21:10 | Link to Comment Seer
Seer's picture

Man, but think of how awesome that would be!  It would be like the Fourth of July all the time!  Of course, it would tend to look a lot like the current shit raining from the skies, shit from drones, and many people would die, but that's necessary in order to keep the rulers operating! (and they give us all those great stories about how we can all be rich if we just work hard like they...)

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 10:00 | Link to Comment thestarl
thestarl's picture

Are you on drugs

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 10:48 | Link to Comment logicalman
logicalman's picture

If he's not, he should be!

 

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 22:21 | Link to Comment swmnguy
swmnguy's picture

The absurdity of expecting infinite growth in a finite world is starting to get more and more attention, and that's good.  One problem I notice in most of these pieces involves concerns about prices of various things, and how that will affect the future.  No doubt, costs will be a factor.  However, what kind of factor?  What do prices mean when the money we use is abstract, and is actually debt?  When markets and therefore prices are nakedly manipulated?  At what point does force trump price? Too many people think of economic systems and conditions as if they were laws of nature, like gravity or thermodynamics.  It seems pretty clear, for instance, that a finite world cannot support a system based on lending at interest.  Very few people seem to think about what that might mean.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 00:51 | Link to Comment MSimon
MSimon's picture

Ever do more with less?

 

Transistors are still getting smaller.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 02:01 | Link to Comment Apply Force
Apply Force's picture

Humankind has answered no repeatedly - Jevon's paradox...

So let's say 2 billion people can afford a transistor.  This imaginary transistor uses 2 watts of energy.  Net energy use 4 billion watts.

You halve the energy use of said transistor to 1 watt by making it smaller, more "advanced," and overall using less materials/resources per transistor; thereby making it more affordable.  Now 6 billion people can afford a transistor.  Net energy use 6 billion watts, more resources used in manufacture as well.

Technological advancements do not lead to reduced energy/resource use, but rather to increased resource use.  The connections between efficiency, economy and real-world consequences seem to have eluded you.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 13:38 | Link to Comment SelfGov
SelfGov's picture

I created this response so people have the opportunity to Up Vote your comment at least twice...

Humankind has answered no repeatedly - Jevon's paradox...

So let's say 2 billion people can afford a transistor.  This imaginary transistor uses 2 watts of energy.  Net energy use 4 billion watts.

You halve the energy use of said transistor to 1 watt by making it smaller, more "advanced," and overall using less materials/resources per transistor; thereby making it more affordable.  Now 6 billion people can afford a transistor.  Net energy use 6 billion watts, more resources used in manufacture as well.

 

Technological advancements do not lead to reduced energy/resource use, but rather to increased resource use.  The connections between efficiency, economy and real-world consequences seem to have eluded you.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 21:12 | Link to Comment Seer
Seer's picture

That's why I tend to use the word "affordable" (affordability).  It's based more around a notion of a percentage of one's income/wealth/revenues.  In the final analysis it ALWAYS comes down to energy, just like in nature.  Spending a lot of energy for little gain will tend to force corrections.

"It seems pretty clear, for instance, that a finite world cannot support a system based on lending at interest."

In its origins "interest" was actually viable, as the "interest" was in the form of actual physical stuff (calves born during transit).  It slowly turned into a "promise," and then a "guarantee"- we started demanding that calves be born... (and if they weren't we'd pretend they were)

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 22:22 | Link to Comment StychoKiller
StychoKiller's picture

"Life's a long song,

and too soon the tune will be done!" -- Jethro Tull

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 22:46 | Link to Comment Jack Burton
Jack Burton's picture

I read an economic history of Hitler's Germany. What the Germans were motivated by was a fear of lack of resources and that given their lack of many key industrial resources and food, they would lose global economic competition. The Poland, Ukraine and Russia were seen as their promised land. Much like modern Israel, Germany saw the people there as surplus and in the way of Greater Germany. The rest is history. As for Israel, time will tell.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 22:52 | Link to Comment Jumbotron
Jumbotron's picture

The Germans learned from the Romans 2,000 years ago about that fear of dwindling resources and the wars and conquest it takes to get those resources when you begin to run out at home.

Kinda like us.....hhmmmm.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 00:45 | Link to Comment MSimon
MSimon's picture

How did we manage to support so many more people on so many fewer resources than the Romans had?

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 01:53 | Link to Comment Jumbotron
Jumbotron's picture

Techonology and Debt.

But don't forget.....ever since 1965 give or take we have gone to war or have supported proxies to war for us in order to secure far away resources we have either run out of or can't acquire in a cheap enough fashion to keep the High Tech magic and Debt creation fantasy land we called modern American life afloat.

Realize also....business is warfare as well.  The art of the deal is a way to block sovereign entities looking at acquiring that same thing that is needed for the health of the state.....and of course at times the military as well.  You can't keep a strong, world wide standing army on magic skittles shitted out by genetically modified unicorns.

The Romans only can WISH....if they were alive today....to have as large of Pax Roma as America has of Pax Americana.

But just like the Romans.....overshoot of natural resources, debt overload and moral and ethical rot will be America's undoing as well.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 10:52 | Link to Comment logicalman
logicalman's picture

By destroying the future.

We would need 4 earths to support 7 Billion people if they all lived the average US lifestyle.

Anyone know where the other 3 might be?

 

Sun, 01/05/2014 - 00:16 | Link to Comment Seer
Seer's picture

Ha!  If I told ya I'd have to kill ya! :-)

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 10:10 | Link to Comment thestarl
thestarl's picture

This is why conflict is inevitable going forward Jack.China comes to mind and lets not even talk about Japan.

 

 

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 21:19 | Link to Comment Seer
Seer's picture

Like I've been saying, all wars are about resources.

Fri, 01/03/2014 - 23:31 | Link to Comment SAT 800
SAT 800's picture

Growth is over. Done. Finished. The future is cancelled due to lack of interest. (On the debt). And yes, the problem is population.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 00:46 | Link to Comment MSimon
MSimon's picture

The Final Solution to the population problem is...

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 21:19 | Link to Comment Seer
Seer's picture

Nature.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 00:55 | Link to Comment MSimon
MSimon's picture

Doing more with less is never factored in. That is because malthusians are not engineers.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 01:01 | Link to Comment Apply Force
Apply Force's picture

You clearly do not understand Jevon's paradox or the tragedy of the commons.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 21:21 | Link to Comment Seer
Seer's picture

Yea!  Someone who understands Jevons Paradox! (btw- The last name ends with an "s" [not an "n"])  We could be friends! :-)

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 23:32 | Link to Comment Apply Force
Apply Force's picture

Thanks and Jevons it is then.  If only parents would teach their kids some basic concepts.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 00:57 | Link to Comment Element
Element's picture

Humans do so totally under appreciate the exponential function.

There is no capacity available to manage or contain exponential processes that are already well-advanced.

The difference between actual trajectory and the management strategy's desired trajectory rapidly becomes several orders of magnitude different. And change-in-the-change, diverging, rather sharp-ish.

So sorry, there won't be time for a debate, or an agenda change, when the crunch comes, let alone policy solutions and effective implementations and adjustments.

In other words such processes are not amenable to human 'management'. But they also don't require human assistance, they are self-governing self-correcting processes.

And sorry also if you were laboring under the commonplace grand delusion that you were 'in charge' of 'your' life. That one was a rather viscious lie, but let's move on.

Enjoy the ride, it's free, and it's gonna solve all the problems you've been worrying about - 100% guaranteed!

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 00:56 | Link to Comment MSimon
MSimon's picture

Resources increase linearly. Population grows exponentialy. Thomas Malthus. Who has been wrong for 200+ years so far.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 01:38 | Link to Comment Element
Element's picture

Firstly, resources don't increase, economic extraction does. A resource is only considered a resource if it can be profitably extracted and utilized (i.e. someone gets fed and provisioned well enough for doing it). BTW, you are talking to a geo who's worked in the resources profession for decades.

Secondly, the exponential function doesn't care about your opinion of it. It doesn't care if you don't get it, agree with it, or like its naughty willful ways.

And it also doesn't seem to matter, or even show-up as a meaningful effect, almost at all, until the last generation, where it radically changes everything, that once seemed so stable and manageable.

For example: when an atom bomb chain-reaction occurs nothing much occurs for scores of generations of exponential neutron breeding. If I remember it correctly (I probably don't) it's up to about generation 57 where almost nothing much at all happens, but then you get to generation 58 ... and by generation 59, that generation becomes severely stunted and the reaction begins to dissipate, because the atoms reacting have all suddenly expanded by several dozen orders of magnitude.

Faster than could possibly be expected, managed, or contained, via any mechanism.

So yeah, for a couple of hundred years, or rather a few tens of thousands of years, nothing much at all occurs with the population growth, it seems steady and more or less entirely manageable. Then with one more exponential generation the jigg is finally up, the very next generation becomes a small fraction of the former one.

And silly people like you and me won't be debating the issue, our 'problems' will have all been solved. :-)

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 01:43 | Link to Comment akak
akak's picture

 

Resources increase linearly. Population grows exponentialy. Thomas Malthus. Who has been wrong for 200+ years so far.

Oh really?  Try telling that to the Classical Mayans, or the Easter Islanders, or the Rwandans of the 1990s, or the Haitians of today

Or what about formerly common resources such as ivory, or sandalwood, or whales, or ginseng --- why have they all become, only in the last century or so, vanishingly rare?  And those are/were some of the potentially renewable ones!

Malthus was not categorically right, strictly speaking, at any given moment in any given place, but he was fundamentally not wrong either.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 15:25 | Link to Comment Notarocketscientist
Notarocketscientist's picture

200 years is a blip in terms of history --- so what if he was wrong a century or so - ultimately he will be right.

And that is all that matters.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 21:35 | Link to Comment Seer
Seer's picture

"Resources increase linearly. Population grows exponentialy."

RESOURCES are varied.  If we're talking about energy then we can go back before the fossil fuel era and note that all such energy resources DID have the ability to increase exponentialy because they were based on then current/recent life forms.  Trees.  Whale oil. (and today people still burn cow dung for energy)

POPULATION can be anything measured.  Yes, I realize that we're forcing it to mean only "humans," but refer to my preceding paragraph.

Thomas Malthus is dead.  His "theory," however, is still valid and is readily proven via simple scientific demonstrations.  Of course there's also proven history as to what happens when people overshoot their carrying capacities.

But back to the logic of blasting Malthus, how long is too long to wait for something to be proven (well, it has been proven) or to actually occur in the larger picture?  100 years?  50 years?  25 years?  2 years?  People have been waiting for the return of Christ for how many years?  We have more people believing that Christ will return than believe in what Malthus said and IS demonstrable.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 01:32 | Link to Comment Big Brother
Big Brother's picture

I will post the equation for all those unfamiliar with the concept of exponential growth:

Td = Log(2) / Log(1 + r/100), where r is your percentage growth rate. 

And with all exponential growth, nearly the total population from start to finish exists during its final phase, just before collapse.

"First little by little and then suddenly all at once".

 

 

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 01:49 | Link to Comment akak
akak's picture

If it involves math but does NOT involve calculating sports statistics, 90+% of all Americans could not only not give a damn, they probably could not grasp the concept in the first place.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 01:58 | Link to Comment Big Brother
Big Brother's picture

You're right.  Unfortunately, when the time comes, and I firmly believe it will be sooner than later and in my lifetime, the 90+% and yourself and myself will all act in our own rational, self-interest with the sole purpose of self-preservation- I kinda envision it to be like the pictures Hedgeless posts of Haitian interactions, except its every resource deficient country on Earth.

I find this equation so powerful that if I were to ever get a tattoo, this would be it.

There's a good clip on youtube of Albert Bartlett hashing over the ramifications of exponential growth as it pertains to demographics, resource extraction, etc...

 

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 21:44 | Link to Comment Seer
Seer's picture

It was Bartlett's presentation Arithmetic, Population and Energy that stopped me dead in my tracks.  From that point on I KNEW the future.

It's a revelation that people just cannot accept.  So... forward we go...  But, in fairness, despite our apparent fascination with death machines humans have managed to increase their numbers in excess of 7 billion.  After reading Peter Kropotkin's Mutal Aid I'm inclined to believe that we're in this predicament because we're too compassionate (though it's probably more about our "intelligence" in extracting and exploiting resources).  There really isn't any guidance for how we can manage population sizes, none of the religious texts that wrap around the planet provide any relief: "go forth and multiply" was never caveated...

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 01:59 | Link to Comment shutdown
shutdown's picture

ZH, please publish all of Gail's writings. She offers an awesome breath of fresh air 

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 02:04 | Link to Comment mjk0259
mjk0259's picture

Egypt gets a lot more money in foreign aid from the US alone than it ever made from oil. Other countries give more than US intermittently.

 

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 02:13 | Link to Comment dunce
dunce's picture

Oil producers are not accepting US govt. bonds in payment even indirectly so our debt will not be extiguished with oil exports. It will be the taxpayer that buys back our debt.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 05:18 | Link to Comment stacking12321
stacking12321's picture

absolutely.

the american people are as cattle to their owners.

a govt bond is a futures contract on the output of american slaves, to be harvested by the irs.

it's people! soylent bonds are people!

 

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 06:22 | Link to Comment Spungo
Spungo's picture

We wouldn't have shortages of stuff if we killed more brown people who don't sprechen sie English.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 21:45 | Link to Comment Seer
Seer's picture

I up-arrowed you because it's the ugly truth...

It isn't, however, a certainty that it wouldn't be the other way around if circumstances had been different.  And if you boil it down to its essence it becomes but an issue of robbing from the poor and defenseless.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 07:00 | Link to Comment Peterus
Peterus's picture

This is way off the mark. Earth is not really finite - as it captures a ton of fresh solar energy every day. And only energy might possibly be the bottleneck, not so much matter. You can demolish old buildings, strip the steel, grind concrete - and reuse it - but it takes energy to do it. The same can go for most other resources, while technology is constantly producing substitutes and completely new options. We're standing on a really, really large rock.

The one resource that we really have in short supply is time. We could use extremely resource-conservative techniques for all production - but it would drive living standards into the ground. One persons lifetime of production would amount to a fraction of end products in that case. When for example rare earth minerals starts to run out, than maybe we'll have to do it the hard way - that we'll adapt. Doing it the hard way for "finite world" reasons is just silly. For any human activity there's a timescale. It makes sense to get a lot of attention for forecasting next 10 years, but each decade after that gets less and less attention for very good reasons. Future is unknown and forecasting for very long term is useless. It is also pointless as at some point entire generation will be dead, than 2 generations, than 3 generations and so on. How much effort should a person living today put into well-being of other peoples living ATM and how much into 10 generations down the line? Looking only on the tip of your nose is evil, but looking on eternity is silly. There's got to be some deprecation of future as time goes by.

I can agree that there will be transitional problems when cheap fuels of the kind that we use right now run out. Same thing for socio-economic problems with milking relatively small but very expensive deposits and finding out they're just gone. But IMO global slowdown has only little to do with resources, while a lot to do with growth of global legal theft and general erosion of rule of just law.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 08:11 | Link to Comment Zero-risk bias
Zero-risk bias's picture

 

global slowdown has only little to do with resources, while a lot to do with growth of global legal theft and general erosion of rule of just law.

That's an excellant comment.

If humans had continued to evolve, and become spiritually enlightned entities, the ideas of self-preservation, generational-preservation or dynastic-preservation might not be a stretch of the imagination.

Or is that just stupid? We are merely facory farmed battery-chickens, fuelling some meaningless headless blunder.

What is it that perpetuates human-beings to want to live and reproduce, knowing we all will die?

Self-fulfilling prophecy that we will corrupt ourselves, and be led off the cliffs of extinction

.. somekind of cosmic premature ejaculation?

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 09:59 | Link to Comment FredFlintstone
FredFlintstone's picture

"We are merely factory farmed battery-chickens, fueling some meaningless headless blunder." One of the best theories/descriptions on the human condition I have seen in a while. With regard to the use of the word "headless", this site has a lot of conspiracy theorists throwing around the name Rothschild too much as if there is a small group pulling secret levers and such. Maybe too many James Bond movies? I have moved more towards the end of the spectrum of this being an orchestrated affair, but I haven't reached the midway point from it being a haphazard, headless situation.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 10:54 | Link to Comment thtmnbhndthecrtn
thtmnbhndthecrtn's picture

"....oops, sorry about that."

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 09:14 | Link to Comment messy
messy's picture

It is not the problem,  It is a given constant in the problem.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 12:00 | Link to Comment Debugas
Debugas's picture

finite world limits have not been hit yet

the financial problem we have has nothing to do with physical world limitations

it is purely socialogical problem

 

when A (Alice)  controls all the assets and when B (Bob) is in debt that it can not repay

there is no way A can sell anything to B (even if physically A could supply for 1000 of Bs)

A simply has to share/give-away some of her assets with/to B so that B can start to build up his own wealth

 

 

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 22:01 | Link to Comment Seer
Seer's picture

"the financial problem we have has nothing to do with physical world limitations

it is purely socialogical problem"

I disagree.

"A simply has to share/give-away some of her assets with/to B so that B can start to build up his own wealth"

"B" has to access to resources.  If there are NO resources then how is "B" going to "build up his own wealth?"

Yes, I'll agree that there's quite the imbalance with regards to allocation of resources, but spreading things out evenly and continuing to increase over-all resource consumption (because we need to consume real, physical things) will only last so long.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 13:17 | Link to Comment The Econ Ideal
The Econ Ideal's picture

Another Malthusian. Move on. 

Mon, 01/06/2014 - 01:09 | Link to Comment malek
malek's picture

Yep. Statist thinking at it's finest.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 15:36 | Link to Comment Notarocketscientist
Notarocketscientist's picture

WITH ONE BLOW OF THE HAMMER THE NAIL IS DRIVEN IN.  

 

I HAVE BEEN POSTING LINKS TO GAIL'S SITE FOR AGES - SHE PROVIDES THE MOST BALANCED ANALYSIS OF ANY COMMENTATOR REGARDING WHAT WE ARE FACING.

THE FINANCIAL CRISIS IS A SYMPTOM OF THE DISEASE - THE DISEASE IS THE END OF CHEAP ENERGY

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 15:26 | Link to Comment Notarocketscientist
Notarocketscientist's picture

Can't we just print more oil and gas - and fish - and fresh water ...

Oh what the fuck - let's just print a few more planet earths!!!!

Come on yellen - I've just given you the answer - make is so you old dog.

Sat, 01/04/2014 - 22:02 | Link to Comment Seer
Seer's picture

Abiotic iShit...

It's that or "God will provide"...

Hang in there.  Between these two major competing "solutions" we should have this thing fixed in a jiffy!

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!