January 29, 2012

SOYLENT GREEN IS HOGWASH:

Everything You Know About Peak Oil Is Wrong: We're not running out of resources. Quite the contrary. And in our abundance lies a paradox (Charles Kenny, 1/26/12, Business Week)

Forty years later, however, rereading Limits to Growth invokes a growing sense of irony. Far from being depleted, worldwide reserves of minerals continue to climb. New technologies suggest the dawn of U.S. energy independence. The biggest concern isn't that the planet is running out of resources--it's having too many for the planet's own good.

Start with oil. In 1971, the Limits to Growth team forecast that the world's supply would run out 10 years from today. And yet according to renowned oil analyst Daniel Yergin, technology advances and new discoveries have allowed oil reserves worldwide to keep growing. For every barrel of oil produced in the world from 2007 to 2009, 1.6 barrels of new reserves were added. The World Energy Council reports that global proven recoverable reserves of natural gas liquids and crude oil amounted to 1.2 trillion barrels in 2010. That's enough to last another 38 years at current usage. Add in shale oil, and that's an additional 4.8 trillion barrels, or a century and a half's worth of supply at present usage rates. Tar sands, including some huge Canadian deposits, add perhaps 6 trillion barrels more.

We're awash in more than oil. One British study from the 1930s predicted an acute global shortage of copper "within a generation." Not so much. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates global land-based copper resources to be 3 billion tons or more--the equivalent of 185,000 years at current production. That's almost double the estimate of resources from 11 years ago, which means the number may have further to climb. And when we do finally run out of land-based supplies, there are still the undersea sources to use up.

The long-term picture for phosphate, vital for fertilizer production, is also reassuring, despite a price spike in 2008: Estimated global phosphate reserves climbed from 11 million tons in 1995 to 65 million tons in 2010--equal to 369 years of current production. The list goes on: Current resource estimates suggest it will take 347 years to run out of helium, 890 for beryllium, centuries for chromium, more than a millennium for lithium and strontium. And for those Americans worried about the price of makeup, resources of talc in the U.S. alone are enough to provide more than 1,000 years of supplies at current rates of domestic production.

If we keep on using more minerals, and we don't do a better job of recycling them, and plans to mine the moon don't work out, we'll surely run out of supplies one day. But for pretty much every vital mineral resource, that day looks to be a long way off, which is great news for the world economy. Limits to Growth suggested the world would be on the verge of complete economic collapse around about now, with industrial output falling to its level of 1900 by the end of this century, as resources vital to sustaining a modern economy dried up. However dire today's global financial crisis, we are nowhere near such a doomsday scenario.



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Posted by at January 29, 2012 9:55 AM
  

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