Daily Archives: April 9, 2011

We’ll never run out of resources

A nice blog entry http://www.thegwpf.org/best-of-blogs/2772-we-have-barely-scratched-the-surface-of-global-hydrocarbon-resources.html linked to the GWPF site (always worth a visit in its own right to get a quick summary of the latest in the sceptic side of climate change debate).

I always wondered why CO2 is so low concentration in the air. Knowing as little as I do about geology, I couldn’t see why we have so much oxygen if it all came from plants.  Forgive the over-simplification, but oxygen was once a toxin to some blue-green algae , and when oxygen producing algae came on the scene, it caused their extinction. The new algae and plants consumed CO2 and produced oxygen, and their dead remains became fossil fuels. So therefore there must be huge amounts of fossil fuels somewhere from all the organisms that converted the CO2 to oxygen, which essentially locked it up. As we burn those fuels, we deplete the oxygen and restore the CO2 to the environment. By looking at how much CO2 we now have, we should be able to work out how much more fossil fuels there are left. Which must be a LOT. The blog I linked to is therefore music to my ears.

Obviously we can’t burn any significant proportion of it, of it or we’d have too little oxygen left. But it must exist. (OK, this argument is fatally flawed if most of the oxygen didn’t come from plants).

Anyway, we won’t need it, which is why I won’ t waste time on more detailed environmental analysis. With thorium fission, nuclear fusion, efficient solar, cleaner fossil fuel, biofuels from waste and CO2 capture, we will have a glut of energy in a few decades, and no-one will bother using oil any more. By 2030, I predicted some time ago that oil will fetch a maximum of $30 per barrel in today’s money, simply because that’s how much I estimate it will cost to produce the same 6GJ of energy by competing means.

Other resources won’r run out either. We’re currently seeing global panic over the geographic distribution of rare earth metals, a great proportion of which seem to be in China. That will certainly be a problem if we carry on with current technology. But we won’t, technology is evolving all the time. Many things that used to need scarce resources now use abundant ones. By offering so many functions, a 100g mobile phone substitutes tons of materials that were previously need to build all the kit you’d need to do the same things a few decades ago. Carbon nanotubes seem to yield new kinds of materials and techniques every month, often offering the potential to substitute for techniques that used to need rare elements. Quantum chemistry is developing quickly too, allowing custom molecules to be made that emulate the behaviour of scarce materials.

And the materials that are there are gradually being mined, entering the human system, and endlessly recycled. Those that have been dumped are still there, just essentially in different kinds of mine (rubbish tips). It is mainly a matter of commodity prices and energy costs whether and when they get used again. But we haven’t lost them.

We also will be able to mine asteroids in a few decades time, another potentially valuable material source.

Organic resources are different though. Many kinds of organism become extinct every year. Some is natural, some caused by man, let’s not go down that argument now. But we are also making gene banks, and already inventing new organism via genetic modification and even synthetic biology. So we may be able to resurrect a few of the cuter or more useful ones that become extinct, and we will certainly b able to design lots of new ones to fill niches we want filled. So much as I would like to see protection much more of our natural living world, I am at least able to be confident that we will still have abundant life in the future, even if some is rather less than natural.

So I see no cause for doom when it comes to resources. Plenty of short term problems, market issues and geographic conflicts, but the long term future is safe.