I am a rational optimist so I understand that the Malthusians have absolutely no understanding of economics or resource utilization.
The Club of Rome has been wrong for forty years with The Limits to Growth and I am confident that the upcoming ‘2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years’ will be every bit as wrong and yet again an anchor on progress.
The truth is that we are nowhere near running low on resources and the free market will adjust as we do. This very notion is something the pessimistic nihilists cannot see.
Take oil for example- depending on how anti-oil they are, they think that we are either past peak oil or we are going to hit it within the next decade. The problem for them is that we keep finding more oil and more ways to economically extract it. The shale oil in Canada alone would add another hundred years at our current consumption rate. That is another hundred years without any new deposits or technological advances. The irrational antipathy toward oil is at the core for much of the unquestioning adherence to Anthropogenic Global Climate Change. Since we aren’t actually running out, or even low, on oil… millions of petrolphobes have latched onto the combustion by-product of CO2 as a justification to fight oil.
That isn’t to say that AGCC is not happening, just that those who say “the science is settled” have a deep seated psychological need for it to be settled. The evidence shows Global warming was happening at a little over 0.1° Celsius per decade leading up to the Industrial Revolution and that it has meandered around that rate for more than two hundred years. During that two hundred years, humanity has increased our production of CO2 so that it is now about 3% of the total yearly production- which leaves the rest of nature being responsible for 97%. The effect of us having some small part in increasing the CO2 concentration by about 0.011% is lost in the measurement uncertainty.
That said, I really don’t think it is wise to run the experiment of seeing how rising CO2 levels will effect climate, ocean acidity and crop growth… but if we are limited to this one planet then NOT running the experiment would keep billions of people in abject poverty, lower the standard of living for billions more and shackling the rest to a false ceiling. It will get warmer or it will get colder and the only way we can take advantage of whatever happens is if we don’t spend ourselves into poverty on futile gestures. The AGCC adherent’s “cure” is worse than the affliction.
Moving on to look at the metals, there are centuries worth of those resources as well. Gold, iron, copper… we have massive reserves still in the ground and we’ve barely scratched at the 70% of the planet that is under water.
And then there is all that water. Access to fresh water is another fear that is used to justify imposing harsh rules and regulations. It is sad that for many people, the only thing more horrifying than hundreds of millions of people dying for lack of fresh water- is cheap energy and the free market. It is the very lack of a market that causes the rampant waste of water in the developed world and a lack of property rights that fuel the shortages in the developing world. A free market economy with strong property rights and cheap energy can afford the fraction of a penny per litre to desalinate the ocean water that covers the planet. Rather than being the answer to water shortages, anti-market governments are the cause.
And “sustainability” would not be an issue as long as the free market is allowed to handle it. As any resource becomes scarcer it becomes more expensive and this naturally creates a market for alternatives and an incentive to reduce/reuse/recycle. When the government comes charging in to save the day it is always going to screw it up as it creates immediate hardship to promote the wrong solution by politically connected cronies. It takes the market decades to fix the problems that the state creates when they try to fix the economy.
With a free market the planet could easily support ten billion more people living at the middle class standards for the developed world… but there would be costs. It would require utilizing far more of the world’s resources, mining and drilling wherever the resources may be and letting the endangered species and pristine wilderness fall by the wayside. As oil becomes more expensive, paving over tens of thousands of square kilometres of the planet in solar panels while building thousands of nuclear power plants will actually become cost competitive… especially with another fifty years of technological advances to bring the costs down.
The crux is that, if you care about limiting our impact on the planet you have only two options; you can hope for a horrible dystopian future with the death of most of humanity… or you can promote the use of resources from off planet.