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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Word Games

I recently noticed that a curious talking point has started to propagate through the infinite oil crowd. It approximates the following word game:
The only problem is that you're railing against not only theory but history. We've never 'run out' of a non-renewable resource or faced a dramatic disruption.
The implication that someone like Mike Lynch raises leads to a rhetorically moot point. Yes, we have never witnessed the world running out of water, marble, or any number of inorganic materials, but that doesn't mean it couldn't happen in the future. But he desperately wants us to equate oil with inorganic resources and the infinite reach that view entails. In his mind, history portends the future.

But..., in a strict sense, fossil fuels act as a kind of renewable resource. Whereas no one would ever consider, say copper ore, as renewable (recyclable, yes), I could just as easily make the claim that all fossil fuels fall into the renewable category. The fly in the ointment that a stickler will point out has to do with the exceedingly low renewal rate of fossil fuels. For example, as we speak, lifeforms die, turns into compost and we uptake the miniscule energy ages from now assuming the constant renewal of life. The cycle continues at a snail's pace, ergo the renewable label fits the bill. QED, the "stickler" loses the argument on a technicality.

When the rate of use exceeds the rate of production, you get depletion of the renewable resource. So (playing the word games here), we have run out of plenty of renewable resources, of which fossil fuels now rank as first-class members. For the obvious examples, try the extinction of thousands of animal and plant species. At one point in our past history, somebody could have made the claim that "We've never 'run out' of renewable resources or faced a dramatic disruption". Then, history witnesses the passenger pigeon population going extinct and North Americans had to face a dramatic disruption in their eating habits.

So too we can point to living coral as another "nearly" non-renewable resource. For example, if coral reaches the tipping point and the coral reefs start going belly-up in Australia's Great Barrier Reef and elsewhere, it will act much like the current oil situation. Coral grows so slowly, much like the slow replenishment rate of fossil fuels, that you can consider coral as almost as impossible to replenish as fossil fuel! No one has figured out a way to grow coral at a fast enough rate to sustain itself in the onslaught of human interference.
"Scientists looked at 263 reefs in the Caribbean and discovered they had lost 80% of their coral in the past 30 years." - 2003
Many project that we will run out of our first truly non-renewable resource relatively soon as our Helium reserves drift into the upper atmosphere and on into outer space. Interestingly, we will start running out when the natural gas reserves goes on the decline.

So let us stomp out that stupid talking point of "We've never 'run out' of a non-renewable resource or faced a dramatic disruption" before it takes root. These and other wing-nut canards should go the way of the dinosaur; unable to support the intellectual scaffolding it has precariously built over the last few years, the typical rhetoric of the right-wing meme machine can extinguish itself with a little push.

5 Comments:

Professor Blogger Bubba said...

Of course when you use the word "we" to mean the whole world it may be true, in fact, that "we" have not, to date, run out of a non-renewable resource. However, the world, as a global community, has a very short history.

Back when the world was bigger and communities were geographically isolated, there are many examples of whole populations disappearing off the earth, most likely due to shortages of resources (renewable or non-renewable - food, water, wood or other energy source, livable climate) - Easter Island, Viking settlements on Greenland and New Foundland, and the Anasazi come to mind (to name but a few).

Now that we all inhabit a much larger island floating in the solar system, if we run out of something we will have to "make other arrangements" (quote from J. H. Kuntsler)

7:43 AM  
Professor Blogger WHT said...

bubba, good point on the "closed-world" environments. I imagine we will start seeing arguments akin to "don't forget Poland", excepting it will be "don't forget Mars".

10:13 AM  
Professor Anonymous Anonymous said...

to a rhetorically moot point. Yes, we have never witnessed the world running out of water

"running out of water"?

Whoa. Back up here.

Potable water is in short supply in MANY places.

Water - well, there is alot of that. Safe, drinkable water - I bet New Orleans would like more of that and less unsafe water.

whole populations disappearing off the earth, most likely due to shortages of resources (renewable or non-renewable - food,

Mayans. Seems the bugs they ate for protien also ran low.


The "key" for all of mankind is how much "slack" and "excess capacity" exists in the system. Locally a storm knocked out power for a cronie of mine. I have spare capacity in the form of a generator and he just left with my spare generator so he can keep his food cold/keep his computers powered.

Katernia is an example of 'spare capacity'. If there was lottsa tax dollars and national guard troops, the events would have went differently. Instead, the troops are not in country and the tax income is elsewhere.

1:41 PM  
Professor Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah I'm not convinced you adequately make your point. Species aren't resources in the same way that copper, marble and oil are.

2:59 PM  
Professor Blogger WHT said...

Then take it up with Lynch. He is the one playing the word games.

Oil is not a resource like copper and marble are. So there.

9:20 PM  

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