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Resources, environmental issues and the necessity for re-industrialization.

The future is a race between new technology and disaster.

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 characterized 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:

National Academy of Sciences statement

Myths 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.