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Mitch SMith


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What are our true global economics?

I recently saw an estimate that human population is currently consuming 1.5 times the carrying capacity of the Earth.

This suggests that the resources we use - the plants and animals and energy required to keep us alive are generated by the planet ecology.
It suggests that the system, if left to itself, has a capital represented by sunshine, air, water, plants and animals.

It suggests that the carrying capacity for humans is like the "interest" on the global "capital"
The inference is that we are harvesting more than the interest and are well into the capital - harvesting at an exponential growth rate.
In other words, having eaten everything on the farm, we are now eating the farm. And there will be no more "interest" becasue there will be no more capital.
Like our global bank account is in free-fall.
One dimension of the assertion is that, by mass, the nitrogen in human beings is 1.5 the available nitrogen in the at-rest ecology.

Firstly, is this a valid assertion?
Are Earth resources truly finite as assumed?
Are the available resources measurable? If so - who has a good set of data we can use for modelling?

Secondly, if resources are finite and measured - and we are consuming capital exponentially - what are our options?
What lattitude do we have for increasing carrying capacity?
How far can carrying capacity be pushed?
Can we survive in a no-growth, or contracting economic model?
What are the options for population modification?
How long do we have?

These questions are not formulated to "troll" world views. I am asking questions that a lot of people should have rational answers for.
Please reply in the spirit of the questions. Data would be good, as well as well considered models that can be tested.
Also welcome are weblinks that have rational foundations - no ratbag theory please.


Closing Statement from Mitch SMith


I have digested available metrics and known models.

Like everyone else, I am finding that the non-linear factors render the numbers functionally useless. The modeling methods themselves seem to yield more information - but all models admit to not representing any comprehensive claim.

However, one thing is clear - the window of opportunity for business-as-usual closed sometime mid 1900's, the balance of carrying capacity against draw-down of fossil energy is well under way - capital is definitely being exponentially consumed and has a terminal point at around 2050 - at which point all life on planet earth will cease.

But this assumes business as usual based on what we think we know - as it turns out, we know very little.

So .. in this scenario - ignorance is bliss.

I the analogy of our common understanding, we are screwing the planet and the value it represents. So .. to stay within the things we understand - are we rape/murdering the panet - Or are we mating with it?
This distincion is the critical facto determining if a single human will occupy the universe past 2050.

2050 is a conservative estimate - I would recommend you start answering it now.
It might be too late for you, but you might have children.
If you value hope ..
Remember - hope is not required in the universe outside of your own skull.
What you do is important - to you.
I couldn't care less. _ I've made my choice.

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      Nov 15 2012: Hi Mike,

      Good observations.

      What the data does is to provide 1. starting points, and 2. Dynamic observations.
      One can then try our hypothetical models to fit the observations - from which predictions can be made for testing the hypothesis.
      So .. for instance: Total sunlight/day minus (total human consumption/day minus fossil energy consumption/day) only defines remaining at-rest capital.
      That would be useful for determining trend of capital consumption.
      The interest component of at-rest capital needs to be determined as a base-line upon which at-rest carrying capacity can be calculated.
      To get that we need to derive the surplus component of total bio-mass. This could be done as an estimate of carbon sequester-rate. But it would have to be done with humans excluded. So we need to calculate the carbon intake/output by measuring food in - excrement-out which should give a carbon balance equal to total biomass population growth(all species). this should yield a positive figure equal to at-rest carrying capacity - and would equal the diversion of surplus carbon from fossil sequestration to human consumption.
      Then we look at the human cycle - However, it is not clear if human excretion is re-entering the environment cyclically. We tend to dump our poo into toxic concentrations that are not easily metabolised by the biosphere. So there is one major factor that needs research. I.E. how much of human excrement returns to the available cycle, and how much goes into a kind of fossil sink? The difference would influence additional withdrawal of carbon from the global capital.
      from these figures, you could take actual human energy consumption and subtract at-rest carrying capacity = energy consumption "over-shoot". Then when you subtract fossil energy consumption, you will be left with capital consumption of the biosphere. The change in this number over time will yield the curve of teh consumption accelleration - which will yield a termination point at which everyone dies.
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      Nov 15 2012: BTW - the above does not factor-in peak-oil.
      The onset of peak-oil will modulate the downward trend of capital consumption.
      The techno-cornucopia-worshipers believe that the pealk-oil phenomenon will be headed off, but that church does not believe in capital consumption - so they are screwed sooner or later.
      Departure from reality has always been a big problem for religions.
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          Nov 15 2012: Thanks Mike,

          What this exercise will do at the very least is to prompt the incisive questions if and when "solutions" are pushed on us. I would like the principle of empathy to survive me and my species if possible.
      • Nov 18 2012: Hi Mitch,

        Peak oil is a moving target. M. King Hubbert in the 1950's predicted peak oil would occur decades ago. Just when we thought peak oil had come and gone, a new technology, horizontal fracking brought vast reserves of oil and natural gas available for exploitation. I am not in favor of this but feel constrained to point out that some resources are indeed, finite, like native fisheries, but even here, we don't know how much aquaculture will increase our bounty from the sea.

        In similar fashion we don't know how much natural gas is recoverable long-term because like most resources, there is a standard resource pyramid where the richest ore (or, for example, oil) are exploited first and then, as technology improves, a greater portion of the resource pyramid is exploited. The resource pyramid for oil is huge---and growing. We know about Canadian tar sands and the oil shales out west. What we didn't know was that a new technology, not a new energy source would later vastly increase peak oil reserves.

        In similar fashion we don't know how much natural gas is recoverable---in this country our predicted reserves of natural gas have risen dramatically with the ability to frack the Marcellus and Utica shales. When you add to that the vast amount of methane clathrates on the continental slope and rise and we have vast additional resources of natural gas i.e. extending supplies.

        A major source of metals isn't even being exploited yet. These are the vast tracts of seafloor that have manganese nodules littering the seafloor. Unlike terrestrial metals they may become a renewable natural resource. As they are harvested the waste metal, the iron, can be used as "seeds" to grow new nodules on the seafloor. The iron is also critical, as are the rich bottom waters, to building a complete new resource in what are called, "ocean deserts". These manganese nodule fields perhaps using windmill power for "mining" could increase by a massive amount existing aquaculture resources.
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          Nov 18 2012: Not to mention nano engineering.
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          Nov 19 2012: Hi Richard,

          Many thanks - these are cogent observations!

          The delay of reconning seems endless. And this is the basis of the recent promethean philosophy. But it's still just an ideology - and, if Larouche is it's poster child, then it has an idiot at teh helm ;)
          My anchor in all this comes from 2 places:
          1. The Y2K glitch. I was deeply involved in getting a few companies over that particular crisis. I did the analysis of all the computer programs and took the empirical cost of non-action to the relevent CEOs. These were things like "what happens when year 99 becomes 00 in this program". Usually, the results were that accounting glitches would occur, bills would go un-paid and accounting systems would go into a series of glitches which would take about a month of fire-fighting to sort out. No business can afford to have accounts go off-line for a few days, let alone a month. It doesn't sound real sexy as a headline, but it was mission-critical. What usually happened as the projects were formed, was that the lack of a sexy headline prompted internal empite-builders to fluff-up the fear and win massive unecessay budgets. E.g. for one company I had costed a project consisting of a handful of programmers to take 3 months to fix the lot in about 1/4 mill. The actuial project employed Andersons consulting a year and a half project on 20 mill. And most the work was done by my littel project team anyway.. we stayed on to fix all the crap coming out of the Andersons team.
          2. The other glaring example is the Gore/Monkton climate circus. The climate thing is real, but it's not nearly as sexy as these gentlemen need - to fluff-up a personal fortune based on fear-press.
          I am not happy with technology-worship. I grew up in a mining town and I know what prometheus does to the earth and the people on it. Just have a look at the "oops sorry!" going on with the affect of cloud-seeding on hurricane Sandy.
          People use new tricks blindly - and everyone pays.
          Don't touch the methane!

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