issues and the necessity for re-industrialization.
The future is a race between new technology
For the past thirty years, the areas of
most rapid growth and change in the economy have been related to computers,
communications, and biotechnology. Nevertheless, the predominant mass of
the world economy still revolves around the provision of basic material
necessities (food, shelter, clothing) and middle class comforts (transportation,
energy, manufactured goods, tourism). These commodity industries are
by gigantic size, slow growth, and tremendous inertial resistance to change.
Commodity prices have been steadily declining
over the past several decades, leading some economists to conclude that
resource shortages will not be a problem for the foreseeable future. This
is a serious mistake, because a characteristic property of capitalist
market economies is to discount the value of the future. This makes
today's prices a very poor indicator of the course of future events. Because
of compound interest, the present value of a resource left in the ground
to be used in thirty years' time is nearly zero. Present-day commodity
prices are driven mostly by the costs of production (which are dropping
due to technical innovation), and also by the political balance
of power between first-world resource consumers and third-world resource
producers, much more than by ultimate geological limits which may be only
a few decades away.
Even if resources were
infinite, our current
systems of energy and commodity production are problematic because of the
damage that is being done to eco-systems all around the world. One serious
problem is an increasing pace of species extinction.
We are also facing the reality of global warming and the possibility of
more extensive world climate change (see http://www.williamcalvin.com).
Environmental problems are bad enough now, but like resource-depletion
problems, their worst manifestations may be several decades away.
Although Malthusian theories are widely disparaged
in today's popular press, nevertheless it is indisputable that exponential
growth cannot continue indefinitely inside of a closed system. The question
is, when will we encounter the limits of our resources and ecosystems?
The limits may be too close for comfort. As Jay Hanson has pointed out, if these
problems are not solved, humankind will experience a massive dieoff
of historically unprecedented scope. At Jay's website, these pages are
especially well worth reading:
Academy of Sciences statement
and Realities of Mineral Resources by Walter Youngquist PhD
For information on the status of world
oil supplies, visit:
Of course, war and economic crisis will only
make problems worse.
While the outcome of our civilization's
experiment with industrialization is by no means certain, there are opportunities
for technical solutions to many of the problems. Solar
power and conservation are our best short-term solutions, but we also need
to be developing low-cost space access and robotic
systems as quickly as possible, so that we can eventually begin to colonize
the solar system. There may be little time to waste.