Abundance vs Scarcity
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May 12, 2011 — By 2050, humanity could consume an estimated 140 billion tons of minerals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass per year -- three times its current appetite -- unless the economic growth rate is "decoupled" from the rate of natural resource consumption, warns a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme. Citizens of developed countries consume an average of 16 tons (ranging up to 40 or more tons) of those four key resources per capita. By comparison, the average person in India today consumes four tons per year. With the growth of both population and prosperity, especially in developing countries, the prospect of much higher resource consumption levels is "far beyond what is likely sustainable" if realized at all given finite world resources, warns the report by UNEP's International Resource Panel.
Samuel Brittan points us to John Kemp suggesting that global growth is hitting supply-side limits . The argument is that while high unemployment and low inflation may prevail in advanced economies, the rest of the world is facing accelerating inflation, together with rising commodity prices. And that is, indeed, a fair picture of what’s going on. What’s more questionable is the assertion that “The problem is not aggregate demand but its distribution.”
Over the past month or so the essays on this blog have veered away from the details of appropriate tech into a discussion of some of the reasons why this kind of tech is, in fact, appropriate as a response to the predicament of industrial society. That was a necessary diversion, since a great many of the narratives that cluster around that crisis just now tend to evade the necessity of change on the level of individual lifestyles. The roots of that evasion had to be explored in order to show that change on that level is exactly what can’t be avoided by any serious response to the crisis of our time.
Last year I warned that we seemed to be heading into the “Third Depression” — by which I meant a prolonged period of economic weakness: Neither the Long Depression of the 19th century nor the Great Depression of the 20th was an era of nonstop decline — on the contrary, both included periods when the economy grew. But these episodes of improvement were never enough to undo the damage from the initial slump, and were followed by relapses. We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression. It will probably look more like the Long Depression than the much more severe Great Depression.
Just as Japan ’s earthquake raises fears of catastrophe from a nuclear meltdown and Mideast turmoil jeopardizes the world’s supply of conventional energy, along comes word of a possible scientific breakthrough that holds out the hope of cheap, abundant power. Cold fusion - discredited and vilified in the past - is back in the news. The potential benefits are great enough that, despite past failures, the technology deserves a fair hearing from the scientific community this time.
* ENERGY. Scientific and Artistic, Utopian and Critical Visions. Acoustic Space. Issue No. 8
by Garrett Jones Garrett Jones is a retired operations officer with the Central Intelligence Agency. He spent extensive time in the Middle East and Africa and is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College . On the 19th of February 2012, the New York Times had an interesting article pointing out the logistical and tactical problems the Israeli Air Force would encounter if it were to try to interdict the development of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.  The conclusion reached by the author was that the problems involved precluded Israel from making an attempt at derailing the Iranian nuclear program through conventional military means.
Since the current recession began, I have been touting the importance of entrepreneurs in getting the economy back on its feet. One of the characteristics possessed by most entrepreneurs -- one that makes them well-suited to doing business in bad times (or good) -- is optimism. Having an optimistic boss is one thing, but an article in BusinessWeek claims that businesses with optimistic employees have an even larger competitive edge [" Is Optimism a Competitive Advantage ," by Michelle Conlin, 24 August 2009 print issue]. The article equates an employee's optimism with his or her level of engagement in the company and concludes that "the link between a company's employee engagement and its bottom line is real: the more engaged the workers, the higher the sales and profits."
It is hardly news by now that digital technologies have made available an abundance of information and knowledge on the Internet and the Web. New technologies have created a global digital infrastructure, which, in turn, has become the basis for a new information economy, whose most obvious feature is the abundance of free or low-cost information and knowledge. With few exceptions, I have usually found a needed piece of information, skill or knowhow -- if it is public knowledge -- on Wikipedia, YouTube, a blog, a Web site, or a mailing list somewhere. The Internet search results below illustrate the extent of the abundance (search done on Feb. 28, 2011; Oct. 2010 hits are in parentheses). The first few hundred hits are usually more than enough for most purposes.