Peak pollyannas and green gasbags

I am a long time reader of slashdot, and particularly the discussion comments. Slashdot’s userbase has reached a level of sophistication and saturation that the comments that mod to the top are frequently more interesting than the news story itself.

Recently I found this response to the recurring magical market thinking people employ in response to the problem of resource scarcity:

clipped from

Supplies of Rare Earth Elements Exhausted By 2017

Re:supply and demand – no real problem

The market doesn’t govern the physical universe. At all. The amounts of material and energy present on Earth are in no way related to the laws of supply and demand. The universe is indifferent to your over-applied, unfalsifiable theories.

Sometimes ‘cheaper alternatives’ just don’t exist. This is why your precious markets have never got to grips with spaceflight. The markets reaction has always been “Wait till it is cheaper” on the assumption that all technology gets cheaper – ignoring the fact that there is a physical constraint on what you must do to get into orbit.

The fact that the price of a commodity increases when it’s in short supply doesn’t cure the shortage or make it less of a problem; it merely allocates what supplies remain to those who are willing to pay the most.

Stop treating economics like it’s a theory of everything.

blog it

Yes people, the market can’t make something out of nothing! We live on a finite planet as I like to say. There is not an unending supply of ANYTHING. Why is that so hard to understand? This ain’t medieval geography. The earth is a sphere, with dimensions and boundaries. And the stuff that we care about is all in the thin upper layer. And most of that layer is covered in undrinkable water. Not very much stuff to go around at all, when you think about it.

I understand the cognitive dissonance surrounding this point, because once you understand that, you realize that the way we live is insane. We are gorging on an energy bonanza that can’t last forever.

I was recently watching a CNN panel on gas prices, and the guest expert said something shocking. He admitted that he doesn’t see any other solution to the oil problem other than a drastic curtailment of our lifestyle, with driving a rare privilege. He made all the other talking heads uncomfortable. I thought, “this is a notable moment.” Now even the people who routinely lie to us (mainstream media) are shrugging their shoulders and averting their eyes!

Right now, oil production is about 86 million barrels per day. Demand is about 85 million barrels per day. And oil production declined slightly last year [Source]. I’ll let that sink in.

We’re meeting current demand by a sliver, and look at where gas prices are. Just imagine what will happen when demand outstrips supply. It ain’t going to be pretty. Economic prosperity maps in a direct, inverse proportional relationship to the price of energy. Price of energy go up, prosperity go down. Price of energy shoot up exponentially, prosperity dives into a toiletspin. That’s right, a tailspin crossed with a shitstorm! A flaming death spiral of unmitigated chaos and desperation. Like Christmas Eve at Walmart, but worse!

One thing’s for sure. If society breaks down, I am FUCKED without Lasik! Just like Piggy in Lord of the Flies! I think it’s my biggest fear in life to end up blind and helpless in a post-apocalyptic world.

Oh well. Maybe Obama can sprinkle enchanted hope dust on us and solve this complicated issue! Or we can shed the greed and entitlement that’s poisoning our minds and our planet. There is so much fat to trim in our lifestyle. Literally and figuratively. Perhaps there is enough wiggle room in scaling back the gratuitous energy orgy that is modern living, for us to do so while sustainable alternatives are introduced.

Of course that would require self sacrifice, and as Ken Burns so eloquently put it, sacrifice and duty are two words we don’t know the meaning of.

Listen to this story about China from NPR’s The World yesterday (or read it). It’s about how China went from being a bike riding, pedestrian accessible, friendly neighbor society, to a car driving, subdivision-building monument to pollution and isolation.

While listening to this I was thinking “wow, this is a great piece of radio,” and simultaneously, “wow, they know how to edit this to speak directly to my bleeding-heart tree-hugging NPR-listening attitudes!” I think both are true.

China Urbanization on The World from PRI

The point here is that even a huge city like Beijing once thrived without dependence on cars, and that urban planners are trying to reverse gears on the wasteful design choices that have sprung up to support the car culture.

The quote from the teenager at the end is priceless.

Question: is there anything wrong with towers, shopping malls, hustle and bustle?
Answer: nothing comes to mind…. oh yeah, the environment!

Sha totally! Like, dude, where’s my earth?


3 comments so far

  1. Judit on

    Hi stranger. You videotaped Larkin in Hamden (I remember you!) and then you put it on YouTube, and now you write this. By the way my nightmare too, or something very much like it: blind in a postapocalyptic world. No books even to escape to. — Glad to know you’re out there somewhere. Good luck in the ‘toiletspin’.

  2. nariposa on

    That was a wonderful show! Thanks for finding me. Add me on myspace (nariposa) and we shall talk some more.

  3. Bookmarks about Clipmarks on

    […] – bookmarked by 1 members originally found by acrevola on 2008-11-09 Peak pollyannas and green gasbags – bookmarked by 3 members originally found by MonkeyTeamsRocks […]

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