Monday, March 05, 2007

Why there are no fixed resource limits

One of the most enduring ecomyths is that of limits to growth. Every generation has its prediction of dire consequences when resources will run out. Simply put, it never happens. Never has, never will. Why? Long before the absolute limit of any resource is reached the economics of supply and demand mean that technological innovation has created a better substitute and/or a more efficient means to produce the existing resource, keeping prices low.

The latest resource predicted to "peak" is oil. But as this article explains, new technology is allowing up to 80% recovery in fields where only 10 to 30% of the oil was ever pumped. What does this mean? That after a 100 years of increasing use the world's oil reserves are actually higher now than at any point in history. It also means prices are unlikely to rise, may even slump a little and that as new existing technologies are employed, even greater efficiencies will apply to the next generation of automobiles, many of them diesel fuelled with efficiencies over 80% better than today's average and emissions over 60% lower. Not conjecture . Facts. New technological innovation waiting for adoption, once the price necessitates market adjustment. Prices, markets and innovative technology. Not protectionist governance nor environmental preservation.

Of course, hydrogen and other alternate fuels may just make the whole question of oil reserves moot within the next generation, but that is speculation. The future will be very different to today. Based on human history for the last 3000 years or so, ever indication is that what is different will also be substantially better: more wealth, greater efficiency and less pollution.

The biggest ecomyth is that we don't teach this message of optimism about future change. Instead the mainstream media and educative message in society is one of fear, apprehension and potential disaster all gilded in a green bow. The problem with the environmental litany is that it is not supported by the facts. The problem with limits to growth is they are an ideological construct, not an empirically verifiable one. A belief, not a scientific nor economic reality.

Why be an optimist about the future? Because our history validates our progressive improvement and increasing technological innovation.