The Simon-Erlich Wager at Seven Billion People

Guest post by David Middleton

Back in 1980, the great libertarian economist, Julian Simon, and the prepetually wrong Malthusian biologist, Paul Erlich, entered into a little wager regarding population growth and resource scarcity. They decided on using the inflation-adjusted prices of five metals to decide the bet. Simon allowed Erlich to pick the five metals. If the 1990 prices were higher, Erlich would win. If they were lower, Simon would win. With the help of a fellow perpetually wrong Malthusian, John P. Holdren, Erlich selected chromium (Cr), copper (Cu), Nickel (Ni), tin (Sn) and tungsten (W). Julian Simon won the bet. However, a couple of years ago, economist Paul Kedroski suggested that had the time period of the bet extended to 2010, Erlich would have been the winner every year since 1991…

Given its 30th anniversary, and with commodities in the news – especially oil – I thought it was an apropos time (and TED an appropriate venue) to revisit the bet’s context, outcome, controversies and implications.

all-dates

Without getting into it too deeply, here are some things worth knowing. Given the above graph of the five commodities’ prices in inflation-adjusted terms, it will surprise no-one that the bet’s payoff was highly dependent on its start date. Simon famously offered to bet comers on any timeline longer than a year, and on any commodity, but the bet itself was over a decade, from 1980-1990. If you started the bet any year during the 1980s Simon won eight of the ten decadal start years. During the 1990s things changed, however, with Simon the decadal winners in four start years and Ehrlich winning six – 60% of the time. And if we extend the bet into the current decade, taking Simon at his word that he was happy to bet on any period from a year on up (we don’t have enough data to do a full 21st century decade), then Ehrlich won every start-year bet in the 2000s. He looks like he’ll be a perfect Simon/Ehrlich ten-for-ten.

ehrlich-table-2

In light of the fact that the world population clock recently crossed the 7 billion mark, I thought I’d see if there was a more accurate measure of the increasing scarcity (or lack thereof) of these metals over time.

Rather than “cherry-picking” particular decades, I took a look at the full historical price record (available from the USGS). The inflation adjusted prices of Chromium (Cr), Copper (Cu), Nickel (Ni), Tin (Sn) and Tungsten (W) exhibit no statistically meaningful inflation-adjusted price trend over the last 110 years…

Cu, Ni and W have slightly negative slopes; while Cr and Sn have slightly positive slopes… Only chromium’s (R^2 = 0.3187) and copper’s (R^2 = 0.1719) trend lines approach statistical significance.

While the inflation adjusted price of these metals is a good measure of affordability, it is not a complete measure. The price is only relevant if it is measured against the financial resources available. Relative to world real per capita GDP all five metals have become more affordable since 1969…

The GDP slope is positive and highly statistically significant (R^2 = 0.98). The GDP slope (81.354) is almost three times larger than the largest positive metal slope (Ni, 32.506).

More importantly, from a scarcity perspective, the production output of all five metals has been rising over time. Four are rising exponentially …

While the ratio of price to output has been declining exponentially…

If these metals were becoming more scarce, the price would be rising faster than the supply.

The USGS estimates that the current prover reserves of all five metals are sufficient to meet demand for the next 20 to 59 years. For “fun” I estimated the crustal mass of all five metals and estimated how long it would take to literally run out at the current production rate…

Debunking the Population Bomb Dud

The human popupation hit the seven billion mark last fall…

Published online 19 October 2011 | Nature 478, 300 (2011) | doi:10.1038/478300a

News

Seven billion and counting
A look behind this month’s global population landmark reveals a world in transition.

Jeff Tollefson

What’s in a number? This month, the world’s attention turns to a big one: 7 billion, the latest milestone in humanity’s remarkable and worrying rise in population.

[...]

On one level, a figure of 7 billion is incredible for the sheer momentum it represents: a full doubling of the planet’s population since 1967, with current growth adding 200,000 people each day, and a nation larger than the size of France each year. But although the 6-billion mark was reached about 13 years ago according to revised figures, it will take nearly 14 years to hit 8 billion (see ‘Snapshots of growth’). The comparison shows that population growth is decelerating; it is likely to level off at about 10 billion before the end of the century.

Between now and then, the fastest growth will be in Africa, where fertility levels remain higher than anywhere else in the world. Population levels among industrialized countries, by contrast, will remain relatively constant. Although Asia will remain the most populous continent, decreasing fertility rates there will add to the overall ‘greying’ of the planet.

[...]

Nature

The Nature article included the following graphic, indicating that the word population will most likely level off at ~10 billion ca. 2070…

Is that a problem? I don’t think so. The human race handled the rise from 3.5 to 7 billion rather well. The global per capita food supply has steadily increased since 1960…

Source: UN FAOSTAT

Per capita real GDP has risen at the same rate as the population…

Per capita food supply has also risen with the population…

And… Amazingly… Per capita food supply and per capita GDP are highly correlated…

The percentage of the world’s population suffering from undernourishment has steadily declined over the last 40 years, despite a rising population…

Very few nations have failed to reach the MDG 1 target of reducing the percentage of their population suffering from undernourishment by 50%…

The world isn’t running out of water either. The UN FAO Aquastat data base showed that in the year 2000, the world’s total renewable water resource was 53,730 x 10^9 m3/yr. The total withdrawal was estimated to be 2,871 x 10^9 m3/yr. That’s a 5% utilization rate.

The far from perect human condition doesn’t negate the fact that clear progress has been made over the last half-century to reduce hunger, despite a growing population.

Almost all of the population growth over the next 60 years will be in Africa and Asia – the two largest land masses on Earth.

Assuming that the populations of Asia and Africa reach 5 billion and 3.6 billion respectively, their population densities will be 114 and 119 people per km^2. The population densities of the rest of the world will remain about the same or decline. Asia’s density is currently 95 per km^2. The greatest stress will be on Africa, which is currently underutilizing its resources more than any other continent.

Water resources are underutilized in Africa across the board, yet conflicts between water uses are common

Africa has plenty of potentially arable land, plenty of water and plenty of resources. Africa just lacks the economic and political infrastructure to realize its own potential.

Current and potential arable land use in Africa. Out of the total land area in Africa, only a fraction is used for arable land. Using soil, land cover and climatic characteristics a FAO study has estimated the potential land area for rainfed crops, excluding built up areas and forests – neither of which would be available for agriculture. According to the study, the potential – if realised – would mean an increase ranging from 150 – 700% percent per region, with a total potential for the whole of Africa in 300 million hectares. Note that the actual arable land in 2003 is higher than the potential in a few countries, like Egypt, due to irrigation…

LINK

The “world” isn’t running out of anything. Global proven oil reserves have doubled since 1980.

Most other commercial mineral resources have seen its proven reserves grow at least as fast as consumption has grown.

The world has plenty of food, water, space, mineral resources and the Earth’s environment is generally cleaner now than it was 35 years ago. Crop yields have continued to maintain an increasing upward trend for 40 years… And there is every reason to believe that crop yields will continue to improve (unless we really are on the verge of returning to Little Ice Age climate conditions).

But it will get worse in the future!!!

The “bear” is always just out of sight in the woods. For centuries, Malthusians have trotted out one invisible bogeyman after another (Malthusians pre-date Malthus by at least a few thousand years). The disaster is just over the horizon, just around the corner or lurking in the woods.

The Earth is finite; but humans have barely tapped its resources… We will still barely be tapping the Earth’s resources when we hit the 10 billion mark about 90 years down the road… And the Malthusians will still be warning us about the bear in the woods.

The only thing the world has a genuine shortage of is honest and competent people in gov’t. Almost all of our problems are due to political interference with market forces.

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157 thoughts on “The Simon-Erlich Wager at Seven Billion People

  1. Good article.

    Incidentally, you can’t actually ‘run out’ of any metals, since they are formed in the virtually limitless earth’s crust (as opposed to fossil fuels which are formed organically, and near the top).

    We will only run out of Al, for example, when we run out of rocks, as there is Al in virtually every rock, but we only mine those parts of the crust where it is concentrated enough to be economically extractable (from weathering, tectonic forces, volcanoes or whatever).

    But the key to understanding metals, is that once you mine the most concentrated stuff, with every drop in grade there is vastly more resources available; a rule of thumb is that with every drop in grade of 10% there is ~3-10 times as much resource available. So there is 3-10 times more copper at 0.9% than 1%, and 3-10 times more at 0.8% than 0.9%, and so on. This exponential increase in resource with every drop in grade ensures we will never ‘run out’ of any metal commodity-at lower grades the size of the resource is virtually limitless, it can only get to a point when the cost of extraction may exceed the cost and effectiveness of competing materials for demand (say replacing Al with plastic, or something else). Also, resources quoted by governments are only what has been defined, and only defined at a certain cut off grade, however metals themselves are effectively limitless in supply, on a world scale.

  2. You might want to take another look at how the US government has been calculating “core” inflation over the last two decades (because I assume that is what you used to calculate your inflation-adjusted raw material prices). If, as many people argue, inflation has been seriously understated by omitting the energy and food components from the CPI calculations, you have not been adjusting your prices correctly. Suppose you instead use how much of a given raw material — copper, petroleum, etc. — one ounce of gold buys as your metric for whether the true price of raw materials has been increasing or decreasing over the last 20 years. It suspect it would make a big change in the shape of your graphs!

  3. G.K. Chesterton
    “THE answer to anyone who talks about surplus population is to ask him whether he is surplus population; or if he is not, how he knows he is not.” ~GKC: Introduction to ‘A Christmas Carol.’

  4. Certainly huge populations of a great many varieties of animals died off in the last ice age primarily because of a lack of food. The next one will include us and will be the ultimate test of our technology to see how much of our population will be culled by starvation – and war.

  5. Hi David

    Great article. As a geologist I fully agree with you.
    Make please a small correction:
    You wrote “More importantly, from a scarcity perspective, the production output of all five metals has been rising over time. Four are rising exponentially”

    The trends do not show any exponential trend because they all have arithmetic trends. You should use “more intense trends” or something similar. Exponentially must be used when we have any “J shaped” trend and that does not apply to linear fits. Looking to the values, even if you used a polynomial fit, I could barely see any exponentially.

    Cheers

  6. When viewed as a percentage of a whole this is a very effective presentation. In terms of absolute numbers however it is deceiving. There are certainly more impoverished peoples than there were a century ago – there are certainly more people without ready access to clean water than there were a century ago – there are more malnurished people than there were a century ago – there are more people without adequate health care than there were a century ago – there are more murders than there were a century ago – in fact there are many unpleasant human circumstances that in absolute terms have increased significantly over the last century
    I can confidently predict that these numbers will increase over the next century. It will get worse in the future.

  7. How about some thought into computing technology that each individual will have access to in the not too distant future, as well as in the later part of this century.
    Here is an article about an Intel 14nm fab factory to help spark some thought on what future technology will do to solve many problems that we face today.
    “The new plant is also the first volume production facility that is compatible with 450 mm wafers, which offer a substantial economic advantage over the current 300 mm generation that Intel launched with its 130 nm processor generation in 2001.”

    http://www.tomshardware.com/news/intel-fab42-14nm-cpu-factory,14545.html

    I have been researching the technology of cars and trucks being driven by computers and have come to a remarkable conclusion that in the USA alone, the economic savings, which I believe I can provide convincing arguments for, could amount to $2 trillion dollars a year that we waste today because we have no alternative (I have been studying this for 15 years now).

  8. I am afraid that honesty and competence are the scarcest of commodities amongst Africa’s political elite.

    Thanks for another good post.

  9. Human beings are unique. The more of us there are, the richer we grow. Over-populate a rat colony and you get alls sorts of shortages and pathologies. People collaborate, they share knowledge and work in teams. We compete naturally, not out of necessity, and when those competitive juices are directed towards commercial ends a beautiful thing happens; everybody is competing to serve the customer. Natural resources are of no value unless they are coupled with human ingenuity.

  10. Thanks David Middleton. This is a great article, just confirming what I’m telling for a long time.
    As for the bear in the woods, that bear is now in Government and it’s screwing things up.
    Big time.

  11. Oh, excuse me Mr. Middleton! Jeez, I wish there were an edit button!
    Excellent post! It certainly puts a whole new perspective on things!

  12. ‘…The only thing the world has a genuine shortage of is honest and competent people in gov’t.’

    Is that Malthusian?
    BTW, thanks for your work David.

  13. Excellent. Putting these claims and predictions into long-term context is very helpful.

    BTW, you use R2 as the measurement of statistical significance – by your definition (interpretation), at what point does R2 become “significant”? 0.2, 0.3, 0.4, etc.?

  14. Middleton’s final sentence is dangerously wrong.

    Commodity prices have gone wild in the last decade or two, but NOT because of population. Prices have gone wild because governments did EXACTLY WHAT MIDDLETON RECOMMENDS. They deregulated speculators.

    WE DO NOT NEED MORE DEREGULATION.

    What we need now is a return to the government rules that held from 1936 to 1990, a return to FDR’s rules. During that period speculators were a minor part of the system, so real supply and demand determined most prices.

  15. There are real things that we should all worry about, but only if we really enjoy worrying:
    1) global financial system collapse – possible but is it likely?
    2) global cooling, leading to reduced food production in the face of rising population – possible? Don’t know but more likely than worry number 1.
    3) Social collapse as the result of either worry one or two – anybody remember how to add two independent probabilities together? What if they are linked in some indeterminable manner?
    4) an aging population as the world population halts and then starts to shrink, leading in turn to reduced economic activity, more demand on medical servces and other costly and difficult to provide facilities. Probability – seems very high from here, but human inginuity has no bounds so probably not so high after all.
    5) add other worries to personal taste. Stir and mix well.

  16. williamholder you said in part on January 25, 2012 at 4:00 am:
    There are certainly more impoverished peoples than there were a century ago UNQUOTE and then you went on and on about more and more of the world’s “woes”.

    Do you have figures from an unbiased, reliable source to back up these alarming claims?
    My impression is just the opposite.

    Or are you just saying that there is more and more misery reported in the media when in reality things are getting progressively better than they were 100 years ago?

  17. thingadonta January 25, 2012 at 3:22 am
    “…. (as opposed to fossil fuels which are formed organically, and near the top).”

    Certainly for coal, but regarding petroleum, there is still the very credible abiotic oil theory suggesting a source from a continuous rise of carbon from the core…

  18. Most people seem to find that good news stories are hard to take, but we relish rolling in the dirt and in misery, particularly when it affects somebody else.

    Sort of touch wood for luck.

  19. What Ehrlich hadn’t thought of is that population growth in underdeveloped countries made for extra masses of people working in inhumane conditions in copper mines. Yes humanity is able to proliferate but are we able to make circumstances better for the majority of people on this planet. I think your are better of when a cake is divided by 8 then by 16 and that still holds when that cake doesn’t have a fixed size.

  20. Spartacus January 25, 2012 at 3:52 am

    “The trends do not show any exponential trend because they all have arithmetic trends. You should use “more intense trends” or something similar. Exponentially must be used when we have any “J shaped” trend and that does not apply to linear fits. Looking to the values, even if you used a polynomial fit, I could barely see any exponentially.”

    The left axis is logarithmic, so these “straightish” lines can be described as exponenltial.

  21. Prices of commodities have been going up of late for reasons other than scarcity. The main one is the debasement of currencies by central banks (US and EU have been on the printing press with their monetary expansion policies). In the long run, inflation should catch up so that the inflation adjusted prices of commodities will be brought lower. In the mean time, the higher recent prices mean little, and definitly do not indicate scarcity.

  22. polistra says:
    January 25, 2012 at 4:28 am
    [....]
    What we need now is a return to the government rules that held from 1936 to 1990, a return to FDR’s rules. During that period speculators were a minor part of the system, so real supply and demand determined most prices.

    It’s people who think and talk like you do that are at the bottom of much of mankind’s worst ills stemming from idiotic and deranged central planning of economies. FDR was a socialist central planner, and he along with the Democratic Party and not a few misguided Republicans are eresponsible for causing a depression to become a much larger and longer lasting Great Depression. The last thing we need is a return to such insane and cruel inhumanity. If there had been a moderate freemarket instead of a manipulated market, the depression could not have lasted more than about 24 months or so, ending about 1934-35 with a resurgence in replacing the capital infrastructure of the United States. Instead, the FDR-Democratic party policies inflicted a broken central planning market which caused food to be dumped into the Mississippi River to keep prices up while homeless and hungry people ashore tried in vain to recover the food from the polluted and disease laden river. FDR’s policies guaranteed the fixed labor costs and taxatin poicies would keep prices higher than families could afford, which resulted in the collapse of a consumer demand for products, which depressed sales and consumer demand below the level needed to increease or maintain production that provided jobs and consumer income. FDR killed the goose that laid golden aggs, and then plaintively wondered why.

  23. The human race began its ascent when we figured out how to use energy other than taking it orally. There is more energy available from the sun than we will ever be able to use, but the effort to do so will sustain the ascent of the race for a long time to come. Malthusians are Luddites; techno-optimism is a feature of the human spirit, sustainability a dead hand at the reins of a mare of the night.
    ==================

  24. Sorry about this, these little typos detract from the excellent article:…………..-.

    The USGS estimates that the current prover (n)
    The far from per(f)ect human

  25. “Gerard says:
    January 25, 2012 at 4:56 am
    What Ehrlich hadn’t thought of is that population growth in underdeveloped countries made for extra masses of people working in inhumane conditions in copper mines. Yes humanity is able to proliferate but are we able to make circumstances better for the majority of people on this planet. I think your are better of(f) when a cake is divided by 8 th(a)n by 16 and that still holds when that cake doesn’t have a fixed size.”

    Increased productivity and technological advancements enable the potential for two cakes. Distribution of wealth is exclusively determined by ignorant people in government, i.e.: Russia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Somalia, North Korea, etc., etc., etc.

  26. “At the other end of the scale, Harvard population and resource specialist Roger Revelle computes that the earth’s arable land area, if properly developed, could produce ‘edible plant material…for between 38 and 48 billion people’–ten times today’s population.”

    National Geographic, July 1975 p. 29, Can the World Feed It’s People?

  27. Doom and gloom. All is lost for Africa. :>(

    2011-09-20 – World Bank
    African countries are among the fastest growing economies in the world
    Despite a slowdown in the global economic recovery and an increasingly difficult global environment, Sub-Saharan African countries are continuing to post solid growth.

    Following a 4.6 percent expansion in 2010, the region’s output is expected to grow by 4.8 percent this year (5.8 percent excluding South Africa) and by more than 5 percent in 2012 and 2013.

    Indeed, African countries are amongst the fastest growing countries in the world:

    http://blogs.worldbank.org/africacan/node/2036

    and

    Dec 3rd 2011 – The Economist
    Over the past decade six of the world’s ten fastest-growing countries were African. In eight of the past ten years, Africa has grown faster than East Asia, including Japan. Even allowing for the knock-on effect of the northern hemisphere’s slowdown, the IMF expects Africa to grow by 6% this year and nearly 6% in 2012, about the same as Asia.

    http://www.economist.com/node/21541015

    I don’t know the cause but I’m guessing fewer outright dictators, more free elections and the mobile phone. I could be wrong though.

  28. a reader says:
    January 25, 2012 at 5:35 am

    And that was using 1975 agricultural technology. Using modern technology you could probably double or triple that number.

  29. Sorry, but this article is grossly flawed. It is entirely geological. Our dependancy on resources is not just what’s in the ground, but how fast it can be extracted. The prime example in this article is the claim of oil reserves doubling. That’s irrelevant. What’s important in oil production is the rate of production vs the demand. That was not taken into account in this article.

  30. coincidentally I just managed to get not the pop bomb but the Pop explosion from library.
    I plan to add notes to divert future readers( so far this books been out? 4!! times in over 10 years) not many I figure will be reading it.. but the statements that once a metal is formed to something its gone forever?
    hell its recycled reused for other items or even as rust its Never gone forever just metamorphosing.
    the panic he was pushing over the approaching 5 billion is funny.
    so far only a teensy fraction of his words are even maybe credible.
    the ones that cracked me up is one page stating weather is NOT climate( he quotes Hansimian a lot) the over page hes stating that ONE year 88 the usa russia etc had a massive drought and crop losses, so that was suddenly climate and we should all panic.. and he was miffed the usa govt didnt..
    gee sometimes us govt does get it right? musta been an accident. they happen:-)
    ehrlich also blamed humans for the middle of aus being desertified. uh uh 60k years of humans here at best, and the middle areas were crap then.
    he was feted over here on one of his frequent visits(he says) to aus to promote the whole Eugenics argument all over again tied to AGW of course. ABC biased radio featured him heavily, along with Dick Smith and cos opinions.
    not ONE report on the opposing side of course.

  31. There’s nothing new under the Sun.

    In the mid-19th Century many learned people believed that industrial civilisation was doomed. It was built on coal, and the coal was running out. The great economist W. Stanley Jevons pointed out that coal reserves were estimates, and coal was not the only possible source of energy. If coal did get scarce, the price mechanism would invite substitution.

    The ‘Coal Question’ was the Malthusian argument of its day. They never go away, these Malthusians. In the 1970s we had the Club of Rome, the (ludicrous) Forrester-Meadows models, a memorable Newsweek cover announcing “Running Out Of Everything”, and students grooving on Limits to Growth.

    In the 2010s we have… same old, same old.

    It’s infinitely depressing. Simon was right – real prices have always gone down. Only the massive and rapid industrialisation of half the world has caused the 2000s to be an age of temporary price rises.

    PS: afizifist says (January 25, 2012 at 5:14 am) re Aqua ch5.

    A couple more weeks of decline and it’ll be off the graph! Are we sure these figures are right and not instrumental error? If they’re right it’s a tad worrying!

  32. Dave,
    I don’t want to be a pessimist, but a some factors of the near future are troubling. The main one is that the temperature trend seems to be heading down, at least for a while. The warming trend along with increasing CO2 occurring over the last century allowed more crops than was otherwise possible. The cooling may lower crop output enough to cause problems. The possibility of Earth’s magnetic field reversing, which seems to be tending toward, could greatly impact power transmission, crops, and communication for a long while. The aquafers like the big one under Texas are being depleted to dangerous levels. All the while more population in parts of the world require more food and other resources. These problems can be handled by technology, but governments seem to have their heads on backward, and may not allow needed progress. The metal issue is not a problem, but other factors may be.

  33. The inflation adjustments are notoriously low in the US. This is political, since the costs of pensions are tied to the official inflation rate. If you used more accurate inflation adjustments, I be Simon still wins most of the time.

  34. Great post. I have often thought that assuming that people are free to pursue their own ends resources would easily be amply available. However there is one resource that is by by definition more limited. And that is land. My Grandfather who was born in 1911 always said “they are always making more people, but they aren’t making any more land” . While technically not true ( I think they did it in the UAE) the sentiment has struck me as accurate. It would be interesting to perform the same analysis on land (not structures) I suspect that the inflation adjusted price would have risen in almost any time frame.

  35. @ Greylar says:
    January 25, 2012 at 6:29 am

    Great post. I have often thought that assuming that people are free to pursue their own ends resources would easily be amply available. However there is one resource that is by by definition more limited. And that is land. My Grandfather who was born in 1911 always said “they are always making more people, but they aren’t making any more land” . While technically not true ( I think they did it in the UAE) the sentiment has struck me as accurate. It would be interesting to perform the same analysis on land (not structures) I suspect that the inflation adjusted price would have risen in almost any time frame.

    Your Grandfather was wrong. Land is being made. Primarily due to oceanic volcanic activity, etc. That said, there is a significant percentage of land that is not habitable due to being a desert, altitude, and so forth. But that also changes on geologic time scales. People need to be a little patient, is all.

  36. williamholder says: .. in fact there are many unpleasant human circumstances that in absolute terms have increased significantly over the last century …

    That isn’t true, name them. There has always been suffering and it was far worse 100 years ago For example, modern medical advances have benefited almost every person on the planet to some extent with some of the most minor things having a profoundly beneficial affect such as vaccines. Just consider the impact of people simply knowing that clean water helps prevent disease or to avoid smoke from dung cooking fires, etc.

  37. “Almost all of our problems are due to political interference with market forces.”

    Not that i’m in favour of more government, but hasn’t the increase in government closely followed, or led (causal/correlation issues notwithstanding), the growth in GDP, kcals per capita, volume of metals and oil extracted, etc.?

    The author hasn’t shown his political statement to be true. Moreover, he contradicts himself with this statement: “Africa just lacks the economic and political infrastructure to realize its own potential.”

  38. Erratum

    The world isn’t running out of water either. The UN FAO Aquastat data base showed that in the year 2000, the world’s total renewable water resource was 53,730 x 10^9 m3/yr. The total withdrawal was estimated to be 2,871 x 10^9 m3/yr. That’s a 5% utilization rate.

    After a more detailed review of the Aquastat data, I noticed that many nations did not list water withdrawal amounts. So I removed all of the incomplete nations and revised the calculations. The most complete year in the FAO Aquastat database was 2000. Resource and withdrawal data are available for 144 countries…

    2000 Water resources: total renewable (actual) (10^9 m3/yr): 45,701
    2000 Total water withdrawal (10^9 m3/yr): 2,846
    2000 Utilization Rate: 6%

    There are areas in the world, like the Middle East and North Africa, where water utilization approaches the renewable resource… However, the world has plenty of water to support 10 billion people.

    As a group, the top ten water consumers withdrew 14% of their renewable water resources in 2000.

  39. Back before Climategate 1.0 I had gotten interested in population growth and to my surprise, there were and still are countries and regions where population is stable, and even falling. Eastern Europe comes to mind. I had read Erlich’s book back in the ’70s and that overpopulation issue still resonated somewhere in the back of my mind so I was interested to find that there were countries that were actually depopulating and that process of depopulating was far from pleasant. From some research, I have long since concluded that there are not too many humans on the planet and while we affect the environment, so does everything else.

    Resources is another bogy-man. We are awash in useful resources not even considering that we can reduce, reuse, and recycle many materials; substitute materials, and make new materials.

    Energy is infinite from the sun. All else fails, space-based or moon-base solar power would provide all the energy we could use; but with our workable if not excellent energy infrastructure, what’s the motivation for something as exotic as that? We can use what we have now for some time with no problems.

    I wholeheartedly agree that our problems are man-made. Our political institutions need reform. One thing all of us in democracies can do is participate more fully in the political process – stay in touch with your representatives and give them your thoughts. It is possible to make constructive changes and prevent nonsense. Happens all the time.

    Finally, consider another bogy-man – the so-called graying of a population. It is possible to grow wise or at least well informed as one ages; and it is also quite possible to stay fit and healthy. But it requires virtuous living to age with grace IMHO; and virtue is sadly in much shorter supply than industrial metals.

  40. ZZZ says:
    January 25, 2012 at 3:38 am
    You might want to take another look at how the US government has been calculating “core” inflation over the last two decades (because I assume that is what you used to calculate your inflation-adjusted raw material prices). If, as many people argue, inflation has been seriously understated by omitting the energy and food components from the CPI calculations, you have not been adjusting your prices correctly. Suppose you instead use how much of a given raw material — copper, petroleum, etc. — one ounce of gold buys as your metric for whether the true price of raw materials has been increasing or decreasing over the last 20 years. It suspect it would make a big change in the shape of your graphs!

    The inflation adjustment is from the USGS. I’m pretty sure it’s based on CPI.

    If I used a more accurate inflation adjustment, Erlich would become more wrong.

  41. Spartacus says:
    January 25, 2012 at 3:52 am
    Hi David

    Great article. As a geologist I fully agree with you.
    Make please a small correction:
    You wrote “More importantly, from a scarcity perspective, the production output of all five metals has been rising over time. Four are rising exponentially”

    The trends do not show any exponential trend because they all have arithmetic trends. You should use “more intense trends” or something similar. Exponentially must be used when we have any “J shaped” trend and that does not apply to linear fits. Looking to the values, even if you used a polynomial fit, I could barely see any exponentially.

    Cheers

    Yeah… I should have worded that better. Maybe… “Four are exhibiting accelerating growth rates.”

  42. To adjust what
    williamholder says:
    January 25, 2012 at 4:00 am
    When viewed as a percentage of a whole this is a very effective presentation. In terms of absolute numbers however it is deceiving. There are certainly “many” more “wealthy” people than there were a century ago – there are certainly “many” more people “with” ready access to clean water than there were a century ago – there are “many” more overweight people than there were a century ago – there are “many” more people “with” adequate health care than there were a century ago – there are more “people living longer” than there were a century ago – in fact there are many “pleasant” human circumstances that in absolute terms have increased significantly over the last century
    I can confidently predict that these numbers will increase over the next century. It will get “better” in the future.

    Changes in ” “.
    Plus compairing todays health care to a century ago is almost meaningless.

  43. afizifist says:
    January 25, 2012 at 5:14 am
    “Sorry if i’m a bit heavy on this but this is supposed to be a climate blog …”
    Umm…? No! Read the title banner again
    “Commentary on puzzling things in life, nature, science, weather, climate chagne, technology, and recent news by Anthony Watts”
    I started ready this blog because of a Windows XP post that helped me fix a problem with my computer.

  44. Tony Hansen says:
    January 25, 2012 at 4:20 am
    ‘…The only thing the world has a genuine shortage of is honest and competent people in gov’t.’

    Is that Malthusian?
    BTW, thanks for your work David.

    It would only be Malthusian if I thought Ron White was correct… ;)

  45. Overall, an excellent article. But there are some problems. First problem is that technology has “rerouted” a certain amount of metal consumption into alternate materials. e.g. How much chrome plate do you see on a modern car? If we still used materials in the fashion and amounts that we did three decades ago, the consumption and price of metals would probably be higher

    Second, modern civilization requires large amounts of energy. AFAICS, there are only four energy sources capable of supplying the rougly 3×10^15 btu per day that 10 billion folks will need to live in reasonable comfort — nuclear fission, nuclear fusion, fossil hydrocarbons (but they may be running short by the end of this century), and possibly solar. It’s not clear how to build out the energy infrastructure and how much the energy will cost.

    Third. Water. It’s heavy and expensive to move. It may well be true that only 5% of water resources are currently utilized. But vast amounts of water in the North American lake belt or the Amazon basin, aren’t much help to the guy trying to raise tomatoes in Bakersfield or Cairo. A lot of agriculture is currently dependent on mining diminishing amounts of fossil water in arid or semi-arid regions. That’s almost certainly not sustainable.

  46. On the water resource issue, there’s a major pilot project underway in the Middle East to capture water from the exhaust of power plants. If it flies it will augment the available supplies in those arid regions and provide a strong incentive to use gas instead of flaring it.

  47. polistra says:
    January 25, 2012 at 4:28 am
    Middleton’s final sentence is dangerously wrong.

    Commodity prices have gone wild in the last decade or two, but NOT because of population. Prices have gone wild because governments did EXACTLY WHAT MIDDLETON RECOMMENDS. They deregulated speculators.

    WE DO NOT NEED MORE DEREGULATION.

    What we need now is a return to the government rules that held from 1936 to 1990, a return to FDR’s rules. During that period speculators were a minor part of the system, so real supply and demand determined most prices.

    The commodity price spikes in the 1970’s to early 1980’s were worse than the 2007-2008 spikes.

    Periodic supply-demand imbalances will always lead to episodic price spikes and crashes, irrespective of regulation. Price controls actually exacerbate the problem…

    In the election year of 1980 interest rates peaked at 21%, the highest since the Civil War. The so-called energy crisis still persisted. Unemployment and poverty rates were high. Ronald Reagan took the oath of office during the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Was this the final crisis of capitalism that leftists, beginning with Karl Marx, had long predicted?

    Ronald Reagan didn’t think so. He came to Washington with the most ambitious program since the New Deal and a serene confidence that its adoption would turn the country around. He advanced a program of across-the-board tax cuts, deregulation and inflation-fighting, even at the cost of considerable economic pain.

    Immediately after delivering his inaugural address in 1981 Reagan performed his first official act as President: He signed an executive order eliminating price controls on gasoline that had been in place for a decade. Yes, price controls. Incredible as it may now seem, some of Reagan’s predecessors, Richard Nixon among them, had believed price controls could curb inflation. Critics of Reagan’s action, like Senator Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), warned that without government-imposed limits gas prices would rise to $2 a gallon. Instead, they fell dramatically; and have remained low. With a stroke of his pen Reagan had ended the energy crisis.

    LINK

  48. I don’t see a graph of square miles per capita (or people per square mile for that matter) in each continent and region over time, and price of land per square mile over time.

    I’m reminded of a relative’s letter back in the 1830s, saying someone had offered them $60K for their 10K acres, but couldn’t bring themselves to accept so much; it just wouldn’t be ethical. It’s now a nice refinery, chemical feed-stock plant, shipping docks… And others who paid $0.75 to $1.50 for their annual property taxes on their square mile of land, so property taxes might be a separate indicator.

    Closely (but not rigidly) tied to that, and to development of computing, are the massively increasing violations of privacy with idiot-meters (electricity and water), “interactive” cable TV “services” which track viewing, surveillance cameras along streets (some cities have 2 sets — one allegedly for monitoring traffic flow and the other for “crime prevention”), in businesses (yes, you are our valued customer, so we will begin by insulting you), searches at transportation nexuses, transaction kkkards…

    What’s the price of that potable water per gallon?

    “Speculators” serve as insurance. They even out prices, and reduce risks by taking the costs of them on themselves.

    “1) global financial system collapse – possible but is it likely?” Already happened. We’re just waiting for the distortions to wash through and out of the economic system.

    CPI is under-representing effects of inflation even when food and energy are included, and the definition changes have diverted it from the implicit claptrap def, er, uh, implicit GDP deflator and the WPI/PPI. These 3 used to be tightly twined until the changes of the early 1990s. Since then, they show extreme parting of ways.

    http://www.kermitrose.com/jgoMoney.html

    has graphs, links to shadowstats, the Fed, Oregon State and other price indices and money supply.

  49. “Per capita food supply has also risen with the population…”
    Yikes! We’re getting ever fatter! We’re doomed…
    (Sorry. Had to find SOMETHING dystopian.)

  50. The later you adjust your economy (and this goes for Europe too) the harder the “shock” that will be needed to do it, and the harder and longer the times you will have to live; and if, as all the posts published here in WUWT forecast, we have entered a cycle where climate conditions will not be precisely “ideal”, in special for the northern hemisphere, then time is due for such adjustments. An alternative way out for this situation would be to open your frontiers, and those of Europe, to immigration, which would mean more working people, more buyers, more production, more market.

  51. ZZZ says:
    January 25, 2012 at 3:38 am
    …use how much of a given raw material — copper, petroleum, etc. — one ounce of gold buys as your metric for whether the true price of raw materials has been increasing or decreasing over the last 20 years. It suspect it would make a big change in the shape of your graphs!
    ——————————————————————–
    Year Ni Au Au/Ni
    1980 3.00 850 283
    1990 8.50 400 47
    2000 2.50 275 110
    2010 9.00 1100 122

    Looks like the ratio of gold to nickel was twice as much in 1980 as in 2010. You’re right ZZZ. It makes a big difference.

  52. David says:
    January 25, 2012 at 5:06 am
    Prices of commodities have been going up of late for reasons other than scarcity. The main one is the debasement of currencies by central banks (US and EU have been on the printing press with their monetary expansion policies). In the long run, inflation should catch up so that the inflation adjusted prices of commodities will be brought lower. In the mean time, the higher recent prices mean little, and definitly do not indicate scarcity.

    Yep. Oil is trading at a 40-50:1 multiple realtive to natural gas in the USA; but only at a 12:1 multiple over natural gas in Europe and 6:1 multiple over LNG in Japan.

    The Oil:Gas multiple shot up when QE1 kicked in. Crude oil is a global commodity priced in USD. Natural gas is not a global commodity. QE1 caused the price of oil to rise by about 50% relative to the price of natural gas. QE1 devalued the USD.

    The collapse in US natural gas prices relative to other industrialized nations was primarily caused by the surge in shale gas production. However, the price has remained depressed because natural gas is not very fungible.

  53. Tim Clark says:
    January 25, 2012 at 5:23 am
    Sorry about this, these little typos detract from the excellent article:…………..-.

    The USGS estimates that the current prover (n)
    The far from per(f)ect human

    I noticed those typos after I submitted the post… Argh! I hate typos and spelling & grammar errors. As a guest poster, I can’t edit my posts after I submit them for review.

  54. Asking if we should lower our consumption is equivalent to asking if our grandparent should have used less wood and coal. I think not.

  55. jrwakefield says:
    January 25, 2012 at 5:56 am
    Sorry, but this article is grossly flawed. It is entirely geological. Our dependancy on resources is not just what’s in the ground, but how fast it can be extracted. The prime example in this article is the claim of oil reserves doubling. That’s irrelevant. What’s important in oil production is the rate of production vs the demand. That was not taken into account in this article.

    It was not taken into account because the world can’t consume more petroleum than it produces. Even the oil in SPR’s was “consumed” when it was purchased to fill the SPR’s.

    In 2009 the average daily consumption of oil was 84,077,000 barrels. While the average daily production of crude oil was only 79,948,000 barrels. While that might appear to be a 5% deficit; it is not. The difference is made up by non-petroleum additives, refinery gains, etc. The United States produces more than 3 million barrels of “oil” per day more than its crude oil production. When you add in natural gas liquids and other liquefied petroleum products produced in natural gas plants, out total daily oil production is ~9.5 million barrels per day.

  56. Chris B says:
    January 25, 2012 at 7:01 am
    “Almost all of our problems are due to political interference with market forces.”

    Not that i’m in favour of more government, but hasn’t the increase in government closely followed, or led (causal/correlation issues notwithstanding), the growth in GDP, kcals per capita, volume of metals and oil extracted, etc.?

    The author hasn’t shown his political statement to be true. Moreover, he contradicts himself with this statement: “Africa just lacks the economic and political infrastructure to realize its own potential.”

    The increase in “rule of law” governance helps to enable growth. Western capitalist democracies are all “rule of law” governments (even the Obama administration is somewhat restrained by “rule of law”).

    Most undeveloped and developing nations tend to have governments that are less restrained by “rule of law.”

  57. Chris B says: … Moreover, he contradicts himself with this statement: “Africa just lacks the economic and political infrastructure to realize its own potential.”

    No, just slightly redundant if he means free market capitalism as ‘economic infrastructure’. When you create wealth others will envy it. Politics determines whether they can just take it away from you, (socialism, no one produces enough for themselves=misery), or they also create wealth and everyone is rich, (capitalism, everyone produces more than enough for themselves=surplus). William Bradford discovered this a long time ago.

  58. Leonard Weinstein says:
    January 25, 2012 at 6:05 am
    Dave,
    I don’t want to be a pessimist, but a some factors of the near future are troubling. The main one is that the temperature trend seems to be heading down, at least for a while. The warming trend along with increasing CO2 occurring over the last century allowed more crops than was otherwise possible. The cooling may lower crop output enough to cause problems. The possibility of Earth’s magnetic field reversing, which seems to be tending toward, could greatly impact power transmission, crops, and communication for a long while. The aquafers like the big one under Texas are being depleted to dangerous levels. All the while more population in parts of the world require more food and other resources. These problems can be handled by technology, but governments seem to have their heads on backward, and may not allow needed progress. The metal issue is not a problem, but other factors may be

    Dr. Weinstein,

    The way I view groundwater is similar to the way I view mineral resources in general… Every oil & gas field and every mine eventually becomes depleted; yet our production of almost all mineral resources and our proved reserves of those resources have steadily increased. Groundwater aquifers, unlike oil, gas and most other mineral resources, are continuously recharged at rates relevant to human consumption. In the oil & gas business, reservoir management is essential. It’s the way we maximize our profits. The key is to manage reservoirs so that the maximum volume of reserves can be recovered economically. There’s no reason that groundwater aquifers can’t be better managed.

    I agree with you on the cooling. I’m fairly certain that Earth’s climate will hit the end of the current warm phase of the millennial-scale cycle by the end of this century. If the cool down mimics the Little Ice Age, mankind could be in for some rough times; particularly if we eviscerate our economy “tilting at windmills” of global warming.

  59. as the ‘story’ goes: wasn’t manbearpig a student of either erlich or holdren and present when the meeting took place. and further stories…didnt they ask some students to come up with what metals they would use for the bet and algore was part of that?? fairy tale or truth? anyone know?

  60. Don K:

    “First problem is that technology has “rerouted” a certain amount of metal consumption into alternate materials. e.g. How much chrome plate do you see on a modern car? If we still used materials in the fashion and amounts that we did three decades ago, the consumption and price of metals would probably be higher”

    That’s entirely Simon’s point.

  61. Greylar says:
    January 25, 2012 at 6:29 am

    Everytime someone builds a multi-story building, they are making more land.

  62. Chris B says:
    January 25, 2012 at 7:01 am

    Multiple studies have shown that size of growth and size of govt are inversely proportional.
    The US’s economy was growing much, much faster, decades ago, when govt was much, much smaller.

  63. @David Middlelton: Groundwater aquifers, unlike oil, gas and most other mineral resources, are continuously recharged at rates relevant to human consumption
    That´s correct, though, as for the recent findings in Brazil and Norway, oil is the same….and methane (natural gas) is continuously produced as pesky humans and other carbon based creatures keep on defecating.

  64. “The Earth is finite”

    Of course, this is true, but if you are trying to imply that the Earth’s resources available to humans are finite as well, it’s only true in the technical sense. The Earth’s resources are essentially (or practically) infinite because we can not destroy matter. Apart from radioactive stuff changing and the tiny amount of stuff we fling into space, all the stuff we “use up” is still here. We just change its form – it does not go away . It can, given the right circumstances, all be reclaimed. (Especially when we talk aboiut metals or water. The earlier post about supply increasing as the grade goes down is excellent. When we talk about stuff like oil, “reclaiming” is a bit tricky… :-) … but all the pieces are still here!)

    Today’s landfill is the Future’s Mother Lode.

    I never thought much of Malthus.

  65. “Africa has plenty of potentially arable land, plenty of water and plenty of resources. Africa just lacks the economic and political infrastructure to realize its own potential.”

    ###
    Because its overrun with Marxists. The last thing Marxist want is for anyone to actually get out of poverty,

  66. thingadonta says:
    January 25, 2012 at 3:22 am

    Incidentally, you can’t actually ‘run out’ of any metals, since they are formed in the virtually limitless earth’s crust (as opposed to fossil fuels which are formed organically, and near the top).

    I will grant you that on the grand scheme of things, humanity worrying about running out of metals is akin to a single colony of ants worrying about running out of rocks and dirt from the top of mount Everest. However… yes you can actually exhaust the metal supply of a planet. Mind you, it would take a race of far greater technological capability than our own, but it can be done. Metals are not formed in earths crust, they’re formed in supernovas, and ONLY there. They manifest in our crust because of internal heat and pressure inside the Earth.

    /sorry, its the internet, so someone somewhere hates your generalizations.

  67. And to just rub salt in the wounds of the Malthus followers that your article so eloquently cut ….

    We haven’t even begun to exploit the resources of space yet. The book that turned me from pessimistic to optimistic about the future of mankind was Gerard K O’Neill’s “The High Frontier” (yes I’m that old). Give that book to any Malthus follower and get them to read it.

    With just the material in free space, namely the asteroid belt, we could build 2000 times the surface area of Earth. Of course there are huge challenges to doing it but we will get there.

  68. williamholder says:
    January 25, 2012 at 4:00 am

    When viewed as a percentage of a whole this is a very effective presentation. In terms of absolute numbers however it is deceiving. There are certainly more impoverished peoples than there were a century ago – there are certainly more people without ready access to clean water than there were a century ago – there are more malnurished people than there were a century ago – there are more people without adequate health care than there were a century ago – there are more murders than there were a century ago – in fact there are many unpleasant human circumstances that in absolute terms have increased significantly over the last century
    I can confidently predict that these numbers will increase over the next century. It will get worse in the future.

    The percentage improvements will do just fine, and the absolute numbers will improve radically, when the population peaks and starts to decline. David, you shouldn’t cede the assumptions of the “medium” band of the UN Population Survey. It also has high and low bands — and the low band is always right. In fact, the lower bound of the low band is the best estimator, historically. The center of the low band now says peak 8 bn by 2045:
    UN spreadsheet; click the “Low” tab

  69. TRM;
    Another estimate I’ve seen is that a 1-mi diameter nickle-iron asteroid noodged into Earth orbit would yield (substantially pre-sorted) as much precious metals as have been mined from the crust to date. And huge amounts of base metals for space-based constructions. The current prices applied to the precious metals, btw, would extrapolate to about $1 million per capita for the planet.

    No matter the cost of the “noodging” operation, or extraction facilities, that’s one helluvan ROI!

  70. Mr Kedroski way of calculating a race sounds like somebody who loses every race but claims he would’ve won if he had but a faster car and been closer to the finish line at start of the race.

    Oh no sir, Mr policeman I didn’t speed, check my statistics covering my whole driving career…oh, sorry wait, we have to start at 1982, since then the average would be spot on the current here speed limit. :p

  71. We never seem to run out of proofs that Malthus was wrong or new Malthus-like claims.
    But they all miss the point. Malthus believers do not believe because of their theories, they propose their theories because of what they believe. And that is simple: there are too many people and it’s getting worse. Over the course of a lifetime, change is obvious. Some things get better, but the golden age is always in the past. There is some over-romanticizing, but there is also some truth to that. Would I want to go live in India? No way. But people adapt amazingly well, so we will all end up living in India (in effect) and not think much of it.

    The “proofs” for and against Malthus are all about running out of resources. Those resources have a way of being there when needed that cannot be forecast. The real question is: can the political and social and cultural systems keep up with the population growth? Will the happiness level or standard of living go up or down? Unfortunately, that question is not any easier to answer.

    Did the Roman empire fall apart because of resource reasons or social reasons? (rhetorical question)

  72. Rob Crawford says:
    January 25, 2012 at 8:59 am
    Don K:
    “ First problem . . . “

    That’s entirely Simon’s point.
    —————————————–

    Ahh! Now we have a third useful statement:
    The Stone Age did not end for a lack of stones.
    The horse-powered society did not end for a lack of horses.

    The chrome plate auto did not end for a lack of chrome.

    LOL! http://www.freecarkits.com/chromemercedes.htm

  73. IMHO there is no way it will take until 2070 to hit the high point. The fall in fecundity, world wide, is spectacular. It is even happening in places where it’s not supposed to such as poor majority Muslim countries. Sure, some places are still above replacement but such places also still have relatively high mortality. Meanwhile, a number of places are now so far below replacement they are already out of the game and in some cases may already be in a non recoverable flat spin. My own bet it, peak population 15 years from now, max. And then …

  74. I think the author over-estimates the population growth of Asia. China, Japan, the Koreas, Thailand, and even Indonesia (the world’s most populous Muslim nation) all have birth rates below replacement levels; Japan and China have maintained TFRs (Total Fertility Rates) at or below 1.6 children per female for over 2 decades. Japan is now losing population. China is only half a generation behind. Even India is seeing its birthrates plunge, and could have TFRs below replacement levels during the next generation. Russia and Europe, as everyone knows, are demographically in crisis. And even th more traditionally high birthrate nations of North Africa have seen birthrates plunge to or below replacement levels this past decade.

    Yes, Africa will be the only continent that actually adds significantly to its population. But much of East Asia and the Middle East (save Yemen and Afghanistan) are following in Europe’s path. In South America and Central America birthrates generall have declined from 5.9-6.0 in 1970 (Mexico and Brazil) to around 2.4 (Mexico) to 1.8 (Brazil) in 2010. At current trends these nations will go below replacement levels during the next 10-15 years (if they haven’t already gone there).

    Statistically speaking, it is much more difficult to recover lost populations (discounting immigration) when a nation drops below 2.0 children per female over extended periods of time, as the pool of fertile women also shrinks. In the case of Japan, China, Greece, Germany, Italy, and Russia, it is almost impossible; the current younger generations of women would have to begin having between 6-10 children, and thier children would have to maintain that birthrate for another generation – a highly unlikely scenario. From a purely economic perspective, the consequences are obvious. Almost all of the wealthiest nations on earth will see thier populations level out or shrink the next 30-50 years. Mainy people only look at the loss of producers; but the loss of consumers is also very important. How many investors are willing to risk thier capital with markets that will be shrinking? Only throught consolidation and mergers will corporations be able to maintain economies of scale. And despite the demand for food and resoucrce coming out of Africa, there will be net decreases in demand for energy, food, and consumer goods over-all. This will not be a radical change, but a long uneven and steady change in our global populations. Aging populations consume and produce less than younger ones;

    In many ways, the Alarmists will be happy.In 30 years there will be less consumption of energy and food. But there will also be a leveling off and reduction in standards of living.

  75. “”””” Spartacus says:

    January 25, 2012 at 3:52 am

    Hi David

    Great article. As a geologist I fully agree with you.
    Make please a small correction:
    You wrote “More importantly, from a scarcity perspective, the production output of all five metals has been rising over time. Four are rising exponentially”

    The trends do not show any exponential trend because they all have arithmetic trends. “””””

    I thought so too, then I noticed the vertical axis is logarithmic, not linear, so they do seem to be exponential growth.

  76. Interesting information David.

    I’m sorry you didn’t include one very important graphic; maybe you have the data available to you.

    Years ago during the plasticine age, Scientific American published a special issue on energy I think it was, and a very interesting paper plotted FOOD OUTPUT versus ENERGY INPUT for all kinds of global societies.
    “Eskimos” for example increased their food production (seals etc) using the energy of powder in the bullets they shot the seals with, instead of harpooning them, and also the gasoline for their snow mobiles that replaced sled dogs or human sled pulling.

    The overall result was that regardless of technology, world food production increased linearly with energy input .

    In other words if the USA doesn’t get energy, the world doesn’t get food.

    Only France and New Zealand were significantly off the world line in the direction of being more efficient at converting energy into food. In both cases it was attributed to unique weather conditions for those two places, and neither one was of great significance in terms of total global food supply.

    Is this something you could extract current data for and show us, it would be most illuminating, in this era of energy abhorence.

  77. Brian H says:
    January 25, 2012 at 10:50 am

    [...]

    The percentage improvements will do just fine, and the absolute numbers will improve radically, when the population peaks and starts to decline. David, you shouldn’t cede the assumptions of the “medium” band of the UN Population Survey. It also has high and low bands — and the low band is always right. In fact, the lower bound of the low band is the best estimator, historically. The center of the low band now says peak 8 bn by 2045:
    UN spreadsheet; click the “Low” tab

    You’re absolutely correct. I should have thought of that. The true most likely scenario almost always tracks at or below the alarmists’ lowest case scenario.

  78. BrianH:
    A great meteorite story is at the end of Peary’s “Northward Over the Great Ice” vol.2. He describes the 3 meteorites that he found at Cape York in the arctic and managed to remove in the late 1890’s. The largest, the “Ahnighito”, was 90-100 tons, and if I’m reading the assay correctly, was 92% iron, 7% nickel and the rest traces of “other”. I assume there may be others buried here or there, although these 3 were exposed and had been used for centuries by the Eskimos to make their tools.

  79. SteveSadlov says:
    January 25, 2012 at 11:20 am

    IMHO there is no way it will take until 2070 to hit the high point.

    Steve, see my post just above referencing the UN Population Survey spreadsheet, pointing out the low band estimates. It’s historically been right; indeed, its lower edge has the best record. The band estimate is 8 bn by ’45, then dropping. Elsewhere, someone who seemed to have full data base access said the lower edge shows <8 bn by 2035 as the peak.

    Not as soon as your 2027 estimate, but getting there.

  80. George E. Smith; says:
    January 25, 2012 at 11:21 am
    “”””” Spartacus says:

    January 25, 2012 at 3:52 am

    [...]

    I thought so too, then I noticed the vertical axis is logarithmic, not linear, so they do seem to be exponential growth.

    I used a log scale because it the annual production numbers varied by several orders of magnitude.

  81. If you think the Malthusians were wailing loudly at the 7 billion mark,
    just wait until old age is abolished for their screams to be deafening,
    especially when anti-aging is advanced enough for the old to reproduce.

  82. David Middleton says:
    January 25, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Brian H says:
    January 25, 2012 at 10:50 am

    . The center of the low band now says peak 8 bn by 2045:
    UN spreadsheet; click the “Low” tab

    You’re absolutely correct. I should have thought of that. The true most likely scenario almost always tracks at or below the alarmists’ lowest case scenario.

    David, the implications are immense. I’ve never seen a proper, or even a half-vast, assessment of the consequences at the level of detail of this posting. Care to consider a re-do??
    ;)

  83. @ William Holder

    there are more murders than there were a century ago

    Some other people have addressed your other mistakes, but I picked this one because it is the most egregious..

    Did you think to check before you made this statement? You know, use facts, rather than make them up? The murder rate in 1911 was higher in the US than it is now. Nationally it was 5.5 per 100,000, compared to 4.8 now.

    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FB0E16F63A5E13738DDDAA0894D8415B828DF1D3

  84. Mooloo says:
    January 25, 2012 at 11:45 am

    @ William Holder

    there are more murders than there were a century ago

    Some other people have addressed your other mistakes, but I picked this one because it is the most egregious..

    Did you think to check before you made this statement? You know, use facts, rather than make them up? The murder rate in 1911 was higher in the US than it is now. Nationally it was 5.5 per 100,000, compared to 4.8 now.

    Yabbut, to give the ijit devil his due, his point was that there were so many fewer of us then, that 0.055 x few << 0.048 x many. He doesn't accept relative improvement, he demands ABSOLUTE improvement! As I noted above, that will happen after (or immediately leading up to) the significant decline in population beginning in the '30s or '40s.

  85. JP;
    Statistically speaking, it is much more difficult to recover lost populations (discounting immigration) when a nation drops below 2.0 children per female over extended periods of time, as the pool of fertile women also shrinks. In the case of Japan, China, Greece, Germany, Italy, and Russia, it is almost impossible; the current younger generations of women would have to begin having between 6-10 children, and thier their children would have to maintain that birthrate for another generation – a highly unlikely scenario.

    No problem-O!! See A. Huxley, Brave New World. Artificial wombs, or surrogate gestation in pigs or cows, will make up the difference.
    >8-)

  86. Don K said @ January 25, 2012 at 7:17 am

    Overall, an excellent article. But there are some problems…

    Third. Water. It’s heavy and expensive to move. It may well be true that only 5% of water resources are currently utilized. But vast amounts of water in the North American lake belt or the Amazon basin, aren’t much help to the guy trying to raise tomatoes in Bakersfield or Cairo. A lot of agriculture is currently dependent on mining diminishing amounts of fossil water in arid or semi-arid regions. That’s almost certainly not sustainable.

    There’s another problem here and it’s what got me interested in what we call sustainable agriculture (we don’t know of any agriculture yet that is sustainable indefinitely).

    Irrigation of crops in an arid climate leads to accumulation of salts in the topsoil. Once those salts reach a certain level, the land can no longer grow crops. In ancient Mesopotamia irrigation agriculture and civilisation had their beginning some 7,000 years ago. That civilisation that irrigation had enabled collapsed when the crops began to fail due to salt accumulation. Crop irrigation only works indefinitely when there’s sufficient rainfall to prevent the accumulation of salts in the soil.

    Before someone says: but we can always go to hydroponics, bear in mind the cost of production. Go dehydrate a pound of hydroponically grown tomatoes, weigh them, and then ask yourself if you are prepared to pay the same amount of money for that weight of wheat, rice, or other staple.

    FWIW, I believe the best thing we can do to mitigate this problem is double the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. That would lead to a calculated decrease in crop water needs of ~25%. But then I’m a heretic.

  87. MarkW said @ January 25, 2012 at 9:19 am

    Everytime someone builds a multi-story building, they are making more land.

    Unfortunately that’s not true. There’s a saying that the most valuable crop a farmer can grow is a housing subdivision. We build our houses on arable land in preference to land unsuitable for growing crops. Go figure…

  88. Everyone is ignoring the basic problem with resource extraction. The rate of extraction. These are indeed growth curves, and that is the problem. All growth curves have a doubling period. At 3% growth that’s a doubling period of about 25 years. That means in the next 25 years we will consume more resources than ALL OF HISTORY COMBINED. That’s what exponential growth means.

    So here are the problems going forward.

    Demand not only increases with population increase, but as poor countries modernize they consume more per person than a country with a growing population but has no modernization. Thus the doubling period of that consumption is shorter.

    Second, mining operations can only extract their resourse so fast. So as ore grades drop, not only does the production rate fall, but the energy required to extract that same amount of metal increase.

    Going forward the rate of demand will grow faster than the capable rate of extraction for crucial resources like oil, copper, chromium.

    We are like a bacterium in a test-tube that has a resource consumption double period of one week. At the 50% mark all the bacterium are claiming we’ve been here for months and have half our resources left, so there is no foreseeable problem.

  89. Nick Shaw says:
    January 25, 2012 at 4:13 am
    As far as I can see, the world is about to run out of nothing

    Do you mean we have already passed peak nothing and as nothing is indispensable, we are getting doomed by the impending lack of nothing?

  90. Gerard says:
    January 25, 2012 at 4:56 am

    What Ehrlich hadn’t thought of is that population growth in underdeveloped countries made for extra masses of people working in inhumane conditions in copper mines. Yes humanity is able to proliferate but are we able to make circumstances better for the majority of people on this planet. I think your are better of when a cake is divided by 8 then by 16 and that still holds when that cake doesn’t have a fixed size.

    To quote Arnold J. Rimmer, “Wrong, wrong, absolutely brimming over with wrongability!” You won’t be dividing a single cake 16 ways. You’ll be dividing 4 or 8 cakes 16 ways. You’ve fallen into the trap of imaging you already known how many cakes there will be, how large they are, and how many can be made, and how many you’ll need. You’ve lost the entire thread and context of the article. Willfully I presume.

  91. I see jrwakefield is on the job again, exponentiating his brain into ecstasies of impending vacuum exposure. Yawn.

    Here’s a primitive start on a technology that will turn all history’s waste products into pristine purified resources when fully developed: http://www.plascoenergygroup.com/
    Then, to power that and everything else till about the sun goes red giant, there’s this:
    LPPhysics.com (at a capital cost and output price <<10% of best current retail market.)

  92. typo: “about when the sun goes red giant…”

    Addendum: water desal, in virtually unlimited quantities, also follows from cheap power. Actually, the huge discontinuity, the step surge, in unconventional NG is relevant there, too, as it is a fine (interim, current technology) power generator fuel. See Israel for some fascinating developments (it is about to become a surplus gas producer and exporter) in its already booming desal cutting-edge tech industry.

  93. I believe the best thing we can do to mitigate this problem is double the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. That would lead to a calculated decrease in crop water needs of ~25%. But then I’m a heretic. Great idea, that works even better with a modest temperature rise. Shame we can’t seem to burn enough coal to make it happen.

  94. jrwakefield says:
    January 25, 2012 at 12:35 pm
    . . .
    So here are the problems going forward.

    It is said that predictions are difficult – especially about the future.
    Consider the growing of corn. Early last century if one were to have made forward-looking estimates of labor and energy inputs for a bushel of corn they would have been wrong. Read the story of “check-rowing” at the link below and wonder about the things you don’t know and that you don’t know that you don’t know them.

    http://www.farmcollector.com/implements/check-row-planting-by-the-book.aspx

  95. MarkW says:
    Multiple studies have shown that size of growth and size of govt are inversely proportional.
    The US’s economy was growing much, much faster, decades ago, when govt was much, much smaller.

    Would love to see some of those studies – do you have links to share?

  96. Then, to power that and everything else till about the sun goes red giant, there’s this:
    LPPhysics.com (at a capital cost and output price <<10% of best current retail market.)

    Dreams and potential doesn’t mean anything. I’ll believe all this when it actually happens on a large scale. I hope it does happen, I really do, but I’m still waiting for my flying car I was promised in the 1960’s would be main stream today.

  97. An excellent post, filled with many statistics. One element worth emphasising is the availability of resources verses the economically viable reserves or output – whether of water, oil, gas, metals or agricultural output. The Malthusians, mistakenly, take the current physical constraints and extrapolate. The catastrophic consequences of climate change rely as much on this thinking, as the projected extreme changes in the weather.
    Two small examples that illustrate the difference between the economic and physical constraints in agriculture. In the Soviet Union, around 30% of the agricultural output was from 1% of the land area. This 1% consisted of small private plots people could use to grow for their own use, and sell in the local markets. 100 years ago, Russia was the world’s biggest grain exporter. In 1920 it endured a famine where 5 million people died, despite huge foreign relief efforts.
    In both cases the huge difference was not physical but economic structures. Africa has the biggest potential problems going forward, not because of its potential population explosion, but because it economic structures are almost non-existent.

  98. Don K:
    you are absolutely correct about auto bumpers not being chromed anymore. that is not because of a shortage of chrome but because of the gawd awful costs of running a chrome shop and the hazmat regulations…….

    chrome and nickel are the alloying elements in the various “super alloys” that allow things to withstand extremely high working temperatures. things like power turbine blades in gas turbines, the piping and valves and pressure vessels in “serious” electric generation systems ….

    the dip in price in the middle 80’s is interesting as during a certain period in those years the air force needed quite a bit of tungsten, chrome and nickel and had the state department talking nice with the russians as they had most of the commercial sources of it.

    some of these prices are artificial. you can have a need for a large amount of these metals (tip off, when stuff is sold per pound and listed on the new york time semi precious metals market, there isn’t much of it around), say 6000# of tin and have to go through us govt. procuring procedures that single “buy” can push the price up by ~250% in a week. quite simply because the “buyer” has a “babbling problem”.

    c

  99. Sure are a lot of crystal balls on display in this thread. Is WalMart having a Crystal Ball sale?

  100. The amount of ‘carbon based’ fuel available in the earth’s crust can be reasonably estimated from how much oxygen there is currently unattached to carbon: primarily that attached to iron in iron ore or free in the atmosphere (iron ore contain 10^4 more oxygen as it happens).
    As nearly all the earth’s oxygen came from the splitting of original CO2 in the early atmosphere into carbon and oxygen via photosynthetic bacteria over 2-3 billion years, then it’s not difficult to show that there must be of the order of 10^18 tonne of carbon available to burn – around ten million times current estimated reserves of ‘fossil fuel’. See me out anyway!

  101. Since you seem intent on slandering Professor Ehrlich, you could at least spell his name correctly. Starting a post describing this highly acclaimed scientist as “perpetually wrong” is over the ethical line.

  102. Mankind needs four basic items to survive;
    Water
    Food
    Shelter
    Energy

    With cheap and readily available energy he can create and supply all his basic needs as above. The deliberate use of and control of energy is the defining difference between mankind and the animal world.
    Even the use of the lowest form of energy, a cow pat fire, defines a human being from an animal.

    George E. Smith; says:
    January 25, 2012 at 11:34 am
    “The overall result was that regardless of technology, world food production increased linearly with energy input .”

    Back in the 1980’s a couple of universities, one here in Australia and another in the USA did the energy sums on food production from the mining the ores for the farm machinery and the oil and gas for the farm chemicals right through the industrial and farming processes and systems until the farm grown food product finally rolled out through the farm gate.
    They found that energy available in a food product ie; grain etc, was about equal to the total amount of energy required to grow that food.

    The unbelievable stupidity of greens and their climate alarmists running dogs in trying to force the price of energy up and to limit energy production is beyond stupidity to the point of future criminality if the world runs short of cheap, readily available energy as that will also imply that the world will also run short of food at prices that a large part of humanity can afford to pay.
    .
    The British Industrial Revolution, the basis upon which our entire modern technologically based civilisation has been created which has done so much to feed and clothe mankind’s ever increasing numbers, was founded entirely on cheap energy from British coal.
    And our whole industrial and technological society is still based entirely on the supply of absolutely reliable, stable and cheap energy.

    For world population data; Source; CIA World Fact Book;

    http://www.indexmundi.com/g/g.aspx?v=24&c=xx&l=en

    As world population growth ceases around 2060 or so and the global population stabilises around the 8.5 to 9.5 billions and then starts a slow, long term falling trend, the real problem will be the type of economy existing.
    Our current global economic system is based on growth and more growth. The system relies on an ever increasing number of people to buy and consume of every type of product both hardware, software and intellectual software.
    As the global population stabilises and with an aging population sometime past 2060, global economic growth will no longer come from an increasing population but will only come from increasing the living standards of the stable population and even those increases in living standards start to slow down once energy consumption reaches about 6000 kgs oil equivalent energy per annum per person.
    A situation that will likely be reached sometime in the 22 nd century.
    After all, an individual will only acquire a certain amount of the goods and intellectual products during their lives before becoming sated and as an individual ages those demands become less and less.

    As the global population stabilises an entire new economic system much different to our present economic system will have to be created otherwise mankind and his civilisation will just fall into a long term period of economic decline and stagnation with all that entails for the future advancement of the race.

  103. jrwakefield says:
    January 25, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    Be patient! You got your Dick Tracy watch now – it’s called an IPhone!

  104. If they had started in a different year, and specified a different duration, Erlich and Holdren would have most likely picked different commodities.

  105. While the inflation adjusted price of these metals is a good measure of affordability, it is not a complete measure. The price is only relevant if it is measured against the financial resources available. Relative to world real per capita GDP all five metals have become more affordable since 1969…

    An important point. There probably isn’t a “complete” measure of affordability.

  106. Philip Foster said @ January 25, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    The amount of ‘carbon based’ fuel available in the earth’s crust can be reasonably estimated from how much oxygen there is currently unattached to carbon: primarily that attached to iron in iron ore or free in the atmosphere (iron ore contain 10^4 more oxygen as it happens).
    As nearly all the earth’s oxygen came from the splitting of original CO2 in the early atmosphere into carbon and oxygen via photosynthetic bacteria over 2-3 billion years, then it’s not difficult to show that there must be of the order of 10^18 tonne of carbon available to burn – around ten million times current estimated reserves of ‘fossil fuel’. See me out anyway!

    Wowsers! Go, go gadget… energy! Or something :-)

  107. ROM said @ January 25, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    Mankind needs four basic items to survive;
    Water
    Food
    Shelter
    Energy

    With cheap and readily available energy he can create and supply all his basic needs as above. The deliberate use of and control of energy is the defining difference between mankind and the animal world.
    Even the use of the lowest form of energy, a cow pat fire, defines a human being from an animal.

    George E. Smith; says:
    January 25, 2012 at 11:34 am
    “The overall result was that regardless of technology, world food production increased linearly with energy input .”

    Back in the 1980′s a couple of universities, one here in Australia and another in the USA did the energy sums on food production from the mining the ores for the farm machinery and the oil and gas for the farm chemicals right through the industrial and farming processes and systems until the farm grown food product finally rolled out through the farm gate.
    They found that energy available in a food product ie; grain etc, was about equal to the total amount of energy required to grow that food.

    The unbelievable stupidity of greens and their climate alarmists running dogs in trying to force the price of energy up and to limit energy production is beyond stupidity to the point of future criminality if the world runs short of cheap, readily available energy as that will also imply that the world will also run short of food at prices that a large part of humanity can afford to pay.
    .
    The British Industrial Revolution, the basis upon which our entire modern technologically based civilisation has been created which has done so much to feed and clothe mankind’s ever increasing numbers, was founded entirely on cheap energy from British coal.
    And our whole industrial and technological society is still based entirely on the supply of absolutely reliable, stable and cheap energy.

    For world population data; Source; CIA World Fact Book;

    http://www.indexmundi.com/g/g.aspx?v=24&c=xx&l=en

    As world population growth ceases around 2060 or so and the global population stabilises around the 8.5 to 9.5 billions and then starts a slow, long term falling trend, the real problem will be the type of economy existing.
    Our current global economic system is based on growth and more growth. The system relies on an ever increasing number of people to buy and consume of every type of product both hardware, software and intellectual software.
    As the global population stabilises and with an aging population sometime past 2060, global economic growth will no longer come from an increasing population but will only come from increasing the living standards of the stable population and even those increases in living standards start to slow down once energy consumption reaches about 6000 kgs oil equivalent energy per annum per person.
    A situation that will likely be reached sometime in the 22 nd century.
    After all, an individual will only acquire a certain amount of the goods and intellectual products during their lives before becoming sated and as an individual ages those demands become less and less.

    As the global population stabilises an entire new economic system much different to our present economic system will have to be created otherwise mankind and his civilisation will just fall into a long term period of economic decline and stagnation with all that entails for the future advancement of the race.

    All assuming no new sources of energy. And no, I’m not referring to the stupidities of PV, wind etc.

  108. Hugh Pepper says:
    January 25, 2012 at 3:10 pm
    Since you seem intent on slandering Professor Ehrlich, you could at least spell his name correctly. Starting a post describing this highly acclaimed scientist as “perpetually wrong” is over the ethical line.

    Paul Ehrlich became “highly acclaimed” following the 1961 publication of How to Know the Butterflies – still available from amazon.com for $4.99 plus $3.99 shipping.

  109. A point too often missed that I don’t think was ever brought up on the thread:

    “Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.”
    Dr Milton Freidman

    The highest average annual inflation adjusted price of crude oil occurred in 1980. We all understand supply and demand, but we forget the effects on price levels of the supply and demand of money. This effect is usually amplified with commodity prices as people seek out alternative hard assets to counter the declining value of the paper currency in their wallet.

  110. Hugh Pepper

    Since you seem intent on slandering exposing Professor Ehrlich, you could at least spell his name correctly. Starting a post describing revealing this highly acclaimed shamed scientist as “perpetually wrong” is over the ethical line.fair dinkum.

    Fixed.
    He and his lunatic supporters have done more harm than the last several wars. Hansen is emulating him, but has some way to go to catch up.

  111. RE: “How many investors are willing to risk thier capital with markets that will be shrinking? Only throught consolidation and mergers will corporations be able to maintain economies of scale. And despite the demand for food and resoucrce coming out of Africa, there will be net decreases in demand for energy, food, and consumer goods over-all. ”

    I think many markets (especially in the real of quant and program trading) are already pricing this in. The destruction of wealth is already underway.

  112. RE: “As the global population stabilises an entire new economic system much different to our present economic system will have to be created otherwise mankind and his civilisation will just fall into a long term period of economic decline and stagnation with all that entails for the future advancement of the race.”

    I have a dark view. I suspect such decline and stagnation will be our destiny. We will never reach the stars, let alone colonize our own star system. We will perish, a fallen, barbaric shadow of what we once were, in a slowly dying world.

  113. @William Abbott says:
    Natural resources are of no value unless they are coupled with human ingenuity.

    Value is in the beholder’s mind.
    An interesting short video on *economic value*:

  114. If anyone is interested in trends in the affordability of food (from 1900 onward) and various metals (from 1800 onward) in terms of prices-to-GDP-per-capita or prices-to-wages, check out this post of mine at MasterResource from Earth Day, 2010 at http://www.masterresource.org/2010/04/population-consumption-carbon-emissions-and-human-well-being-in-the-age-of-industrialization-part-i-revisiting-the-julian-simon-paul-ehrlich-bet/ . It also addresses the Simon-Ehrlich bet.

  115. SteveSadlov says:
    January 25, 2012 at 7:10 pm
    “I have a dark view. I suspect such decline and stagnation will be our destiny. We will never reach the stars, let alone colonize our own star system. We will perish, a fallen, barbaric shadow of what we once were, in a slowly dying world.”
    __________________________________
    Not necessarily, Steve.
    History tells us that human advancement has always come and gone in great waves that span centuries.
    The most recent down beat was the Black Death plagues which in Europe’s case reduced the population by a third.
    When the recovery came, mankind took another great leap into the Industrial Revolution and the resulting technological age we are currently still enjoying.
    Mankind may well stagnate for a couple of centuries as the population slowly declines and as he adapts and changes to the reality of a small, by our standards, global population.
    But perhaps more slowly that at present, technology will continue to advance. And there will new generations in the future that will be looking sometime in the future for new horizons to conquer and the only horizons left with sufficient challenges will be the Oceans and Space.
    And Space with it’s immense challenges and it’s unbounded challenges is where our destiny may lay for the end generations of the 22’nd century.

    The moon landing of the 20th July 1969 will be regarded with total awe as to how our generation achieved that with such primitive technology.
    [ I made my 6 and 7 year olds watch those landings over their protests but they are now starting to think of that with awe. They saw it, the first time in human history where mankind had left his womb, the planet Earth. ]
    .

  116. The only way our civilization can decline and stagnate
    is because of ubiquitously stifling Big Government that so afflicts us now.

    On its own, consitutional capitalism will progress without limit.
    Just read von Mises.

    Statists, interventionists, rent-seekers, regulationists, the Left in general:
    there is 100% of the Cause of our Decline.

  117. MarkW says:
    January 25, 2012 at 5:55 am
    a reader says:
    January 25, 2012 at 5:35 am

    And that was using 1975 agricultural technology. Using modern technology you could probably double or triple that number.
    ==========================
    Then run the plant food up to about 750 PPM, and who knows??? But the truth is, just make energy very inexpensive so third world nations can become first world nations, and presto, the population growth stops, there is money and resources for developing ever cleaner energy, whatever the source.

  118. SteveSadlov says:
    January 25, 2012 at 7:10 pm
    [….]
    I have a dark view. I suspect such decline and stagnation will be our destiny. We will never reach the stars, let alone colonize our own star system. We will perish, a fallen, barbaric shadow of what we once were, in a slowly dying world.

    The first tentative steps towards the colonization of our solar System have already been accomplished in the form of the temporary scientific stations inhabited for years at a time in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The next few early steps are well within current capabilities, with the establishment of special purpose habitats on the Moon and in the asteroids. Once human habitation of the asteroids reaches a critical mass and self-sufficiency, the human habitation of the asteroids would rapidly overtake the human population of the Earth and go on to surpass it many times over, regardless of events on the Earth.

    Once humans have mastered the permanent habitation of asteroids, slow travel to the stars could at the very least be accomplished over millenial time periods by asteroidal habitats used as transports. At best, interstellar transportaion may be accomplished by utilizing concepts of physics yet to be discovered. In any event, unaddressed is the vst potential for human colonization of the dark planets and planetoids between the stars.

    The future of the human race is largely a matter of human choice/s and will to survive beyond the cradle of human origins on the Earth. As always, some humans will choose to adapt, survive, and prosper on the frontiers of human experience; while other humans will choose to shun such challenges and sacrifices to squabble over and despoil whatever others have struggled and sacrificed to create. The choices for human prosperity versus human extinction begin with adopting or rejecting the opposing visions for the future.

  119. D. Patterson said @ January 26, 2012 at 1:30 am

    The choices for human prosperity versus human extinction begin with adopting or rejecting the opposing visions for the future.

    There ya go! The Git thought it was all down to whoever wrote the screenplay (having just begun watching series 3 of Battlestar Galactica) :-)

  120. Hugh Pepper says:
    January 25, 2012 at 3:10 pm
    Since you seem intent on slandering Professor Ehrlich, you could at least spell his name correctly.

    Wow! Mr. Pepper (or is it Dr. Pepper?) got something right!

    I misspelled Ehrlich. If convenient, could one of the moderators please correct that error?

    Where did I slander Dr. Ehrlich? No Malthusian prediction has ever turned out to be correct. They have been “perpetually wrong” about everything.

    Starting a post describing this highly acclaimed scientist as “perpetually wrong” is over the ethical line.

    Then, perhaps, you could cite an example of Dr. Ehrlich having been right about something, apart from butterflies. The “perpetually wrong” phrase was regarding the subject of “population growth and resource scarcity” and Malthusianism in general.

  121. All of these commodities are driven by fast-growing Chinese demand. This demand is able to grow faster than supply, with some commodities–like copper–looking quite peaky.

    On the oil supply front, see my Jan. 2011 article, “The Tierney Simmonsw Bet”: http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2011-01-10/commentary-tierney-simmons-bet

    To update the article, a couple of comments:

    – Shale (tight) oils are doing well in the US. Various analysts see their production up by 2 mbpd in 2020 (CERA) to 2030 (BP). At that scale, they would certainly be helpful, but wouldn’t dramatically re-write the oil supply situation. I would note, however, that we could see upside surprises on the shale oil front, at least based on the last decade’s history with shale gas production. But shale oil is the only real bright spot on the horizon. Canada’s oil sands continue to do well, but add only 150,000 barrels/day per year. That’s not very much on 89 million barrels of production. Venezuela has plans for 2 million barrels per day of upgrader capacity (to make syncrude from tars), but with Chavez in power, there is a good possibility that none of these will be built within the next five years. So right now, all eyes are on shales/tight oils as our savior on the crude oil supply side.

    – As regards consumption, US and European consumption is indeed failling, by about 1.5% per year (and with it our carbon footprint). As a nation, we are unable to maintain oil consumption at current prices, consistent with our outlook in the article mentioned above.

  122. jrwakefield says:
    January 25, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    Everyone is ignoring the basic problem with resource extraction. The rate of extraction….

    ….Going forward the rate of demand will grow faster than the capable rate of extraction for crucial resources like oil, copper, chromium.

    We are like a bacterium in a test-tube that has a resource consumption double period of one week….

    A-ha, truisms as true as they were in the days of the Horse and Buggy, and well back before the invention of the Wheel. Behold ye, even the holy GCM’s themselves forecast the fact that unless we immediately retreat to the Equality of the Watermelon’s Bacterium’s Stone Age Utopia, thus ~”restoring American Values”, we’re doooomed, I tell you, doooomed…by the ineluctable Rules of the hallowed Petri Dish to Ecological Overshoot’s dire consequences! Repent and “Unite”, ye B. Septics, before it’s too late! “B. Obama wants you!”

  123. David says:
    January 26, 2012 at 1:29 am

    Then run the plant food up to about 750 PPM, and who knows??? But the truth is, just make energy very inexpensive so third world nations can become first world nations, and presto, the population growth stops, there is money and resources for developing ever cleaner energy, whatever the source.

    Indeed. Don’t have the link, but just saw reference to a study of food production across all eras and tech levels, and you get as much energy out of food as went into cultivating it. So tractors and fertilizer get much more energy transformed into edible calories than horses and wooden plows. Etc.

    As for the cheaper energy, here’s a slightly OT link to an article about the effect shale gas is having on power pricing and plant construction:

    http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Natural+glut+puts+electricity+market+into+tailspin/6009113/story.html

  124. Steven Kopits says:
    January 26, 2012 at 7:03 am

    [...]

    Canada’s oil sands continue to do well, but add only 150,000 barrels/day per year. That’s not very much on 89 million barrels of production.

    [...]

    Alberta oil sand production is currently more than 1 million BOPD and they expect to top 3 million BOPD by 2018… Gov’t of Alberta, Energy

    If the US would get serious about our closest equivalent, the Green River Shale, we could be producing another 15 million BOPD by the end of this century.

  125. David Middleton,

    Your post is well done. You extend Simon’s legacy; thanks.

    I find your post consistent with the book by Indur Goklany titled “The Improving State of the World: Why We’re Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Cleaner Planet”.

    John

  126. if you are using US CPI as the inflation measure for this study, then this whole exercise is futile. the BLS changed the CPI calculation in 1992. readings across that data are not comparable. the new, post-boskin report CPI reads several % points lower than the old one. what shows as 3% today would have read more like 7-8% pre 1992.

    many (myself included) feel this massively understates inflation. it was a deliberate manipulation to get social security COLA costs down. it’s data tampering that would make even the GISS blush.

    regardless this change in the CPI data is the reason the winner of the bet changed, not an actual change in the behavior of the metals.

    that makes this whole analysis meaningless.

  127. John Whitman says:
    January 26, 2012 at 9:01 am
    David Middleton,

    Your post is well done. You extend Simon’s legacy; thanks.

    I find your post consistent with the book by Indur Goklany titled “The Improving State of the World: Why We’re Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Cleaner Planet”.

    John

    Dr. Goklany’s books are on my “to read” list… Unfortunately it’s a long list.

    I have read Bjørn Lomborg’s The Skeptical Environmentalist. I keep it on my desk with my other reference books.

  128. morganovich says:
    January 26, 2012 at 9:19 am
    if you are using US CPI as the inflation measure for this study, then this whole exercise is futile. the BLS changed the CPI calculation in 1992. readings across that data are not comparable. the new, post-boskin report CPI reads several % points lower than the old one. what shows as 3% today would have read more like 7-8% pre 1992.

    many (myself included) feel this massively understates inflation. it was a deliberate manipulation to get social security COLA costs down. it’s data tampering that would make even the GISS blush.

    regardless this change in the CPI data is the reason the winner of the bet changed, not an actual change in the behavior of the metals.

    that makes this whole analysis meaningless.

    The data are fine. The inflation-adjusted numbers for minerals from the USGS and GDP from the USDA were calculated using the post-1992 method. They are consistent over time.

    If I had taken the time to recalculate the inflation-adjusted numbers using the old method, Ehrlich would become even more wrong.

  129. RE: “The first tentative steps towards the colonization of our solar System have already been accomplished in the form of the temporary scientific stations inhabited for years at a time in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). ”

    The coming beat down of the triple dip “Great Recession,” cold period on par with the Age of Migrations (or worse) and great war, will snuff all this out in a heartbeat. Although I will grant that orbital warfare may happen. That will be the only use of space technology if at all.

  130. We can’t run out of metals or water as they never leave the planet.

    At most, they can take more craft and / or energy to extract again (from a more dilute ‘deposit’).

    There is NO shortage of “stuff” as it doesn’t leave the planet.

    There is NO shortage of “energy” as it is available in massive quantities. (ONE example, out of dozens: Enough Uranium washes into the ocean each year to power the planet several times over. We have proven established methods to extract said Uranium that have costs which would be very profitable for energy production. We don’t do it only because land mining uranium is cheaper. The crust has about 3 x that much Thorium that is also usable ….)

    The whole “running out scare” is a created fantasy ( vis. “The Limits To Growth” by Meadows et. al.) designed for the purpose of scaring folks into submission to greater government and promulgated by the same folks who have now brought you the Global Warming Scare for the same purpose.

    http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2009/03/20/there-is-no-energy-shortage/

    http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2009/03/20/there-is-no-energy-shortage/

  131. Oh, and metals prices are mostly driven by the business cycle (that is often about 10 years long) so it’s a silly wager to use with a 10 year period. It rises over most of that interval, then crashes at the end. (See the inflation adjusted price graph above and note the lead in ramp then the more steep drops.)

    It would really be more meaningful to take a 40 year trend line…

  132. David Middleton says:
    January 25, 2012 at 8:24 am
    Chris B says:
    January 25, 2012 at 7:01 am
    “Almost all of our problems are due to political interference with market forces.”

    Not that i’m in favour of more government, but hasn’t the increase in government closely followed, or led (causal/correlation issues notwithstanding), the growth in GDP, kcals per capita, volume of metals and oil extracted, etc.?

    The author hasn’t shown his political statement to be true. Moreover, he contradicts himself with this statement: “Africa just lacks the economic and political infrastructure to realize its own potential.”

    The increase in “rule of law” governance helps to enable growth. Western capitalist democracies are all “rule of law” governments (even the Obama administration is somewhat restrained by “rule of law”).

    Most undeveloped and developing nations tend to have governments that are less restrained by “rule of law.”
    _____________________________________

    So, I hear you saying that anti-trust laws, for example, are not a good thing, because they are “political interference with market forces” even though they are a part of the “Rule of Law”.

    And African nations following “Sharia Law” with no “political interference with market forces” are destined to prosper.

    Sorry, but I think the explanation for western prosperity lies more in the theories of Max Weber than the effect of “Rule of Law”.

  133. SteveSadlov says:
    January 25, 2012 at 7:10 pm
    RE: “As the global population stabilises an entire new economic system much different to our present economic system will have to be created otherwise mankind and his civilisation will just fall into a long term period of economic decline and stagnation with all that entails for the future advancement of the race.”

    I have a dark view. I suspect such decline and stagnation will be our destiny. We will never reach the stars, let alone colonize our own star system. We will perish, a fallen, barbaric shadow of what we once were, in a slowly dying world.
    ____________________________

    Take some Vitamin D, get some religion,…………. and turn on American Idol if you want to reach the stars.

  134. Malthusians are like the bears in the middle of a bull market. They are (of course) correct, and it will all end in tears. But at the time they are roundly ridiculed for not understanding why “this time it is different”. The timing is of course the key. Is it 7 billion, or maybe 8? It really doesn’t matter, but there is a number which is too much. And we will reach it. And it won’t be pretty.

    Maybe we’ll get lucky and the population will stop growing before we reach the crunch. I hope so.

  135. MarkW says:
    January 25, 2012 at 9:22 am
    Chris B says:
    January 25, 2012 at 7:01 am

    Multiple studies have shown that size of growth and size of govt are inversely proportional.
    The US’s economy was growing much, much faster, decades ago, when govt was much, much smaller.
    ___________________________________—-

    So, having no government leads to infinite growth?

    I think you’re talking about a very narrow range of circumstances.

  136. Chris B says:
    January 27, 2012 at 7:04 am

    David Middleton says:
    January 25, 2012 at 8:24 am
    Chris B says:
    January 25, 2012 at 7:01 am
    “Almost all of our problems are due to political interference with market forces.”

    Chris B says:
    Not that i’m in favour of more government, but hasn’t the increase in government closely followed, or led (causal/correlation issues notwithstanding), the growth in GDP, kcals per capita, volume of metals and oil extracted, etc.?

    The author hasn’t shown his political statement to be true. Moreover, he contradicts himself with this statement: “Africa just lacks the economic and political infrastructure to realize its own potential.”

    David Middleton says:
    The increase in “rule of law” governance helps to enable growth. Western capitalist democracies are all “rule of law” governments (even the Obama administration is somewhat restrained by “rule of law”).

    Most undeveloped and developing nations tend to have governments that are less restrained by “rule of law.”
    _____________________________________

    Chris B says:
    So, I hear you saying that anti-trust laws, for example, are not a good thing, because they are “political interference with market forces” even though they are a part of the “Rule of Law”.

    And African nations following “Sharia Law” with no “political interference with market forces” are destined to prosper.

    Sorry, but I think the explanation for western prosperity lies more in the theories of Max Weber than the effect of “Rule of Law”.

    Rule of law

    1. The government and its officials and agents are accountable under the law.
    2. The laws are clear, publicized, stable, and fair, and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and property.
    3. The process by which the laws are enacted, administered, and enforced is accessible, fair, and efficient.
    4. Access to justice is provided by competent, independent, and ethical adjudicators, attorneys or representatives, and judicial officers who are of sufficient number, have adequate resources, and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve.

    The Obama administration’s “dynamic regulatory environment” and unlawful permitorium clearly run afoul of #2 and possibly #1 and #3.

    Despite the serial malfeasance of the current occupiers of the Executive Branch, the United States clearly has a “rule of law” government. However, the enforcement of antitrust laws has often deviated from rule of law. Antitrust laws are anything but “clear, publicized, stable, and fair”…

    Antitrust as Anti-Free Market Antitrust laws allow the federal government to regulate and curtail basic business activities, including pricing, production, product lines, and mergers, usually in the name of preventing monopolies and fostering competition. The irony is that the laws in fact impose arbitrary government limitations on competition, keep prices for consumers high, and weaken American industries. Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Lester Thurow wrote in his 1980 book The Zero-Sum Society that “the time has come to recognize that the antitrust approach has been a failure. The costs it imposes far exceed any benefits it brings.”

    [...]

    Antitrust laws are always enforced arbitrarily and sometimes capriciously, violating the due process of law and relying on ex post facto rulings.

    A fundamental principle of Anglo-American law is that crimes must be clearly defined. But with antitrust the definitions are vague and constantly changing, depending on the whims of regulators and policymakers. Businesses rarely know in advance which practices may constitute price discrimination or “predatory” pricing or may “substantially lessen competition” in the eyes of the antitrust enforcers. As Alan Greenspan once observed, antitrust

    is a world in which competition is lauded as the basic axiom and guiding principle, yet “too much” competition is condemned as “cutthroat.” . . . It is a world in which the law is so vague that businessmen have no way of knowing whether specific actions will be declared illegal until they hear the judge’s verdict–after the fact.

    Consequently, businesses do not compete and serve consumers as vigorously as they otherwise would, for fear of running afoul of new and creative interpretations of what constitutes an illegal business practice. There can never be a precise definition of “competition,” for competition, as a dynamic process, constantly leads to the discovery of new techniques for competing. The criteria the government has used in the past to try to define competition–size of firms, prices that are “too high” or “too low,” closeness of substitute products, and the like–are all meaningless and arbitrary.

    [...]

    Cato

  137. As for anti-trust laws,

    “If one rejects laissez faire on account of man’s fallibility and moral weakness, one must for the same reason also reject every kind of government action.”
    “Manufacturing and commercial monopolies owe their origin not to a tendency imminent in a capitalist economy but to governmental interventionist policy directed against free trade and laissez faire.”
    Ludwig von Mises – Austrian Economist 1881 – 1973

  138. Here is a compelling (72 min) presentation by Dr. Chris Martenson, “a former American biochemical scientist and Vice President of Pfizer.[1] Currently he is an author and trend forecaster interested in macro trends regarding the economy, energy composition and environment.” (Wikipedia) made at the Gold and Silver conference at Madrid, Spain last year under the auspices of the Gold Money Foundation. His basic proposition is that exponential growth has been required for the world of which we have become accustomed, and that is now reaching a natural limit that will force a new paradigm in the future. It appears he is warning, by implication, that traditional investments can not be expected to return their expected rewards.

    When questioned about the errors of Malthus, about 50 minutes into the talk, he says “He didn’t have Google…”

    Chris Martenson al Gold & Silver di Madrid 16.11.2011.mp4

  139. David Middleton says:
    January 27, 2012 at 1:36 pm
    Chris B says:
    January 27, 2012 at 7:04 am

    David Middleton says:
    January 25, 2012 at 8:24 am
    Chris B says:
    January 25, 2012 at 7:01 am
    “Almost all of our problems are due to political interference with market forces.”

    …………….

    With respect to your definition of “Rule of Law”, while it’s a good definition, it is still subjective. The practitioners of Sharia Law would firmly believe their Law fits your definition, as would lawyers of the so-called “Dark Ages”, or any other Age. Lawyers are as well-intended now as any other Times, or Geography.

    There are loopholes in the “Rule of LAW” such as who gets to be defined as a person.For example, In our system pre-born humans are not persons under the Law.

    With respect to Anti-Trust Law, I suppose an argument can be made for, or against, whether this is good, or bad, political intervention by government, depending on what part of an economy the monopoly is in operation. For example, natural resources are usually thought of as best not controlled by a monopoly because the price of the commodity would tend to be lower than if controlled by a monopoly. Standard Oil is an example.

    To be less ambiguous I should have said, “So, I hear you saying that slavery and child labor laws, for example, are not a good thing, because they are “political interference with market forces” even though they are a part of the “Rule of Law”.”

  140. Chris B;
    slavery and child labor laws are workable and are followed ONLY because they capture a long-term market payoff larger than the short-term benefits of breaking them.

    The Invisible Hand has brass knucks and will eventually get around to destroying anyone who tries to legally enforce truly anti-market legislation.

    [Moderator's Query: Is that what you meant? -REP]

  141. Brian H says:
    January 28, 2012 at 11:31 am
    Chris B;
    slavery and child labor laws are workable and are followed ONLY because they capture a long-term market payoff larger than the short-term benefits of breaking them.

    The Invisible Hand has brass knucks and will eventually get around to destroying anyone who tries to legally enforce truly anti-market legislation.
    __________________________

    Still, simply opinion. Not proof. And opinion is the fuel of well intended politics, not economics.

  142. Just for reference:
    Here is an official link to a ‘TCMDO’ chart from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis showing the US “Total Credit Market Debt Owed” from about 1952 to 2011 plotted with $10,000 billion dollar grid-lines. This is the near perfect exponential curve that suddenly goes ‘flat-line’ after 2008 as outlined by Dr. Martenson above.

    Of course, the cause of this growth halt is subject to multiple interpretations and given the super-accelerating nature of the exponential function, it was more or less inevitable.

    http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?s%5B1%5D%5Bid%5D=TCMDO

    The suggestion is that this ‘peak-debt’ indicates that we have entered a new stage of history.

  143. I’d be very interest to read more on the extinction debate. Any place to go for more information? Thanks

  144. I am not sure that extinction is the issue here. According to one estimate presented in another topic, renewable energy only provides about 16 percent of our current energy requirements. Thus, a worst-case consequence of eventually running out of carbon power might be an 84 percent population reduction to a number that is equivalent to a period in the late nineteenth century, before the mass exploitation of petroleum and coal. Most likely, however, it would not be that bad; perhaps the reduction would only be 42 percent or 21 percent and then only if we do not find a sustainable nuclear or other alternative energy source to provide power for our modern mechanized agriculture system.

    The halted rise of the TCMDO curve does seem to indicate that our economy, and perhaps by implication, population, has run up against some hard limit to continued growth. Of course, in today’s politically charged environment, some may say that this is the ‘Bush Effect’ while others might call it the ‘Obama Effect.’

    In response to a question about trusting human ingenuity to find a solution to the declining energy problem, Dr. Martenson expressed optimism that such a solution might eventually be found, but in order to avoid his predicted dislocations, he says this should have been done forty years ago, as that is how long it takes to fully implement such a change.

    The most promising possibility that I see right now is the non-plutonium producing, thorium nuclear process, but that development was shut down long ago to pursue an alternative reactor concept that was, itself, eventually cancelled due to environmental considerations and the potential for weaponization of the copious plutonium that it would generate.

    Of course, this all may be beside the point if someone goes out of their way to create a perfect, incurable bird-flu plague, even if that was only intended to be a laboratory challenge experiment.

  145. Brian H says:
    January 28, 2012 at 11:31 am
    legally enforce truly anti-market legislation.

    [Moderator's Query: Is that what you meant? -REP]

    REP: yep.
    Mercy buckets!

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