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View Diary: The End of Economic Growth (188 comments)

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  •  Um... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sharoney, SuWho, pollwatcher
    Freshwater peak, implies the end of economic growth? Please.

    Please point to where in the diary that is said.  (You won't be able to, because it doesn't say that.)

    What it does say, however, in detail, is that oil production decline is causing the end of economic growth.

    You made similar claims in a diary of mine several months ago as I recall, but didn't actually cite any data there either on the main point.

    contraposition.org - thoughts on energy, the environment, and society.

    by barath on Mon Oct 03, 2011 at 08:53:05 AM PDT

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    •  Here: (0+ / 0-)
      We have passed or are near many of the peaks in natural resources, both by drawing down non-renewable resources and by hyperexploiting renewable ones.

      For example, here are some points we've passed and haven't looked back (approximate dates):

      1979: Peak per-capita gross energy production

      1986: Peak grain per capita

      1989-1995: Peak wild fish catch

      1990: Peak net energy production

      2000: Peak fresh water availability

      2005: Peak conventional oil production

      2011-14: Peak all-liquids (conventional+unconventional oil) production

      It's possible to overshoot a resource base - civilizations have done it time and again - but only temporarily.  The list above is a small subset of what we've depleted or are depleting, and many of the critical ones - oil, for instance - have no real substitutes.  Even if there were substitutes, we would have to have started a crash program 20 years ago to transition without economic impacts.  But it's too late for that.

      It reads to me like the diarist is trying to say that we're overshooting all our resource bases, so we will inevitably crash back down to sustainable levels. That's not the case. I've shown why that didn't happen with a lot of those other ones, and why there is no reason to believe that it will happen soon for them either. For oil, it's going to be a little trickier, but we'll transition to other energy sources. If oil gets up to sustained prices of two or three hundred dollars per barrel, you'll find that we'll shift our energy sources dramatically. It won't be the end.

      And you didn't answer my question. How in the hell does canning your own food help one goddamned thing?

      The obvious answers are wrong. That's why we aren't doing them already.

      by atheistben on Mon Oct 03, 2011 at 09:08:36 AM PDT

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      •  Canning food. (5+ / 0-)
        It reads to me like the diarist is trying to say that we're overshooting all our resource bases, so we will inevitably crash back down to sustainable levels.  That's not the case.

        To say that's not the case is to deny decades of studies by thousands of ecologists worldwide.  Every ecological study says we've overshot the Earth's carrying capacity.  I recommend reading some Bill Rees's writings for a primer.

        How in the hell does canning your own food help one goddamned thing?

        Pretty simply: if you live in any region of the country that can't produce much food in the winter (i.e. anywhere outside of some parts of California, Hawaii, Texas, and Florida), then to be self-sufficient and not rely upon the industrial food system during the winter (which requires trucking / shipping / flying food long distances, often from South America) you'll need to have food stored for the winter, as people used to have even 60 years ago.  To do that, you need to can or dry or preserve the food you grew during the growing season in some way.

        contraposition.org - thoughts on energy, the environment, and society.

        by barath on Mon Oct 03, 2011 at 09:16:55 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Well, my point is that we (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          DontTaseMeBro, Pozzo

          change the carrying capacity of the earth constantly. When we breed fish, we increase carrying capacity. When we take marshland and grow rice in it, we increase carrying capacity. When we make a more fuel-efficient engine, we increase carrying capacity. Etc. Etc. That's what your "thousands of ecologists" are missing. And by the way, are you really summarizing the thousands of ecologists you've read, or are you just assuming they're out there that making that assertion because you read it somewhere?

          On the canned food issue, I understand the argument for eating local so that transportation costs can be avoided. It's a wrong argument because we have an efficient transportation system where shipping costs do not outweigh the higher costs associated with smaller scale local production. Marginal costs curves are U shaped. Plus there's the whole principle of comparitive advantage being more pronounced when you have a larger community. But at least I understand that argument.

          What I don't understand is why commerce will fail to the point of needing to can your own food. You don't think you'll be able to buy canned food from a local source? You think you'll have to grow your own, and operate entirely independent of other people? That's crazy. There will still be local economies. Your local economy would have a little factory that cans local food, because it's just to inefficient to have everybody doing it themselves.

          The end of economic growth won't happen, but it certainly won't happen like that.

          The obvious answers are wrong. That's why we aren't doing them already.

          by atheistben on Mon Oct 03, 2011 at 09:41:20 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Sigh... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            pollwatcher

            Ok, like the last time you commented in a diary a few months back, I'm not going to keep arguing.  Here's my last response.

            And by the way, are you really summarizing the thousands of ecologists you've read, or are you just assuming they're out there that making that assertion because you read it somewhere?

            I've read individual papers / books probably spanning in the hundreds of authors, and have read surveys of the work of many more.  If you've decided that the work of a great many scientists is bunk, feel free.

            About local food - notice I say in the diary that people should buy food locally.  That doesn't mean you shouldn't also grow your own.  So again I think you must have selectively read what I wrote...

            contraposition.org - thoughts on energy, the environment, and society.

            by barath on Mon Oct 03, 2011 at 09:46:33 AM PDT

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            •  You said: (0+ / 0-)
              Grow, prepare, and preserve and can your own food.

              I guess I selectively read that to mean you should actually grow your own food rather than buy food locally. My bad.

              The obvious answers are wrong. That's why we aren't doing them already.

              by atheistben on Mon Oct 03, 2011 at 09:56:37 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  Millennium Ecosystem Assessement (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            barath, pollwatcher, behan, divineorder

            is the synthesis work of over 1000 leading biologists commissioned by the UN and published in 2005. Their conclusion was: "The bottom line of the MA [Millennium Assessment] findings is that human actions are depleting Earth’s natural capital, putting such strain on the environment that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted. At the same time, the assessment shows that with appropriate actions it is possible to reverse the degradation of many ecosystem services over the next 50 years, but the changes in policy and practice required are substantial and not currently underway.

          •  and what about when transport costs keep rising? (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            divineorder, atheistben
            we have an efficient transportation system where shipping costs do not outweigh the higher costs associated with smaller scale local production

            That is true right now, but what about when the rising costs of fuel flip the situation, so that transport costs more than local production?  It's simple economic math.  In addition, it might be possible to reduce those fuel costs by switching to other energy sourecs, but we are WAY too late in developing those other energy technologies to avoid the huge rise in fuel costs.

            •  That's a legitimate question (0+ / 0-)

              First off, fuel costs would have to rise dramatically to offset the economies of scale you get with large scale, industrial food production. We're not talking $6 or $7 per gallon, we're talking much more.

              Let me give a quick example with strawberries. Strawberries cost about $1.50 per pound. The standard truck can hauls about 22 to 25 tons (I'll round down to 20 tons to make my math easier). So a single truck can haul about $60,000 worth of strawberries. Consider shipping a truck full of strawberries from Los Angeles to Topeka, KS (about 1500 miles). At fuel costs of $4 per gallon, and with a truck getting about 8 miles to the gallon, the total shipping cost is $750 (1500miles * $4 / 8mpg). This works out to about 1.25% of the cost. If fuel was $20 per gallon, total fuel costs for the trip would instead be $3750. The costs would get passed on in the price of the strawberries, so the whole load would be worth $63,000, or about $1.58 per pound.

              To summarize, fuel costs rising from $4 per gallon to $20 per gallon would result in strawberry prices in Topeka to jump from $1.50 per pound to $1.58 per pound. Hardly a significant enough jump to make you start canning your own.

              Plus, to get to those high of fuel prices, it's still going to take a long period of time. During that period of time, our transportation system will shift to not using oil. We'll use rail powered by electricity (coming from coal, hydro, wind, nuclear, whatever). We can solve our electricity needs by going nuclear. And if you give the people the choice to either can their own food or build a shitload of nuclear plants, they will build a shitload of nuclear plants.

              The obvious answers are wrong. That's why we aren't doing them already.

              by atheistben on Tue Oct 04, 2011 at 08:38:11 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  You go ahead and pay the extra cost (0+ / 0-)

                The fuel used in transport from LA to Topeka may only lead to about a 5% increase in cost.  First, that may seem small, but if you're on a tight budget those 5% increases can start to loom large.  
                Secondly, in this example, what about the cost of energy to refrigerate those strawberries during that 1500-mile trip?  What about the energy of refrigerating them in the grocery store?  What about the cost of the plastic containers in which those strawberries were transported and sold -- which I presume would be made from petrochemicals?  And this is without even considering the costs associated with even more perishable maeterials, like meat and dairy.
                Thirdly, we must consider that much of the produce we consume now is not even from California, but rather from South America.  How do rising fuel and energy costs look when the distance traveled is more on the order of 3 or 4 thousand miles?

                I'm glad you're so confident that we will transition to other energy sources before this becomes an issue -- but let me ask you then, what are we doing now?  Or more concretely, what have we done in the past several years, now that fuel prices have basically tripled from their once-normal levels?

                •  To address the issues you raised (0+ / 0-)

                  Here are the issues I understand you to be bringing up.

                  1) Even 5% increases can have significant impacts to some people
                  This is certainly true. But this isn't most people. Most people do have 5% of slack in their budgets. For those that don't, they'll use less strawberries and substitute with an inferior good. For instance, if I had a higher salary, I'd probably eat king crab 2 or 3 times a week. I love the stuff an almost obsessive amount. But because my salary isn't hundreds of thousands of dollars, I substitute for less expensive meals. The people who would change their purchasing behavior due to the 5% increase in price will find alternative fruits or other foods to eat instead some of the time. But also keep in mind that a 5% increase in price is only achieved with a 500% increase in fuel cost, which I though was somewhat of a worst case scenario in the near-term.

                  2) Additional energy requirements are not being captured in my calculations
                  This is true. My calculations are rough. Refrigeration can be accomplished in a couple of ways. Diesel generators to run refrigeration units or packing dry ice. I can't find good numbers to use for doing calculations. Still, refrigeration for the 25 hours it takes to drive from LA to Topeka shouldn't be a major cost factor. Grocery stores use electricity for refrigeration, which can come from the electrical grid - which isn't heavily impacted by oil costs. We have ways of producing electricity independent of oil particularly, but fossil fuels altogether if the situation calls for it. So costs would not be significantly higher. As for plastics, we can use cardboard or wood products for packaging. A good thing about the internet is that it's caused wood prices to drop dramatically.

                  3) What about shipping from places farther away?
                  The good thing about traveling 3 or 4 thousand miles is that our planet is mostly covered by water, and transport by water is extremely cheap. Moving things over water is about the cheapest way to move things. It's cheaper than rail, and that's saying a lot. Transporting a freighter ship from South America up the Mississippi/Missouri Rivers to get to Topeka is cheaper than the drive from LA. Plus, in large scale shipping, we can transition to using nuclear powered engines rather than traditional fuels if we need to. Some of the big navy vessels have already done this, so we already have the technology.

                  I'm not sure how you want me to answer your question. What are we doing now? Not a whole not, but I don't think a whole lot needs to be done from an economic perspective. Market principles balance all of these forces as we type. We've shifted to using more ethanol in our fuels. We've designed new types of nuclear reactors. We've learned more efficient ways to use tar sands. The market is making liquid fuels more expensive, so people have already begun transitioning away from them. I live a few blocks from where I work, so I don't drive. We're doing things we find practical depending on their cost. And cost of fuel will drive us to behave differently so that we use less of it. Everything does balance.

                  The obvious answers are wrong. That's why we aren't doing them already.

                  by atheistben on Tue Oct 04, 2011 at 10:08:00 AM PDT

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                  •  good luck with that (0+ / 0-)
                    I live a few blocks from where I work, so I don't drive. We're doing things we find practical depending on their cost. And cost of fuel will drive us to behave differently so that we use less of it.
                     This is exactly what the diarist was talking about.  Growing your own food is one of those things that may seem outlandish right now, but will make more and more sense as time goes on.

                    I'm still really impressed by your confidence that market forces will correct all of these shortages, and that "everything does balance."  Certainly rising prices will drive demand for alternative energies -- but you don't think that there is significant lag time in between?  Will these market shifts bring instantaneous change?  We've been building an oil-dependent economy gradually for about 150 years -- how quickly do you think we can switch out of it?  Put in other words, if I had told you in 1990 that by 2011, gasoline would cost $4 a gallon, wouldn't you have expected that surely by then we would have switched mostly to other fuels?  Yet we are still doing the same, and just complaining about the prices.

                    So if I posit that there is a significant lag time, between changes in economic incentives and changes in behavior, then what causes this lag?  How about just plain old resistance to change?  Think about Michele Bachmann and her friends rallying to the defense of incandescent light bulbs (even though they are less economical than CFLs).  Think of people's attachment to their cars.

                    And you think everyone will just happily get on board wth building nuclear plants?  How do you think most people like the sound of a nuclear plant in their neighborhood? -- or better yet, a nuclear-waste dumpsite?  Think of Yucca Mountain.  And for that matter, where will we be getting all this uranium?  How abundant is that?  How long till we get to look forward to "peak uranium"?  If you think that these are all just self-correcting problems with no accompanying social obstacles and hazards, then good luck to you.

                    •  Personally, I think growing your own food (0+ / 0-)

                      will make less and less sense over time. I think the strains on fuel will cause people to move closer to city centers where land values are higher and where population densities are higher. This will result in people having less space (or no space) to grow crops - which can be done much more cheaply via industrial production.

                      When it comes to market forces, I think most progressives don't understand how powerful they are. We often sit through our microeconomics courses thinking about what equilibrium looks like on a supply and demand graph, and we talk about the ways that different things influence the equilibrium like it is some fixed point. But that's really an underdeveloped way to think about economic equilibrium. Economic equilibrium is now. It's yesterday. It's tomorrow. Everything is always balanced by price. Expectations of the future are included in price. So, your lag time issues don't really materialize. If Bachmann wants to use incandescent bulbs, fine. We just need to make sure that the associated costs of using her incandescent bulbs are incurred by her. If energy prices rise too much, she'll change her mind. If they don't, then she pays the premium for buying a more expensive premium product (in the same way I pay a premium for the times that I order my king crab). We can do inefficient things, but in order to be able to afford them, we have to do something that generates a net income flow to get the money to afford those things.

                      People won't happily get on the nuclear bandwagon. But nonetheless, they will choose to get on it if that's the choice to be made. Personally, I really don't think it will come to that. I think we'll find and exploit better energy sources. Hydro, wind, solar. Eventually fusion. Eventually harnessing the power of tides. Possibly mass geothermal down the road. This universe has plenty of energy for little critters like us. We just have to be smart enough to use it.

                      The obvious answers are wrong. That's why we aren't doing them already.

                      by atheistben on Tue Oct 04, 2011 at 01:53:39 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  magical thinking (0+ / 0-)

                        You may very well be right about people moving closer to cities, and hence having less disposable space for gardening.  However, that also means that people will have more of a disincentive against wasteful, unproductive uses of space like lawns and empty lots and rooftops.  The present trend in urban gardens is in anticipation of this.

                        As for your bigger point that progressives don't appreciate the power of market forces --

                        Economic equilibrium is now. It's yesterday. It's tomorrow. Everything is always balanced by price.
                         This is one of the most blissfully naive statements I've ever read.  Are you serious?  Who told you that, the economics fairy?  People do not make rational economic choices based on sound calculations -- not as individuals, and not in the aggregate.  Markets are constantly distorted by bad information or lack of information, concerns with social status and prestige, emotion, and just the plain old inertia of habit.  This is chronicled even in such easily accessible sources as Freakonomics.  In the case of energy, consider the pattern of oil companies buying the patents to new solar and other technologies just to sit on them and prevent their implementation.  Is it rational?  I don't know -- but they do it.
                        I agree with you that there are plenty of better sources of energy out there to use.  But it is naive to think that we will transition to them without first facing a serious crisis.  If you don't think so, let's just consider your statement that "your lag time issues don't really materialize" -- aren't we in the middle of that lag time right now?  Shouldn't the rising cost of gas have pushed us into other fuel sources by now?  We've had a decade -- what are we waiting for?
                        Besides, you've failed to consider one of the diarist's central points -- that when oil prices reach a certain level (say $110 a barrel) that still may not push us into other energy sources, which at the time are still more expensive, but instead will drive the economy into recession.  The recession will then diminish consumption of oil, thus reducing the price.  Then the cycle starts over again.  In short, transition to other fuel sources requires a certain activation energy, in the form of oil prices rising higher than the price of other fuels.  If the economy simply goes into recession before the price of oil reaches that level, then how will the activation energy ever be achieved? -- or alternatively, how will it ever be achived by market forces, as opposed to planned, concerted public action in developing those other fuel sources?
        •  Grow it where? When? (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          divineorder, Pozzo

          Pardon my cynicism, but me and my husband are both working full-tilt just to keep up with our debts. I come home exhausted, and feel like I have to empty whatever resevoirs I have left just to be a reasonable parent to my kids.

          Most of the hours I have that I don't use for sleep are the property of my employer and the banks we owe money to. And apprently we are the lucky ones. We are furtunate to still have jobs and still have our house.

          We can't even keep our patchy, weed-infested lawn mowed. And we have a lawn to mow. A lot of people work more hours than I do, and go home to insanely high-rent apartments with no yards and very little room for the storage of home-made jars of tomato salsa, pickles or apple jelly.

          Sorry to sound bitchy, but you just can't assume that everyone has the resources to live like Laura Ingalls Wilder. Land and living space are also resources that have been over-used and squandered.

          "YOPP!" --Horton Hears a Who

          by Reepicheep on Mon Oct 03, 2011 at 04:09:40 PM PDT

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          •  I hear you. (0+ / 0-)

            I live in an apartment, and don't have much space here to grow anything.  The little I've grown has been in dirt next to a parking lot and in buckets and trash cans.

            However, I think there is an impression that most people have that the only way to grow things is to put a lot of effort into it.  If I had to recommend one book that really changed the way I look at growing food with minimal effort, it was this one.  Seriously - it's the sort of thing where once you read it the idea of growing your own food is much less daunting.

            contraposition.org - thoughts on energy, the environment, and society.

            by barath on Mon Oct 03, 2011 at 04:19:14 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Maybe your grandchildren will grow their food (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Reepicheep

            I think these recommendations are intended for the long-long term.  I see them as much as predictions as advice.  The thing is there will come a point when it will make more economic sense to live somewhere where you can grow your own food than to pay the high prices of imported food in the wintertime.  We may not be there yet, but that's what's probably coming.  I live in an apartment as well, but I expect that my lifestyle will probably have to change eventually.

          •  "over-used and squandered" (0+ / 0-)

            So much of suburbia, assuming that is where you live, is squadered. The loss of family farms to corporate farming and suburban development is a sad thing to witness. Especially when new development consists of large lots with mowed lawns.

            How large is your lawn? Maybe growing food instead of non-productive grass is a more efficient way to use your yard. If you mulch properly, it might even be less work, especially on a lot 1/3 acre or smaller. We had 3/5 acre at our former house and grew a large garden on a large part of it. The garden and fruit trees provided food, exercise and were good for the mind. We canned, froze and dried food, all while raising a child and working full time. My job required days and numerous night meetings and my wife worked a demanding craft. I look back at that time as very rewarding and spiritual. Our current 1 acre yard is basically a forest, We enjoy the trees, but I also miss having a garden and so does my wife.

            There has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefited. The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. - Sun Tzu

            by OHeyeO on Mon Oct 03, 2011 at 07:48:40 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

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