ruminations about architecture and design

Saturday, January 15, 2011

resource limits

As I was enjoying a leisurely breakfast of passenger pigeons and bananas I got to thinking about how some economists and business-people take a blase attitude towards resource consumption. A chief resource is petroleum, and there are some thought provoking arguments for and against the idea of "peak oil." The debate is often framed in terms of "are we there yet" vs. "even if we get there, don't worry, we'll come up with substitutions, and besides, it won't happen in our lifetime--now leave me alone so I can fly off in my private jet."
In economics, a prominent feature of the mid-twentieth century, was the gradual decline in the cost of commodities. This trend appears to give credibility to those who claim that we'll never run out of stuff. It becomes a more problematic issue when we have a world where some apparently essential resources are being used up at a faster rate and the most readily available substitutions are more expensive to extract. Jared Diamond tackles this issue in his book Collapse, which draws attention to island communities that have had troubling experiences with resource depletion. One lesson that can be drawn from Easter Island is that if you cut down all your forests at least take the opportunity to build some interesting looking statues before your society descends into chaos and starvation.

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