Reality Blind - Vol. 1

they are used up, as far as our species is concerned, they are gone forever.

Conceptually this is simple stuff. But in our current culture, we have tended to become accustomed to treating any extractable resource — be it renewable or non — as though its supply is infinite. We are drawing down a bank account but thinking of the withdrawals as from interest rather than from the principal. It is easy to see how this habit has developed. Many kinds of resources seem plentiful at first due to a small human population relative to the size of the resource. The initial high concentration of available ores, and the low initial demand, prevented “economies of scale” from kicking in. Later, when these resources became more scarce and harder to produce, improved technology and large-scale economies offset and obscured this trend, making it possible to continue producing them in large quantities, affordably for a time. Moreover, it is the nature of depletion, that at any given tim e, we’re using the energy and infrastructure which was built or extracted when resources were better and cheaper - with the impact of present-day resource scarcity pushed off toward the future. In the meanwhile, we discover it’s economically advantageous to behave as though such (temporary) abundance will continue through our lifetimes. Our children watch us and learn to imitate us. After a few generations, everyone has grown up believing in “more of everything every year” as some sort of law of nature. Economists join in this game and tell everyone that all it takes to make more of something – anything - is more money and more demand. Whether it’s slowly self -renewing resources like forests, fertile soil, codfish and whales, or nonrenewable resources like copper and oil, we base our behavior on the completely invalid assumption that everything will be perpetually available, or that higher prices will automatically cause adequate substitutes to come into existence. These assumptions determine the policies and politics of our public institutions. The dynamics of how NNRs become less available over time, both in specific deposits/fields/populations and globally, are characterized by a depletion curve . The essential point is, the distribution of natural resources follows a characteristic discovery and utilization curve, and these curves (which often look like a normal curve) may be averaged to give a rough prediction of the future availability of that resource per resource type/location. This is straightforward, yet we disbelieve it. Whatever the resource, we typically take advantage of the easiest-to-access, cheapest-to-produce parts of it first —the proverbial “low - hanging fruit”— followed by the more difficult and costlier bits. As this happens, the increasing rate of extraction is inevitably on a collision course with the increasing energy cost of extraction. As this effect progresses, some of the


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