Peak resources

The extent to which mankind is reaching limits in our ability to extract, mine & exploit natural resources is rarely discussed. Yet it is fundamental to our way of life, our prosperity and our future.

The blog post “Is economics a real science” contained the following projections from the 1972 “Limits to Growth” research from the Club of Rome:

Peak resources

The critical aspect of the model is the way that a major inflection point in food, services and industrial output per capita occurs once resource extraction peaks (circa 2010). In other words, once the the fastest rate of exploitation has passed, living standards decline, and decline rapidly (essentially halving in 20 years or so).

It’s not just the case that our economy is a speed junky, but it’s actually an acceleration junky! Efforts to continually increase the rate of extraction (in order to support aspirations of continual GDP growth) merely ensure that the total resource exploitation happens even quicker.

The simulation is of course vulnerable to errors in the parameter estimates, however many resources are indeed reaching maximum extraction levels at or around the 2010 marker.

Here is a summary of key resources which could well be at peak extraction:

Peak Phosphorous: 1990      Source
Peak Gold: 2000                       Source
Peak Oil (crude): 2006-2010
Peak Copper: Est. 2020         Source
Peak fresh water: ?? Source
Peak soil: ??

Not only does the consumption of resources have an impact as an input to our econmy, but also has consequences as output. There are many voices who proclaim that climate change and environmental impacts are not caused by human activity.

But how can any sane person assume that the human race can rape and pillage the earth (extract the pure water and resources from under the surface, chop down vast swathes of forest, burn wood & fuels, redirect huge rivers, tarmac enormous quantities of land etc.) and still think that this will have no consequences what-so-ever.

Yes, the environment and climate changes. It changes, and we adapt. We impact on it, and it changes and adapts. That’s basic ecology folks.

But one thing is for certain; the traffic ain’t one way.

We cannot extract and exploit, and yet have ZERO impact on the planet.

To presume otherwise is to believe that humans have been endowed with omnipotent power over nature, yet at the same time nature has been granted invincibility against our actions.

  1. September 9, 2011 at 9:41 am

    “There has been much excitement in the press recently about the last government’s attitude to peak oil. Documents released under Freedom of Information requests seem to show New Labour facing both ways: dismissing the issue in public, while privately worrying about its potential impacts.”

  2. December 5, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    Unfortunately many people still presume that human ingenuity produces the supply of natural resources, as if we ourselves CREATE the energy inputs.

    We don’t. Our ingenuity is in our ability to EXPLOIT resources and energy inputs for our exclusive pleasure.

    An unholy combination of ignorance and arrogance, that presumes ingenuity will triumph and always deliver us some new sources to exploit.

  3. January 18, 2012 at 9:14 am

    Gregor MacDonald has picked up on the “humans don’t create energy resources” theme in this post “Returning to simplicity, whether we want to or not”:

  4. May 9, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    Herman Daly on natural resources as the “limiting factor”:

    A good description of substition and complements, along with the powerful declaration: “Efficient cause (capital) does not substitute for material cause (resources).”

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