future prospects for the environment

To: Peter Morgan <>
Subject: future prospects for the environment
From: "Jeremy O'Wheel" <>
Date: Fri, 24 Aug 2012 08:56:52 +1000
I didn't say that it "does not matter [if] too much coal, oil, etc are
depleted."  I didn't say we shouldn't conserve resources.  What I said is
that our estimates for the remaining amount of most resources have been
increasing over time.  Obviously, as I explicitly stated, the actual
amounts of resources are decreasing, but our estimates of how long it will
take for those resources to be depleted, in nearly every instance, have
increased over the last 5 decades (and in some cases longer), even though
our consumption has also increased.  This is a factual statement assessing
reality; it may be wrong (although I have no evidence to think so), but it
is NOT a value judgement about how we should respond to the environment.  I
am an environmentalist, who has worked for and eNGO, handed out flyers for
the Greens, studied biology and environmental science, *and have an
interest in understanding the real state of the world.  What I posted was
in response to the notion that the population is growing so fast that soon
all the resources will be depleted and the world will die.  I may be
slightly exaggerating that position, but not much.  That's not a position
based on facts.  It's an argument people have been making for over 150
years, and so far everybody who has made those predictions has been wrong.
 At the same time, market economists have provided explanations for why
that argument has been wrong, and they've not only been right, they've been
right enough to win $10,000 bets with Paul Ehlrich on this.  We should, at
the very least, consider that if an argument has made failed predictions
for 150 years, it might be a false argument.

Again I repeat, and I can't stress this enough, I'm not arguing that we
shouldn't worry about the environment, I'm not arguing that things are
perfect, I'm not arguing that there aren't areas of policy and location
where things could be better.  I'm just arguing that we're not going to see
large scale economic, social, or environmental collapse in
the foreseeable future.


On Fri, Aug 24, 2012 at 7:40 AM, Peter Morgan <> wrote:

> Given that thousands of commonly used materials are derived from coal and
> oil - other than fuel for vehicles and greasing industry, I don't think we
> can argue that it does not matter too much if coal, oil etc are depleted.
>  A world without plastics would soon seize up.  There are plenty of good
> reasons to conserve oil other than just the energy product, and these other
> uses alone justify every effort to move to alternative forms of energy.
> Conservation of all resources as well as the natural world and species in
> it just makes good sense.  It does not make good sense to take things to
> the point where they are just hanging on - and just to try to stay relevant
> to this discussion site, the world is better having an abundance of all
> birds rather than many rare ones just hanging on.
> And, on the point that predictions of doom in the past have proved wrong
> doesn't mean that eventually we will not exhaust things to the point that
> digging deeper, processing more efficiently, etc, will not stop them
> running out.
> Peter Morgan
> On 23/08/2012, at 1:43 PM, Dave Torr <> wrote:
> > Whilst the growth rate may be declining, it is still positive so absolute
> > population is growing - and in many economies (China and India) the
> > consumption rate is rising rapidly.
> > I agree that estimates of reserves are not very accurate, and that with
> > improving technology more marginal reserves can be tapped, but again none
> > of them are infinite. I guess it can be argued that it does not matter
> too
> > much if coal, oil etc are depleted as we can access solar and other
> energy
> > forms to replace them, but even they have their limits eventually
> >
> > On 23 August 2012 13:25, Jeremy O'Wheel <> wrote:
> >
> >> I think it's worth noting that global population growth peaked in 1969
> and
> >> has been declining since then.
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >> I also think it's worth noting that our estimates of the remaining
> >> resources of nearly every raw resource have been increasing over time
> >> (rather than decreasing).  So for example if you look at estimates of
> how
> >> much gold is is left to be dug up, the estimates for 2012 are
> significantly
> >> higher than the estimates in 2002, which are higher than 1992 etc.  So
> >> although, in some sense we must be depleting resources, the evidence
> >> suggests that the problem is far less serious than popular thought
> >> presents.  People have been predicting economic collapse within a few
> >> decades due to depleted resources since the 19th century, and so far
> have
> >> been wrong.
> >>
> >> Of course that doesn't mean that they're wrong now, but it's worth
> keeping
> >> in mind the 150 years of these predictions being wrong, and wondering
> why
> >> they would be right now.
> >>
> >> It's 80 years since an Australian bird went extinct (not counting our
> >> island territories), and although if it were up to me, I'd massively
> >> increase national parks, ban the recreational use of beaches and
> wetlands,
> >> as well as dogs and cats, and presumably never get elected, I think we
> have
> >> to recognise that the state of both the Australian environment and the
> >> global environment is actually not too bad, and doom and gloom is not
> based
> >> on facts.
> >

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