Mike Bostock

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Peter Diamandis: Abundance is our future VS Paul Gilding: The Earth is full. There cannot be a future of abundance.

Unfortunately for the future presented by Diamandis, there is one absolute unchangeable fact that Gilding mentions and this fact is based on mathematics.

How can you have a future of abundance when the resources of this Earth are finite and decreasing in amount and to that you add a growing population and demand?

Less resources to be shared between more people. How can there be a future of abundance?

Supply and demand says it cannot. Math says it cannot.

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    Mar 24 2012: Resources are finite but not decreasing, just transforming from one state to another. Iron from mines going to junk yards, but still iron. Ice melting to ocean then evaporating to clouds... everything is in a cycle. With technology we will find new ways of re-obtaining the finite resources that we changed from one state to another. Nothing vanishes, just move. That is explained in physics and chemistry although most people forget that basic, universal, principle.

    The world is already in abundance: we produce more food than we need (look at the obesity statistics). We have more cars than we need. More information than we can consume. Energy is already abundant but we waste it with unnecessary heating, cooling, and traveling. The world production (GDP) is growing by 3% per year, on average

    The population is already stabilizing. Growth rate peaked 2.2% in the 1963, and it was 1.1% in 2011. Simply put: the economy grows by 3% per year and the population grows by 1% per year. We have increasing abundance today. Projections are that the population will stop growing in the next 30 to 40 years.

    Should we refute the above numbers? Abundance distribution is a big issue, that may lead to new wars over today's uneven distribution. Global warming is a big issue: how fast new technologies will enable us to stop consuming oil? It will happen eventually (i.e.: solar power, biofuels, wind, etc) but is the warming reversible?

    The pessimist says we are approaching the end of mankind on earth. The optimistic says there are workarounds via technology. But most time both, the pessimist and the optimist, use the wrong arguments. Real threads are how fast and fair we can develop and distribute technology and abundance. In that matter, intellectual property (patents!) is the big stone blocking our future.
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    Mar 22 2012: Your making a division of a single pie fallacy. More people do not equal less resources per capita, in fact historically it has been the exact opposite; the more people we have, the more resources they have available per capita. This despite people saying for 1000s of years that the Earth is not able to sustain us.
    Instead of asking yourselves why, you "peakers" constantly push the date forward, as a Harold Camping predicting the end of the world.
    Try to understand what the man (Diamandis) is saying; knowledge is the only boundary condition to the state of humanity. Energy use per capita has been increasing for 1000s of years, why? Because our knowledge has been increasing. The constraints from our planet are so wide with so much options available, that in no sense they play a role for us in determining the ultimate limits for us (Kardashev 1 scale civilization) for the coming 100s of years.
    Look, we've had many different prime sources of energy: oxes, horses, wind, water, peat, wood, coal and now oil, they all looked ubiquitous and irreplacable in their heydays, but guess what, they got replaced by something cheaper; and so energy has become ever more cheaper through the ages. To envision a peak now is a historical fallacy, oil is just a tiny tiny fraction of all energy available here on Earth; as a comparison: the sun beams 2 times more energy onto the Earth each year as all fossil and Uranium reserves combined.
    We are not a rabbit or bacteria, breeding mindlessly unto genocidal constraints, we are the proud owners of the most complex objects in the known universe, our brains, which we have been using to overcome natures constraints for millenia, it is what we do. We don't except natures harsh cruelty, we transcend it.

    And we will see economic growth the coming 100s of years, just like we had economic growth the last 1000s of years.
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      Mar 22 2012: How romantic. Unfortunately not based on facts. Just because you think human beings and our brains are the best thing ever made by nature, does not create more wealth to spread among people.

      Read Adam Smith "The Wealth of Nations" so you have real knowledge about the origin of wealth and not just romantic unsustainable ideas.

      According to some studies (United Nations University. http://www.wider.unu.edu/events/past-events/2006-events/en_GB/05-12-2006) 90% of the world's population (in 2000) had an average per capita income of just over US$11,000, this is an average.

      Earth is nothing more than a big pie, yes it is. Earth cannot magically multiply or create out of nowhere new resources. And again with the energy, it is important, but human beings do not feed on energy or make machinery out of energy. The global economy is not based on just energy resources.

      Knowledge is not the only boundary condition to the state of humanity. There are many, among them land labor and stock, from which all types of wealth come from (Adam Smith). Check it out and at least see Gilding's talk.
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        Mar 22 2012: Of course I saw the talk, and I am familiar with Adam Smith.
        Because we have nowhere reached the physical boundaries of the Earth, knowledge is the only constraint for now.
        Perhaps you are familiar with the british economist Jevon, he wrote:
        "I must point out the painful fact that such a rate of growth will before long render our consumption of coal comparable with the total supply. In the increasing depth and difficulty of coal mining we shall meet that vague, but inevitable boundary that will stop our progress." in his 1865 The Coal Question. Coal was his ultimate resource as well, he stated "Coal in truth stands not beside but entirely above all other commodities. It is the material energy of the country — the universal aid — the factor in everything we do."
        Now as we all know, UK's progress did not stop and they are wealthier now than ever. Also, we have way more energy per capita available now than ever. How come? Mr Jevon was right in a way, with all the knowledge they had back then, the so-called paradigm they lived, the end of progress was near. But this was not absolute, we gained the knowledge of extracting and using oil effectively.
        Now but oil or the other fuels in a perspective, compare it to solar, nuclear fission or even fusion, it is only the lack of knowledge that is the constraint. Would we know how, energy would be plentiful, and luckily our knowledge is expanding exponentially, for a long time already, and at a faster pace than known reserves are dwindling. This will continue. The human mind is the ultimate resource, the only one that matters and its potential for innovation knows no theoretical boundary. Hence, growth will continue indefinitely.
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          Mar 23 2012: As mentioned by Gilding, we have reached the physical boundaries of Earth. That is what 1.5 Earths means.

          Knowledge is also a scarce resource. Education goes hand in hand with socioeconomic level, so the top 10% of population must be the highly educated population.

          You are still focusing only on energy resources. You have a partial idea of the whole.

          Gilding's main point is exactly your final conclusion. Indefinite growth with limited finite resources is a crazy idea. It is just basic math.

          No one here is saying that the human race will end. But a huge economic correction will happen due to the consumer based economy we now have. No one knows with certainty what the consequences of this correction will be.
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        Mar 24 2012: Energy is everything, you can create any other resource with it, with energy in abundance we will lack nothing.
        Knowledge is a scarce resource, hence the high wages we pay on labour, there has not risen a price of a single thing more than that of labour. Overpopulation therefor is a myth.
        Luckily total cumulative human knowledge doubles every year, and the amount of graduates has increased exponentially in the last decades.

        We don't have the constraint of limited finite resources, because the only resource that matters is the human brain. We won't see any bigger economic corrections than we just had, and people will be unbelievably richer, use way more energy and live in a cleaner and healthier environment in 50 years. Whilst poverty and hunger is totally eradicated. Mark my words.
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          Mar 24 2012: Hope you are right. But you are definitely swimming upstream.

          Could you explain how it is that with "energy in abundance we will
          lack nothing".
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          Mar 25 2012: Mike Bostock:
          Well the technology is no where near being developed, I don't think, but he is right in saying "with energy in abundance we will lack nothing".

          E=mc^2
          With the appropriate technology, we would be able to convert energy into any form of matter we find necessary, and, with solar power, we would be attaining this energy from the sun and would not be using up as much of Earth's resources. There may really only be a problem with an increase in Earth's mass, and therefore gravity.
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        Mar 25 2012: My meaning was a little less fundamental than E=mc2. With ample energy you can e.g. desalinate water cheaply, you can recycle metals, or extract them in areas where they now cost too much energy to extract. You can also power alternatives, e.g. funghi instead of plastics, and oil from algea.
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          Mar 25 2012: Good point. Both of our proposals are still valid, although mine is just a little bit... out there.
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    Mar 24 2012: I'm not a doomsayer but what about the north atlantic current? if this shutsdown because of fast melting artic ice, will this trigger a northern hemisphere ice age? How will this affect abundance when the survivors will heavily impact upon those areas that is outside said event.

    Even without an ice age event we are running into the possibility of total unreliable weather patterns and sea level changes.One only has to ask a kiwi and a Aussie how global weather conditions has affected the southern hemisphere,it's rapid and unpredictable.Any abundance model with resource locations should be revised if they fall into a low lying coastal area,delete them from the model.

    I wish for rescue technologies to emerge but i can't see them scaling up to production level from the nano anytime soon.Having an aging population without younger generations following through will only result in a system with one result,either you assign them a "resource +" or a "resource -" tag and then it's just one step away from logans run.God i hope we don't compact down to termight colonies, it maybe logical but it isn't natural,i'm actually hoping our fear will stimulate growth in the technology sector.
  • Mar 23 2012: I vote abundance.

    Some of the comments are silly at best.

    "It is just basic math"

    Malthusus is dead! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Robert_Malthus

    Please! Think before you type!
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      Mar 24 2012: sorry, but malthus is not dead. nor marx, sadly. they are as vigorous as ever.
      • Mar 24 2012: @ Krisztian Pinter
        Both Malthus and Karl Marx are dead as well as the ideas that are in the dust bin of history.
        Like the Wicked Witch of the West they are dead.

        Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman along with the end of the USSR are lighting the way.

        Science and technology are the vigor. Free to chose the path ====
  • Mar 21 2012: Well, I don't know. But this guy is a hell of a lot smarter than me, and this is what he is expecting.
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    Mar 21 2012: We are running on empty now. At least see Gilding’s talk.

    Earth’s resources now only allow 10% of the Earth’s population to be considered middle or high class, the remaining 90% are considered poor.

    The above percentages show that even now, with 7 billion humans, the Earth’s resources are insufficient to allow a good quality of life to 90% of the population.

    In 2050 the expected population is around 10.5 billion.

    This is not oversimplification or pessimism. These are predictions based on hard facts.

    Oversimplification is saying that we will dominate nuclear tech or fission or hyper drives or whatever magical new technology and just believe that humanity can live on energy and water alone. That is not only oversimplification but a delusion and a show of ignorance.

    Sterling Spencer; to call Space the “extremely easy solution” only shows that you watch too much science fiction on TV. We are still trying to make low orbit economically possible. As I mentioned, we are now running on empty.
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      Mar 22 2012: My bad for exaggerating. I apologize. I stated it as an "extremely easy solution". Of course it's not easy to actually achieve as of right now.

      I made the statement thinking that, by the time the lack of resources and overpopulation become a immediate crisis to the point when we see even the greatest of nations struggling to find resources to survive, we will have sufficiently advanced technology enough to make space an "easy solution".

      -Just to clarify your position a little more-
      At what point in time do you see this eventuality reaching its utmost extreme and causing the world to regress, or do you think the worst is already upon us?
      What possible solutions do you think there might be to this problem, if you think there are any?

      The first general purpose electric computer, ENAC, was announced 66 years ago. The first man on the Moon touched down 43 years ago. Look at where we are now. Now I'm not going to pretend I know the future, but i personally would not be surprised if we could start pulling in resources from planets in our Solar System in the next hundred years.

      The only way I could see this not happening is if the zenith of this "resources crisis" was reached before we could develop such technologies. Then we would be forced to save our resources and not go to Space.

      So is the peak of this situation really that close at hand?

      Oh and I don't own a TV. :)
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        Mar 22 2012: I do not know when the worst is going to happen. Neither does Gilding. Gilding mentions (based on other source) that we know need 1.5 years to renew the resources we consume in 1 year. That is what is meant by 1.5 Earths. It is mentioned that by 2030 we will need 2 years to renew what is consumed in 1. Also take into account that not all resources are renewable or easy to renew.

        Additionally as the law of supply and demand states, as a resource grows in demand it becomes more expensive. So it is not only that the resources will be scarcer, they will be more expensive.

        Gilding mentions that the collapse of this economic system will be gradual and has already begun. The Arab revolts, oil expected to rise to $200 a year from now, the never ending financial crisis and related events are on his view, part of this gradual collapse.
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          Mar 22 2012: So do you think that we will never at all have a future of abundance?
          or
          Do you think we could we greatly fall economically and then, after a long period of time and a war or whatever crisis ensues, at some point rise back up?
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        Mar 23 2012: I do not know. Not in the near future.

        It would be great if someone would come with a Star Trek Replicator kind of device that could replicate anything. With such device all industry would stop existing (except for the replicator manufacturer). For a replicator the resource needed would be atoms and there are a bunch of them.

        But this is make believe.

        I personally think that a consumer based economy based on economic growth based on limited, finite resources is physically impossible. Sooner or later this will be obvious to all.

        This flaw on the global economy is not widely known because the way the global economy operates, benefits some people (the big capitals).
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          Mar 23 2012: I wholeheartedly agree that today's economy is suicidally flawed.
          Future economic standards may possibly lead to a world with access to more resources.
          So, we might have an abundant future, just not based on today's world economy.
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      Mar 22 2012: FYI, already more than 50% of the world population is considered middle class. Poverty is in steep decline, as well as food scarcity, both have never been lower, percentage wise.
      I think it is a conservative estimate that both will be practically non existant within 15 years.
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        Mar 22 2012: Show me your source for this info. Otherwise you are just making things up.
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        Mar 22 2012: This is taken from the only source you listed that speaks about the middle class (the Economist). You should read carefully.

        "In practice, emerging markets may be said to have two middle classes. One consists of those who are middle class by any standard—ie, with an income between the average Brazilian and Italian. This group has the makings of a global class whose members have as much in common with each other as with the poor in their own countries. It is growing fast, but still makes up only a tenth of the developing world. You could call it the global middle class.

        The other, more numerous, group consists of those who are middle-class by the standards of the developing world but not the rich one. Some time in the past year or two, for the first time in history, they became a majority of the developing world’s population: their share of the total rose from one-third in 1990 to 49% in 2005. Call it the developing middle class."

        The meaning of the above is that, they would not be considered middle classes by developed country standards. Also that 49% only refers to developing nations. And the "global middle class" is only 10% of the emerging markets population.

        This is in agreement with the United Nations University study.
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          Mar 25 2012: Mike, the sum of poor+middle+rich will always be 100% so, the percentage of middle does not matter, except for the fact that it measures distribution of resources, but not the consumption of resources. If we imagine that all the world will consume like Americans, then we do not have abundance today. But if we take the total world GDP, or world production of food, and divide by total population, we already have abundance in the sense that we can feed and educate all the world population. The real problem is distribution.
          I live in Brazil, middle class, and lived in US, middle class, it is different indeed. In US it is waste waste waste, while in Brazil I consume much less and live better. I also have worked with several of the "emerging" economies, whatever the term mean ("emerging" is an empty concept in my opinion), and "poor" in these economies differs from "poor" in the US, but this does not mean that the entire world population is willing to live like Americans. The future of abundance means that US must become "poorer" compared to other economies (which is happening since 2008), and on the other end, India and China must become richer (btw, is already happening). To understand the term "abundance" we should define what is "necessary" for living. It is clear that my understanding of abundance differs from yours.
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        Mar 22 2012: Thanks Victor for your interesting stat. I do not however accept the World Bank definition of extreme poverty - there is no context to it. so every theory that comes out of that definition is complete tosh in my book.
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    Mar 21 2012: There is an extremely easy solution to this "problem". Space! Space contains more resources than billions of Earths. Some people wonder why we spend so much money on space technology, but those people usually don't realize how much wealth there is in resources out there.

    By the time our resources on Earth seem to be running on empty we will surely have developed the technologies to harness the vast resources of space and regions it provides for our populations to live. So not only will we have a future of abundance, we will have an abundance so great that we will require the resources of entire galaxies, not planets, in order to sustain us. Beyond that there are billions upon billions of galaxies to contend with before we truly harbor any threat of running out of resources in THIS universe.
  • Mar 21 2012: Mike, I started a thread on this topic from a slightly different angle than you. My concern is not that mankind cannot innovate our way into a better future but that socially and emotionally we are not prepared for the effort needed and the raid changes needed to implement such nnvations on a vast scale. Now, even a decade ago the idea that everybody would have computing and instant communication in their pockets would have been amusing. Now it is reality. But, look at how unstable many of our societies have become. No, I am not blaming the smart phone! I am just saying that humans have a pull back effect some times when technological changes move "too" rapidly for them to adjust. In the case of our current energy and resource utilization, we may not have time for people to work out their society level emotional issues before we hit a crisis which may spin things well out of control.
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      Mar 22 2012: I have been researching this topic and found out that the world consumer based economy is mainly based on human behavior, human nature and greed has a big role on this. It is very hard to change human nature, thus it will be very hard to change the global economic system we have now.

      It is well known that wealth distribution on the USA and the world is becoming more unequal. This concentration of wealth and of resources is because of human behavior, human nature. In the USA, in 2007, 93% of the financial wealth was on hands of the top 20%.
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    Mar 21 2012: Pessimistic thinking has never led anybody anywhere except to suicide. All the worries about the earth resources depleting are greatly exaggerated. Thier major flaws are twofold: first that they assume a constant level of technology (which is an absurd when we look at the last, say, decade); second they are devoid of faith in our species. I personally believe that the fate will be kind for us despite our utmost stupidity. Mankind is destined for something great, never really to suffocate or starve on this planet.
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      Mar 21 2012: however, we have this :)

      http://www.vhemt.org/
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        Mar 21 2012: Thanks for the link, it is very... illuminant.
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        Mar 22 2012: What a tragically sad site. Really depressing to read such misanthropism. And it is quite psychotic to dream of a beautiful world without the only species that can appreciate beauty to begin with, to dream of a world that spins aimlessly and thoughtlessly, like probably a billion others in the universe.
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          Mar 22 2012: i suppose it is mockery.

          however, i always give that link to people who that we are a plague on this planet. stop lamenting, take action :)
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    Mar 21 2012: Math says it cannot... at our incredibly high rate of consumption.

    I think Peter's main point was that humans do have the capacity to be creative. This is not simply an abundance, or lack of, material resources. It's an abundance of human creativity. With the abundance of this creativity... if we can somehow coalesce into a unified, sustainable global society, there will be enough opportunity to sustain humanity beyond a climate crisis.

    From my point of view, there is absolutely no reason humanity needs to increase the human population anymore. None. We have enough absolute numbers of people to continue the domination of the planet. We need to be smart, however, and realize that we must override the primal instincts to procreate more than we account for. We also have to overthrow/revolutionize the supply/demand economic structure into recognizing the value of finite resources. Exponential growth is not sustainable. Yet that's what supply/demand is based from.

    But once we do that... stagnate the population and redefine our economy, we'll be ok. The (extremely problematic) difficulty is getting to that point.
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    Mar 20 2012: I think humans will have more or less the same fate as any other population of organisms. At the beginning population size and density increases rapidly as long as resources can support the growth. After that growth will flatten out. This relationship of available resources and population is called the carrying capacity of a biological system.
    Obviously, this carrying capacity can be tweaked in the sense that we become more efficient in using our resources, but eventually growth must come to a halt. There is no such thing as infinite growth.
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    Mar 20 2012: oversimplification. take for example the energy use, and assume 1% increase per year. it roughly means that our energy use doubles every 70 years. now suppose that we master nuclear technologies. at this rate, it still serves us good for many centuries, but let it be, say, 150 years. we have 150 years to come up with something new. for example fusion. which also gives us some time, and so on. we don't have to use the same technology in the same environment while maintaining exponential growth.
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      Mar 20 2012: Yes, as long as we can can find new ways for supplying our resources, we can keep growing, but eventually we run out of one or more of our key resources. That can be space, water, food, energy (this one I think is the least likely), etc.
      The only advantage we have over other organisms is our capability to think and be creative, hence our ability to postpone the inevitable.
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        Mar 21 2012: be more specific. what is that final resource that we can not replace or abandon? your examples are not, water is abundant in the universe, food can be recycled, so it is an energy problem, and energy is also abundant. it is certainly impossible to see any hard barriers within some hundred years.
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          Mar 21 2012: So ? What did I write ? Read again.
          At that point I don't see technologies like water harvesting from outer space or colonizing other planets.
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        Mar 21 2012: you wrote "eventually we run out of one or more of our key resources"

        and i wrote "it is certainly impossible to see any hard barriers within some hundred years"

        now i would modify that hundred to hundred thousand.
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          Mar 21 2012: Pure speculation, considering that the technologies necessary to provide us unlimited supply of resources are not available yet nor is there any hint that they will be available any time soon.
          You could as well believe in God's intervention before we run out of resources (just kidding, I know you are an atheist)
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        Mar 21 2012: ah, and one more thing:

        "At that point I don't see technologies like"

        at that point you don't see the solution to a problem that we will face 500 years from now. is that considered to be a problem? could the medieval man solve our problems today?
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          Mar 21 2012: It's no issue all together. As I said, populations of living organisms tend to regulate themselves.
          There are 2 options:
          1) we keep growing and at the same rate we keep developing technologies that allow to support our growth or
          2) We can't keep up with the production of new resources and population growth will fall back to a level at which it can be sustained by available resources.