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The Environment: Depleting Resources - Crash Course Chapter 23

Why scarcity will define the future
Friday, November 28, 2014, 2:44 PM

Chapter 23 of the Crash Course is now publicly available and ready for watching below.

When we wander over to the third E in this story – the Environment - we note two things: both the increasing demand of exponentially more resources being extracted from the ground and exponentially more waste being put back into various ecosystems.

Because we are trying to assess here whether we can justify ever-increasing amounts of money and debt, for now let's just concern ourselves with the resources we take from the natural world to support our global economy.

Oil is not the only essential resource that is fast becoming more expensive to produce, harder to find, or both. In fact, we see an alarming number of examples depletion of critical resources that almost exactly mirror the oil story.

First we went after the easy and or high quality stuff, then the progressively trickier, deeper and or more dilute stuff.

The bottom line is this: we, as a species, all over the globe, have already mined the richest ores, found the easiest energy sources, and farmed the richest soils that our Environment has to offer.

We have taken several hundreds of millions of years of natural ore body, fossil energy deposition, aquifer accumulation, soil creation, and animal population growth -- and largely burned through them in the few years since oil was discovered. It is safe to say that in human terms, once these are gone, man, they’re gone.

So, if we are getting less and less net energy for our efforts, and the other basic resources we need to support exponential economic growth are requiring a lot more energy to extract because they are depleting, then does it make sense to keep piling up exponentially more money and debt? Isn't it just common sense to observe that money and debt have to exist in some sort of relationship and proportion to primary and secondary wealth?  

For the best viewing experience, watch the above video in hi-definition (HD) and in expanded screen mode

Coming next Friday: Chapter 24: The Environment: Increasing Waste

For those who simply don't want to wait until the end of the year to view the entire new series, you can indulge your binge-watching craving by enrolling to PeakProsperity.com. The entire full new series, all 27 chapters of it, is available -- now-- to our enrolled users.

The full suite of chapters in this new Crash Course series can be found at www.peakprosperity.com/crashcourse

And for those who have yet to view it, be sure to watch the 'Accelerated' Crash Course -- the under-1-hour condensation of the new 4.5-hour series. It's a great vehicle for introducing new eyes to this material.

Transcript: 

When we wander over to the third E in this story – the Environment - we note two things: both the increasing demand of exponentially more resources being extracted from the ground and exponentially more waste being put back into various ecosystems.

Because we are trying to assess here whether we can justify ever-increasing amounts of money and debt, for now let's just concern ourselves with the resources we take from the natural world to support our global economy.

Oil is not the only essential resource that is fast becoming more expensive to produce, harder to find, or both. In fact, we see an alarming number of examples depletion of critical resources that almost exactly mirror the oil story.

First we went after the easy and or high quality stuff, then the progressively trickier, deeper and or more dilute stuff.

Here’s one of them.

When we first came to this country, we were finding some pretty spectacular things just lying around, Add image like this copper nugget. Soon those were all gone, and then we were onto smaller nuggets, and then onto copper ores that had the highest concentrations.

Now?

Now we have things like the Bingham Canyon mine in Utah. It is two and a half miles across and three-fourths of a mile deep, and it started out as a mountain. It sports a final ore concentration of 0.2%. Do you think we’d have gone to this effort if there were still massive copper nuggets lying around in stream beds? No way.

Let’s take a closer look. See that truck way down there? It’s fueled by petroleum; diesel, specifically. If we couldn’t spare the fuel to run that truck, what do you suppose we’d carry the ore out with? Donkeys? These trucks carry 255 tons/ per load. Suppose a donkey could carry 150 lbs. This means this truck carries the same in a single load as 3,400 donkeys. That’s quite a lot of donkeys.

My point here is that a hole in the ground a couple miles across and three fourths of a mile deep is a pretty spectacular display of the use of energy. Again, instead of seeing a really big hole, I invite you to look past that and think of how much energy it took to make that hole.  When energy begins to get scarce, it seems unlikely to me that we’ll be digging too many more holes like this one, which means we'll be taking less copper out of the earth to support our desire for an ever expanding economy..

Now here’s where the concept gets interesting. The amount of energy and money that is required to extract any mineral or metal is a function of the ore grade. We would measure that as the percent of the ore that consists of the desired substance. So a 10% copper ore, for example, would consist of 10% copper and 90%, uh, other stuff that's not copper. If we plot out how much other stuff we have to extract and then dispose of in pursuit of our desired substance, we get a chart that looks like this. Look familiar to you yet? It should; it’s a non-linear  chart.

It tells us that if we had an ore body with only 0.2% copper in it, we’d need to mine 500 pounds of ore in order to extract one pound of copper. I used this particular value because that happens to be the concentration of the Bingham Canyon mine. This helps to explain why this hole is so big. It tells us that without these giant trucks, we probably wouldn’t be mining such low ore grades. It means that we are already on the far right edge of the bell curve, in terms of energy and cost.

Do we do this because we like the challenge of low ore grades? No, we do it because we’ve already high-graded all the other known ore bodies, and this is what we are down to. We do it because it is the best option left. We do it because, after only 200 years of pursuing an industrial economy, we’ve already burned through all the better grades.

The story here is that we, as a species, all over the globe, have already mined the richest ores, found the easiest energy sources, and farmed the richest soils that our Environment has to offer.

I *could* easily fill hours of more video with additional alarming examples of resource depletion; but the bottom line is this: We have taken several hundreds of millions of years of natural ore body, fossil energy deposition, aquifer accumulation, soil creation, and animal population growth -- and largely burned through them in the few years since oil was discovered. It is safe to say that in human terms, once these are gone, man, they’re gone.

So, if we are getting less and less net energy for our efforts, and the other basic resources we need to support exponential economic growth are requiring a lot more energy to extract because they are depleting, then does it make sense to keep piling up exponentially more money and debt? Isn't it just common sense to observe that money and debt have to exist in some sort of relationship and proportion to primary and secondary wealth?  

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3 Comments

KennethPollinger's picture
KennethPollinger
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 22 2010
Posts: 653
The Colder War, by Katusa seems to show

that there are MANY discovered natural resource areas around the world where there are possibilities of still acquiring those that we need, except for political considerations.  True, they may require much money and energy (although Katusa does not seem to go deeply into this as Chris does) but I can't help but wonder if Chris's thesis is completely valid.  Are there truly no, for example, copper ore bodies, in OTHER parts of the world (not the USA) that MIGHT fit the bill, that is, not be so expensive to mine??  I guess I am a skeptic about everything but really want the total facts before I decide what MY thinking is on all this.

Chris, as I spend much time with the Latins, down south, are you going to have your book translated into Spanish.  I hope so, as I'd like to help spread the word/book there too.  I see that you and Adam have gone or are going to Peru and Mexico--truly wonderful.  Great luck there!

And, I invite you two again to Costa Rica, especially during the cold winters here.  Warmest regards, Zen, aka,Ken

denisaf's picture
denisaf
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 31 2009
Posts: 8
Operating and maintaining the aging Tityas

The course deals with the damage the technological systems of civilization have done to natural material wealth and the realistic prognosis that this cannot continue. However, a crucial factor is that some of these irreplaceable natural resources have been used to construct, operate and maintain a vast, inanimate, aging organism Tityas comprising cities, roads, ports, airports and numerous other systems. There is an unavoidable commitment to continue to operate and maintain these tangible systems as long as possible as the available natural resources become harder to gather. This is a major factor that will impact on the hard decisions that the population has to make as they inevitably power down.

BeingThere's picture
BeingThere
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 7 2013
Posts: 56
Extractivism

I've been reading some interesting articles one by James Petras who is a Bartle Professor (Emeritus) of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York. Latest book: “The New Extractivism. A Post-Neoliberal Development Model or Imperialism of the Twenty-First Century?” Henry Veltmeyer and James Petras. Zed Books. http://petras.lahaine.org/

The other interview worth checking out is Michael Hudson: Trade Advantage Replaced by Rent Extraction

I think what these people are getting at is that the new imperialism is based on a model of rampant extraction.
It isn't simply about getting stuff out of the ground to make things continue to work, I think it's about bidding up the casino to appear that wealth is being created out of extraction. That's why they don't care about having a real market anymore. It's all smoke and mirrors.

 

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