Not So Much

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EmperorNero's picture
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Not So Much

Dear Chris Martenson and people who believe in resource finiteness, let me attempt to convince you otherwise.

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, even the amount of physical stuff on earth is not actually 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, which at some time in history were in short supply, that are abundant today because we found an alternative. Firewood, coal, kerosine, whale oil, horses... Thus, while the physical supply of stuff on earth remains the same, and our use of resources increases, the abundance of resources can grow. This is actually the case for most resources.

What does this show? That the physical finiteness of stuff on earth does not imply the finiteness of resources. And therefore that resources are not actually finite. 'Stuff humans need', which is the definition of resources, and 'physical material' are not the same thing. Resources aren't really physical things. Therefore resources are not finite, not even the rules of thermodynamics apply to resources.

And for example even oil is renewable. It all comes down to what we mean by "oil". It is of course accurate that the amount of oil on earth can't increase. (Unless we find a way to cheaply synthesize it.) But the overall amount is not how we define oil. There are vast reserves of oil that for different reasons aren't worth exploiting. If we included all that, we had reserves for 1000 years. But it would be pointless to know how much oil we have, that we can't exploit. That's why we only count as "oil" what we currently have the ability to exploit. So with changing technology, there is more oil.

 

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.

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. Global warming is just an invenion to commodify carbon trading for the oil companies.

 

Oil

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.

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.)

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Re: Not So Much

Let the games begin.....wait....let me get some popcorn.....ok....I'm ready...ring the bell.

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Re: Not So Much

 

 There is plenty more oil to find, because it's not finite,

 You mean we got 50+ earths volume worth of oil sitting somewhere beneath the crust.. the earth is a tardis.. bigger on the inside ?

 Woo !! (tm)

 

 Hold the line..

 

 BP want to speak with you.

 

 

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Re: Not So Much

meh.. dupe post.

 

aside: You made some very good points in that one.. but the infinite oil thing kind of struck a nerve.

The current (known) energy budget for humanity is solar income + finite hydrocarbon capital reserves.

 MInerals... just  relocate.... pretty much the same today as 3 billion years ago + small asteroid contributions.. + nuclear decay / transmutation..

 

 

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Re: Not So Much

Amazing the way people will rationalize away the need to be responsible and to live within a certain limit.  As if our energy limits were our final limits as humans.  Good grief!

Viva, yo~! -- Sager

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Re: Not So Much

....And then when we've run out of natural gas and nuclear energy is that when we can finally go back to firewood??

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Re: Not So Much

...and then when the wood runs out, dried cattle dung?...

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Re: Not So Much

The initiating post misses the main points and concepts of the Crash Course entirely.  It is not a story of "running out" and it never has been, but a story about our (in)ability to increase our throughputs of resources on an ever-increasing exponential basis.

I will also take strong exception to the idea that resources are essentially infinite and that there's more available now than before because humans create resources.  This is exceptionally sloppy thinking.

Try these out:

  • Is there more topsoil today than there was 100 years ago?
  • Are there more concentrated ore bodies today than 100 years ago?
  • Is there more silver above ground and in usable form today than there was 100 years ago?
  • Is there more fresh water available today than there was 100 years ago?
  • Is there more oil today than there was 100 years ago?

The answer to all of these is "no" because the nature of an extractive, consumer-based economy is to harvest or mine concentrated resources and then dilute them into the air, water and ground.  This is what all organisms do; they take contentrated sources of energy (or other resources) and they turn them into less concentrated forms. 

It's called entropy and it's an exceptionally well-characterized process which perfectly describes how the universe actually works.  The high energy density of oil is converted into heat and dispersed to the universe.  Concentrated ore bodies are mined and then spread thinly across the globe to oxidize and essentially be lost for human use. 

The argument in the opening post is essentially the same as saying that humans are not bound by the laws of the universe which, much like the announced discovery of a perpetual motion machine, is a claim that deserves to either be rigorously explored or completely ignored (but defintely not accepted).   Evidence that humans are simply another entropic organism is overwhelmingly abundant.  I'm not aware of any contradictory evidence.

Here's another claim that really misses the mark:

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.

The claim that we'll simply move from oil to NG and Uranium has been rigorously thumped elsewhere and need not be reiterated here.  Yes, we'll move onto whatever next sources of energy we can, but the flow rates and economic utility of NG and nuclear electricity cannot be compared to those of oil.  The idea that we'll simply move from oil to these next sources in some sort of seamless fashion needs, at the very least, to be accompanied by some calculations showing that the total flow rates of energy (and especially the net free energy) are not only comparable to oil, but exponentially larger stretching from here to infinity, or at least for the next few decades.

In short, I found the post provocative but that's about it.  There were entirely too few facts presented and a lot of belief-laden rhetoric which, frankly, provides nothing upon which to base a discussion.

I mean how can someone react to a statement/conclusion such as this?

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.

Seriously?   The fact that less and less oil has been discovered in every decade since the mid-1960's leads to the conclusion that we're just not being all that serious about finding more but we will 'bother' if pressed by circumstances? 

This demonstrates an astounding lack of inquiry into the oil business, its history, and how it operates.  It is a bizarre conclusion to say the least and reveals much about the inner belief sets of the author.

As usual, around here we have a hard time taking opinion pieces seriously because opinions are not swayed by internet postings.  If you want to provide some more facts to support your conclusions and claims, they would be most welcome.

Also, please don't forget to consider TIME, SCALE and COST when fashioning your conclusions about how this will turn out.

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Re: Not So Much

*sniff...sniff*

I smell academia.

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Knockout!

A Round One Knockout!

And Nero....my god...pick another online identity...please

NERO'S ORGIES AND DEPRAVITY

A main source for Roman history is De vita Caesarum, or The Twelve Ceasars. It was written by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, the secretary of Emperor Hadrian, in AD121.

Suetonius portrays Nero as a good ruler who sank into sexual depravity.

He wrote: 'Not satisfied with seducing free-born boys and married women, Nero raped the Vestal Virgin Rubria.'

He added: 'Having tried to turn the boy Sporus into a girl by castration, he went through a wedding ceremony with him - dowry, bridal veil and all - which the whole Court attended; then treated him as a wife.

link

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Re: Not So Much

Nice response Dr. Martenson.  It never ceases to amaze me how you can pick out the most important parts of an argument and address them in such an eloquent and concise way.

Nero’s argument was far from concise and lost me at the very beginning when he made the claim that “physical stuff was finite, but resources were not, as if resources somehow fell outside the realm of “physical stuff.” 

Nero’s logic parallels that of a lot of the people who I encounter and rather than try to point out their logical fallacies in thought, I can just hand them a copy of the response you just wrote.  Excellent work… as usual.  Thank you.   

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Re: Not So Much

JAG

The games have begun and I have just finished popping my corn. it has gotten more expensive since wwe started using it for fuel . I am just grateful we still have corn to eat. It might change in the not too distant future.

I think though it might be useful to think in terms of systems. Most if not all of the discussion here about resources (energy in particular ) tend to begin and end with the assumption of a Earth being a closed system. It is actually an open system with inputs from from elsewhere in the Universe.

I am by no means an engineer or a scientist but perhaps revisiting the work of Tesla would be a worthwhile endeavor. Of course this would not replace topsoil nor restore calloapsed ecosystems and fisheries but it is one place maybe to start.

Now I have to get ready for the other games especially the heavily armed Tennessee Volunteers. 

V

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Re: Not So Much
cmartenson wrote:

The initiating post misses the main points and concepts of the Crash Course entirely.  It is not a story of "running out" and it never has been, but a story about our (in)ability to increase our throughputs of resources on an ever-increasing exponential basis.

I will also take strong exception to the idea that resources are essentially infinite and that there's more available now than before because humans create resources.  This is exceptionally sloppy thinking.

Try these out:

    * Is there more topsoil today than there was 100 years ago?
    * Are there more concentrated ore bodies today than 100 years ago?
    * Is there more silver above ground and in usable form today than there was 100 years ago?
    * Is there more fresh water available today than there was 100 years ago?
    * Is there more oil today than there was 100 years ago?

The answer to all of these is "no" because the nature of an extractive, consumer-based economy is to harvest or mine concentrated resources and then dilute them into the air, water and ground.  This is what all organisms do; they take contentrated sources of energy (or other resources) and they turn them into less concentrated forms.

It's called entropy and it's an exceptionally well-characterized process which perfectly describes how the universe actually works.  The high energy density of oil is converted into heat and dispersed to the universe.  Concentrated ore bodies are mined and then spread thinly across the globe to oxidize and essentially be lost for human use.

The argument in the opening post is essentially the same as saying that humans are not bound by the laws of the universe which, much like the announced discovery of a perpetual motion machine, is a claim that deserves to either be rigorously explored or completely ignored (but defintely not accepted).   Evidence that humans are simply another entropic organism is overwhelmingly abundant.  I'm not aware of any contradictory evidence.

Thanks for responding Chris.
With respect, but I believe you are mistaken about this. While I don't expect you to change your views from reading an internet posting, I hope you will give this a thorough thought.
For your convenience, I will try to keep this short by sticking to the central argument: finiteness.

A resource is a physical entity, that humans need, which we have less of than we would prefer. Resources are physical things, such as oil, copper or topsoil. Supply of physical material has certain obvious restrictions; the amount of physical stuff on earth clearly can't increase, physical material is finite.
It is plausible, but simply false, to assume that because "stuff humans need" - resources - consists of physical material, that "resources" are in the same way restricted as physical material. The the amount of physical things can't change, the amount of "stuff humans need" can change.

To illustrate: The amount of the physical substance oil on the planet does not change. Yet the amount of the resource oil has changed. For most of human history, there was no resource oil. We didn't have the technology to use it, so it wasn't a resource. In the mid 19th century we found a use for oil. When that happened the amount of resources on earth increased, without there being any more physical material on earth.

The problem is that we use the word "resource" in two different meanings. A resource is physical stuff, that we have a need for. And physical stuff is finite. "Resources", however, is not simply a collection of finite stuff. Resources, is "stuff humans need", which is not finite, since what we need changes.
Explaining the properties of finitene entities, e.g. the rules of thermodynamics, the law of diminishing returns, does not cut it, since these rules simply don't apply to resources.

With the insight that resources aren't finite, all our formerly plausible and self-evident conclusions break down. The spherical world does not necessarily pose a physical limit to throughputs of resources. Exponential growth isn't scary. Since resources are not simply picked up by humans, but created by humans, throughputs just grow at the same pace. In fact, they grow faster than populations. Isn't greater per capita material abundance exactly what we have witnessed in the last century of explosive population growth? Empiric evidence seems to confirm the infinite view of resources, while the continuous predictions of growth overtaking throughputs of the finite view continue to be proven wrong.

Think about it, sleep over it, re-read this post. There's not much more to say that this. This view is counterintuitive, but it's not that intricate. You may wake up and find yourself on an infinite planet.

Regards

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Re: Not So Much
Concepts of physics are frequently misused by those who become intoxicated by casual acquaintance with them.  After Einstein 
discovered the principle of special relativity, college sophomores and trendy preachers cited the principle as "proof" that "everything is relative". And after Heisenberg discovered the uncertainty principle, social scientists, humanists, and theologians seized on it to "prove" that certain kinds of human knowledge are impossible.
The concept of entropy and the associated second law of  thermodynamics have a long history of abuse -- even by physicists, who should know better.
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Re: Not So Much

"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."

I had to stop there, and eventually pick myself up off the floor before I died laughing.....!!

Do you know where all those chickens come from.....?

OIL!

Chickens are made of ATOMS......  ALL their atoms came from oil and water.  Unless you grow your own off grass of course, which will make them waaaay more healthy to eat as well.

That's it.

Sloppy thinking methinks.  Good laugh though.... thanks.

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Re: Not So Much
EmperorNero wrote:

Thanks for responding Chris.
With respect, but I believe you are mistaken about this. While I don't expect you to change your views from reading an internet posting, I hope you will give this a thorough thought.
For your convenience, I will try to keep this short by sticking to the central argument: finiteness.

A resource is a physical entity, that humans need, which we have less of than we would prefer. Resources are physical things, such as oil, copper or topsoil. Supply of physical material has certain obvious restrictions; the amount of physical stuff on earth clearly can't increase, physical material is finite.
It is plausible, but simply false, to assume that because "stuff humans need" - resources - consists of physical material, that "resources" are in the same way restricted as physical material. The the amount of physical things can't change, the amount of "stuff humans need" can change.

To illustrate: The amount of the physical substance oil on the planet does not change. Yet the amount of the resource oil has changed. For most of human history, there was no resource oil. We didn't have the technology to use it, so it wasn't a resource. In the mid 19th century we found a use for oil. When that happened the amount of resources on earth increased, without there being any more physical material on earth.

The problem is that we use the word "resource" in two different meanings. A resource is physical stuff, that we have a need for. And physical stuff is finite. "Resources", however, is not simply a collection of finite stuff. Resources, is "stuff humans need", which is not finite, since what we need changes.
Explaining the properties of finitene entities, e.g. the rules of thermodynamics, the law of diminishing returns, does not cut it, since these rules simply don't apply to resources.

With the insight that resources aren't finite, all our formerly plausible and self-evident conclusions break down. The spherical world does not necessarily pose a physical limit to throughputs of resources. Exponential growth isn't scary. Since resources are not simply picked up by humans, but created by humans, throughputs just grow at the same pace. In fact, they grow faster than populations. Isn't greater per capita material abundance exactly what we have witnessed in the last century of explosive population growth? Empiric evidence seems to confirm the infinite view of resources, while the continuous predictions of growth overtaking throughputs of the finite view continue to be proven wrong.

Think about it, sleep over it, re-read this post. There's not much more to say that this. This view is counterintuitive, but it's not that intricate. You may wake up and find yourself on an infinite planet.

Regards

You seem to be arguing that resources are infinite and not bound by the “rules of thermodynamics or the law of diminishing returns” because your definition of resources is “stuff humans need.”  Let’s assume I buy into your argument.  Please explain why you don’t believe that oil falls into the category of stuff humans need?  Sure, humans got along without it for the majority of time in their history on this planet, but the fact that it has become such an integral part of nearly every aspect of modern life means that major changes will be upon us when this “stuff humans need” starts to run out and there is no known viable replacement.

You write, “The amount of physical things can't change, the amount of "stuff humans need" can change.”  I agree and change it will, like it or not; ready or not.  But, the change in need will be an increase, not a decrease.  How, in your opinion, will the increase in demand be of little or no concern when the supply runs too low to provide for that demand?    

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Re: Not So Much
Set wrote:

You seem to be arguing that resources are infinite and not bound by the “rules of thermodynamics or the law of diminishing returns” because your definition of resources is “stuff humans need.”  Let’s assume I buy into your argument.

There is no need to "buy" my argument. That's what the word means: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resource

Set wrote:

Please explain why you don’t believe that oil falls into the category of stuff humans need?  Sure, humans got along without it for the majority of time in their history on this planet, but the fact that it has become such an integral part of nearly every aspect of modern life means that major changes will be upon us when this “stuff humans need” starts to run out and there is no known viable replacement.

The point was that oil was not something we needed, but it became something we need. Thus it was not a resource, but it became one. The amount of resources increased because worthless things become resources when we gain the technology to have a use for them. The same will continue to happen in future. So the amount of resources is not fixed.

Oil can not "run out" for the same reason; it is not finite. It is of course accurate that the amount of oil on earth can't increase. But the overall amount is not how we define oil. There are vast reserves of oil that for different reasons aren't worth exploiting. If we included all that, we had enough oil for 1000 years of expected population growth. But it would be pointless to know how much oil we have, that we can't exploit. That's why we only count as "oil" what we currently have the ability to exploit. So with changing extraction technology, oil supplies increase.

It is pretty irrelevant that the overall amount of atoms on earth are fixed, unless you are worried about running out of physical matter on earth. Earth is pretty big. As long as we can turn material that is not a resource into a resource, the amount of resources will increase. Unless you think we need oil for another 1000 years, there is no need to worry about "running out".

Set wrote:

You write, “The amount of physical things can't change, the amount of "stuff humans need" can change.”  I agree and change it will, like it or not; ready or not.  But, the change in need will be an increase, not a decrease.  How, in your opinion, will the increase in demand be of little or no concern when the supply runs too low to provide for that demand?

This should give you a sense:

Did the supply of horses between 1800 and 1900 increase? No. Did we require less transportation? No, more. Then why did horses become abundant? Because we invented cars.

Did we find a huge supply of firewood between 1600 and 1800? No. Did we require less heat? No, more. Then why did firewood become abundant? Because of coal.

Did we find a huge ocean filled with whales between 1800 and 1900? No. Did we require less lighting? No, more. Then why did whale oil become abundant? Because of kerosene.

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Re: Not So Much

EmperorNero

I feel like I slipped into a previously unknown dimension. From the way I read much of what you say, it seems the resources, technology and reason have all been dumped into a blender and then the resulting mess is filtered in a way that supposed to to be rational -- only it isn't.

Innovative thinking, but it just doesn't work.

Jim

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Re: Not So Much
EmperorNero wrote:

There are vast reserves of oil that for different reasons aren't worth exploiting. If we included all that, we had enough oil for 1000 years of expected population growth. But it would be pointless to know how much oil we have, that we can't exploit. That's why we only count as "oil" what we currently have the ability to exploit. So with changing extraction technology, oil supplies increase.

Did the supply of horses between 1800 and 1900 increase? No. Did we require less transportation? No, more. Then why did horses become abundant? Because we invented cars.

Did we find a huge supply of firewood between 1600 and 1800? No. Did we require less heat? No, more. Then why did firewood become abundant? Because of coal.

Did we find a huge ocean filled with whales between 1800 and 1900? No. Did we require less lighting? No, more. Then why did whale oil become abundant? Because of kerosene.

Would you please provide a credible source for your claim that, "There are vast reserves of oil that for different reasons aren't worth exploiting. If we included all that, we had enough oil for 1000 years of expected population growth."  Also, by what logic you deem it, "pointless to know how much oil we have, that we can't exploit."

Stating that, "whale oil become abundant because of kerosene, firewood become abundant because of coal, and horses become abundant because we invented cars" doesn't explain what new resource or technology is going to make oil magically become abundant. 

Perhaps you would be so kind as to explain what, in your mind, is going to make oil abundant.

Damnthematrix's picture
Damnthematrix
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 10 2008
Posts: 3998
Re: Not So Much

You argue that oil "wasn't a resource once" because we didn't need it.

Well, ignoring a whole lot of other examples, let me put it to you that oil (and the other fossil fuels) were ESSENTIAL to the success of the so called "green revolution" (where all your chickens came from..)

This green revolution allowed the world population to almost triple.

So, by my reckoning.....  now we bloody well need it!  And if we can't have it, we're facing serious problems, as the food production starts dropping already whilst the population still grows.

Johnny Oxygen's picture
Johnny Oxygen
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 9 2009
Posts: 1443
Re: Not So Much

It is plausible, but simply false, to assume that because "stuff humans need" - resources - consists of physical material, that "resources" are in the same way restricted as physical material. The the amount of physical things can't change, the amount of "stuff humans need" can change.

This is typical academic gymnastics:

God is love, Love is blind, therefore Ray Charles is god.

Nero I would love to know what your academic connection is. Are you a professor, student, or text book publisher?

Stoaty's picture
Stoaty
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 26 2010
Posts: 5
Re: Not So Much

I assumed this was an April Fools joke, until I saw the posting date.  Should have been posted a few days later.

plato1965's picture
plato1965
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 18 2009
Posts: 615
Re: Not So Much

 

meh.. ye of little faith !!

 Nero's already managed to persuade Nate from the Oil Drum...

  http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6343

featherjack's picture
featherjack
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 7 2010
Posts: 51
Re: Not So Much

OMG, you're just playing word games... "stuff humans need", indeed!

A. M.'s picture
A. M.
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 22 2008
Posts: 2368
Re: Not So Much

EmperorNero,

I'm hoping that you're still lurking, because while your challenge lacks substance, it does raise points that need to be addressed if we are to adaptively study the concept of resources (and the attached concept of depletion). 

However, you're argument seems to be following it's own tail, using the syllogistic approach that because A is related to B, and B is related to C, that A and C are directly connected.

For example, you said:

Quote:

To illustrate: The amount of the physical substance oil on the planet does not change. Yet the amount of the resource oil has changed. For most of human history, there was no resource oil. We didn't have the technology to use it, so it wasn't a resource. In the mid 19th century we found a use for oil. When that happened the amount of resources on earth increased, without there being any more physical material on earth.

The problem is that we use the word "resource" in two different meanings. A resource is physical stuff, that we have a need for. And physical stuff is finite. "Resources", however, is not simply a collection of finite stuff. Resources, is "stuff humans need", which is not finite, since what we need changes.

which to me says that because we need things - resources - which are finite, but we need infinitely many resources, the resources available are no longer finite. 

This is a viable way of thinking on a "microscale"; if you were foraging for things to eat, you might find that while you prefer olives, potatoes work in a pinch, and when potatoes aren't available, it's not too offputting to eat turnips. Essentially, you're getting calories for the calories invested into finding food. 

The reason this principle works on this scale is that the laws of Entropy don't really apply here; the cyclic nature of Flora and Fauna on earth has been relatively proportional for hundreds of thousands of years. Ergo, the amount of food required to survive is generally available enough for all the "apex" critters to get what they need to maintain homeostasis for a lifespan.

As you can see, this is a very "rough" and outdated approach to the dilemma of resources. You invest energy to get energy. Which is very "Thermodynamics", if I do say so myself.

That's not the point though, let's move on to efficiency. 
Like heat energy, human energy is very disorganized. This is why for, oh, 150,000 years, we stuck to the approach above; gather, hunt, hunker, repeat. Why? It's a matter of energy.

Humans 150,000 years ago were barely able to understand the principles of fire.
Now, we've harnessed atomic energy. What freed us up to innovate such amazing technologies?

It's very important that you research this and come up with your own conclusion.  
That said, it is my opinion that the latitude has been based on the production and (semi)efficient use of Oil. 

If you draw that same conclusion, or even consider oil to be "in part" a contributing factor as to our rapid, over-reaching growth and technological development, you should strongly consider the concept of ERoEI. I love using examples because they help me learn, so here is how to look at the energy situation from a "Macro-scale" perspective, warning, it'll require a little bending of reality:

I love coffee. For every coffee I drink, I accomplish significantly more per day, let's assume that I drink 2 coffees and that helps me accomplish 110% of my activities; that means each day, I'm doing work that I would normally do tomorrow. Great! There's no "limit" on coffee in my world. I simply get a box of K-Cups from the store, and life's grand.

Well, one day, I'm informed that coffee is a finite resource and because when I started drinking coffee, 100 years ago, there were only 2 billion other potential coffee drinkers, and now there are almost 8. Yikes. They say "We'll run out of coffee in 10 years, if things stay the same", so I buy extra, and ponder what I'd do without coffee. I like Tea OK, but with tea, I only accomplish 90% of my daily tasks. That's a 20% decrease in productivity. But that's getting low, too. Not to worry, though. Scientists can now make synthetic coffee that will offset one cup a day.So, I'm still around 90% of my productivity. But, I'm sort of lazy, and I've taken to doodling at work, and even with two cups of coffee - I only do about 40% of the work I did before. In short, my labor is all supplied by the coffee now. I'm not really good at doing things without it.

But... come to find out, not only do *I* love coffee, but we've been using it to grow food. Come to find out, it's a great fertilizer, and that's given us the ability to "sustain" population growth. So, we have to consider that as well.

And, more bad news: things aren't staying the same. The population is growing at about 3%, which is an exponential increase, not arithemetic:
That means in another ten years, there won't be 10 billion coffee, tea and synthetic users, but 16 Billion. 

In this analogy, Coffee represents Oil. It increases our productivity.

Tea represents Cole or Natural gas, if helps - but our infrastructure isn't built around it. It can "offset" the withdrawls from the coffee, but not "fix" the energy gap. 

Synthetic Coffee represents (ironically, it's inverse) natural, renewable energies; sun, wind, hydro-electric etc. They can again assist in offsetting the productivity, but they just can't do some of the important tasks that oil (coffee) does.

The reality of this analogy is that Oil increases our productivity infinitely more than 10% - and the offsets help significantly less.
Our largest industries; Agriculture, Production, Travel (especially Air) Military Industry and Infrastructure are all attached at the hip to Oil Productivity.

If oil is an "infinite" resource, at present, it doesn't appear to rejuvenate fast enough to keep us living the lives we're accustom to.
In fact, there is no scientific evidence to point to this as true; more likely than not, oil is a byproduct of the KT explosion which wiped out the dinosaurs en masse, leaving behind carbon that over the years has become useful to us. 

In short, I think your conclusions are heavy-handed, and ill-conceived. 

That said, you're obviously intelligent, and it would do you tremendous good to apply the skepticism the rebuttal - which has no significant evidence supporting it, other than the Government's "good word". In short, Peak Oil and resource depletion in general are issues because oil has granted us the ability to have what we want now! Because of this, we've high-graded all of the best materials, and we've squandered the energy that we had at our disposal on planned obsolescence and obscene wars over profit and control - and I don't just mean the USA. The world has all fallen victim to this sad, myopic thinking.

The Crash Course draws heavily from "The Party's Over", by Richard Heinberg. 
While I don't agree with everything in it, it is an extremely detailed account of our energy budget, with all the technical respect of a "professional" grade report.

Hopefully, you see the counterintuitive view is not only simple, but wrong.
Much like algebra (you save more gas upgrading from a vehicle that gets 10MPG to 12MPG than you do upgrading from 30MPG to 32MPG), this information is the culmination of many well defined and understood geological, physical, mathematical and sociological principles.

Please consider it further.

Cheers,

Aaron

FriscoMike's picture
FriscoMike
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 17 2011
Posts: 29
I completely understand

I completely understand where the OP is coming from.  Essentially - necessity creates demand.  Before we had nuclear submarines - folks like my grandfather operated fossil fuel driven subs.  Imagine how inefficient our military would be with the absence of uranium (resource) as not only a fuel source but a weapon source.  When I attempt to discuss this topic of oil being finite – I am almost 99% of the time countered with the claims of ANWAR, Oil Sands and Shales that although cannot be exploited now – can and will be when the necessity drives the demand.

I also understand your approach on the different use of the term “resource” – I see both views.  One being the solid-state term meaning resource is defined by set limits.  The other term / view being more of a user defined limitation.  This one is really difficult to regurgitate but I think I understand what you are saying.

The reason that I am so intrigued with what CM delivers is the correlation between where we are at the present (economically speaking) and the primary dependency on this current resource without the necessity driven demand being in place.  In other words, there simply aren’t technologies to speak of that will replace the current load.  To make matters worse – this energy crisis is compounded by population growth.  This should be driving the demand in full nitrous mode – but it isn’t.

The movement from horses to cars didn’t happen overnight – it took time.  Politics were also a much different dynamic back then.  Let’s not play down the political aspect as it seems to roadblock more and more of the scientific data to protect capitalist empires.

I believe that you are on to something in terms of the technological aspect.  It will take technological advancements to get us out of this mess (if there is even a chance at that).  In order for this to happen, we will need huge amounts of capital to invest into this next energy source.  Given our current economic situation – I don’t know where this R&D capital will come from… 

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