The Growing Abundance of Natural Resources
This is an interesting article that runs contrary to much of the doom and gloom we here about resource depletion. Its an excerpt from the book Market Liberalism: A Paradigm for the 21st Century.
The article maintains that we have more known resources than ever before:
“If we examine the earth’s resource base using those three yardsticks (proven reserves, price data, and ultimately recoverable stock), we do indeed come to a jarring conclusion: at the very time that the conservation lobby was convincing millions of Americans and legislatures everywhere that resource shortages were lurking just around the corner, the global economy witnessed the greatest explosion of resource abundance in the history of mankind.
If there are indeed “physical limits to the sources of materials and energy that sustain the human population and the economy, as is contended in Beyond the Limits, it appears that those limits are so far beyond the human horizon that they are for all intents and purposes nonexistent.
Contrary to popular belief, energy stocks of all kinds, both fossil and nonfossil, have been increasing steadily and dropping in price. We face unprecedented abundance, not scarcity.
As noted by MIT professor Morris Adelman, one of America’s foremost energy experts, “The great oil shortage is like the horizon, always receding as one moves toward it.“6 The world has nearly 10 times the amount of proven oil reserves that it had in 1950 and almost twice the known reserves of 1970. In fact, proven oil reserves are greater today than at any other time in recorded history.
Oil prices have dropped 35 percent in constant dollars since 1980. When indexed to U.S. wages, oil prices have dropped 43 percent since 1980 and show steady and continuing declines in price from as far back as 1870.7 The decline in oil prices has been reflected in the price of gasoline at the pump. Fuel prices in constant dollars are 6 percent lower today than they were in 1972 (just before the OPEC oil embargo), 25 percent lower than in 1963, and 30 percent lower than in 1947.8 Whereas 3.2 percent of total household expenditures were devoted to gasoline in 1972 (the lowest such rate since 1952), American households today devote but 2.6 percent of total expenditures to gasoline purchases.9
Proven natural gas reserves have also shown dramatic increases in the past 20 years; they have increased by 84 percent since 1974. At current rates of consumption, proven gas reserves alone will be sufficient for approximately 58 years.10 The fact that natural gas prices, after adjusting for inflation, have dropped only 3 percent since 1980 is largely a function of price and production controls that lingered into the 1980s and discouraged optimum product levels.
Likewise, between 1979 and 1989 proven coal reserves grew by 84 percent, an amount sufficient for 238 years given current levels of consumption.11 On an energy equivalent basis, proven reserves of coal are 43 percent greater than the world’s combined total proven oil and natural gas reserves.12 Since 1980 the price of coal has dropped 91 percent when adjusted for inflation and 243 percent when indexed to U.S. wages.13
Economist William Nordhaus concludes from U.S. Geological Survey data that the world has enough ultimately recoverable fossil fuel reserves to last approximately 520 years given projected rates of demand, although others have pegged that figure as high as 650 years.14 If historic rates of productivity increase and technological advances are considered, then we have every reason to believe that the 1,000-year trend of falling energy prices will continue for generations to come.
Remember, the figures cited above are for fossil fuel reserves only. Current nuclear technology ensures that the world has 8,400 years of energy for the future at current rates of consumption.15 Advances in nuclear breeder and fusion technologies would ensure vast supplies of energy for tens of thousands of years, and geothermal resources and the potential of solar energy also promise virtually limitless supplies of energy as technology improves and those sources become more economically competitive”.
Read the full article The Growing Abundance of Natural Resources
Now what the article does not touch on at all is the significant problems of pollution and global warming etc. resulting from the extraction of these resources but it still offers a fairly convincing case for the notion that this planet of ours is pretty darn abundant. We simply have to learn to manage things better.