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Nature's Capital Is The Limiting Resource

Discussion in 'Topical Discussions (In Depth)' started by Scorpio, Jan 29, 2013.



  1. Scorpio

    Scorpio Скорпион Founding Member Board Elder Site Mgr Site Supporter ++

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    Nature's Capital Is The Limiting Resource
    Paul Craig Roberts

    ruined.jpg
    Only in science fiction can humans escape the consequences of destroying their own habitat. In Robert A. Heinlein's Time Enough For Love, the "Great Diaspora of the Human Race" began "more than two millennia ago" and has spread to more than "two thousand colonized planets." The once "lovely green planet" Earth is a slum planet barely able to support life where only the poorest live, Earth's natural capital having been consumed over two thousand years ago. Humans have found the ability to rejuvenate themselves and to live almost endless lives, but they are unable to rejuvenate the planets whose natural capital they devour. Humans have not encountered "one race as mean, as nasty, as deadly as our own." As homo sapiens use up the environments of colonized planets, "human intergalactic colony ships are already headed out into the Endless Deeps," leaving their ruins behind them.

    In his book, Collapse, University of California biogeography professor Jared Diamond describes the nonfictional past and present destruction of Earth's natural capital. Surprisingly, Diamond begins his story of the self-destruction of Easter Island, Anasazi, and Maya civilizations with present-day Montana and ends with Australia. We think of these two lands as scenic, lightly populated, and largely untouched, but they have been brought to the brink of ruin. Diamond's point is that modern scientific and technological man is no better at managing nature's capital than previous societies.

    Many associate ecological destruction with population pressure. However, the toxicity associated with mining, fracking, chemical fertilizer and GMO farming, and the adverse watershed effects of logging is turning even low density states such as Montana into an environment with ruined soil and water.

    In Montana mining has produced a legacy of toxicity–mercury, arsenic, cyanide, cadmium, lead, and zinc. These toxic substances have found their way into Montana's fishing rivers and into reservoirs. From reservoirs toxic substances have leaked into groundwater and into the wells that supply homes. In 1981 groundwater serving family wells in areas of Montana was found with arsenic levels 42 times higher than federal standards permit.

    Before Montana could find ways to retrieve its water resources from the toxic run-offs from mining, a new threat has appeared: hydraulic fracking. Fracking uses huge amounts of surface water, which it infuses with toxic chemicals to aid the extraction of underground gas and oil deposits that are otherwise unrecoverable. The energy industry and its media shills are touting "energy independence" in order to sway the public away from environmentalists, who are warning of the dangers.

    Some of fracking's toxic wastes stay in the ground and seep into aquifers, destroying the water supply. The toxic water that comes back up with the gas or oil has to be disposed of. On occasion, it ends up in city or town waste water treatment plants, which cannot detoxify the water, and in streams where toxic run-off can reduce nitrogen and phosphorus and produce golden algae (prymnesium parvum) which destroys all aquatic life. The use of surface water for fracking might already have depleted the streams that supplied the water, lowering their volume and thus making them vulnerable to other pollution, such as septic tank run-offs and algae from higher temperatures due to a lower water level.

    While promising "energy independence," fracking actually threatens to destroy our fresh water supplies. Recently, researchers have given attention to the fact that water might be the limiting resource and end up more valuable than oil, gas, or gold.

    Fracking is still in its infancy, but Pennsylvania is already hard hit. There have been reports that some homeowners have been warned to open their windows when they take a shower, because of the methane content of the water which is high enough in some instances for the water to actually burn.

    Energy spokesmen claim that methane found in ground water near fracking sites is a natural condition. However, residents say that their water was not infused with methane prior to the fracking operations. A study recently published by the National Academy of Sciences found that the type of methane gas that has appeared in water supplies is the same as the gas nearby wells are extracting with fracking operations. This indicates that the methane is moving into water supplies through underground fractures.

    In 2012 Robert Oswald, professor of molecular medicine at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, published with a coauthor, Veterinarian Michelle Bamberger, a peer-reviewed article that indicated a link between fracking and neurological, reproductive, and gastrointestinal problems of livestock exposed via air or water to toxic chemicals used in fracking.

    Fracking, like deep sea drilling and all other dangerous exploitations of nature's resources, promises large short-run profits for corporations at the expense of everyone else and the future. The cost of the polluted water, dead fish, infertile humans and animals, polluted soil and air, and the increase in diseases are all external costs imposed on third parties who have no stake in the ill-gotten profits.

    Pennsylvania, possibly the most corrupt state in the US, has passed a law that prevents health care professionals from sharing information about the health care effects of fracking. "I have never seen anything like this in my 37 years of practice," says Dr. Helen Podgainy, pediatrician from Coraopolis, Pa.

    In other words, as in Robert Heinlein's Time Enough For Love, in Amerika today a handful of rich control everything. Nothing else counts or matters. Oxfam, an international philanthropy organization, announced on January 18 that the world's 100 richest people earned an average of $2.4 billion each in 2012. Imagine that! An annual income of $2,400 million, or a daily income of $6,575,000. Compared to this, one of the early billionaires back in the 1990s, Sir James Goldsmith, was a poor man.

    Easter Island is a clear example of a civilization that destroyed itself by stripping its environment of its resources. Professor Diamond observes: " Easter Island was as isolated in the Pacific Ocean as the Earth is in space. When the Easter Islanders got into difficulties there was no where to which they could flee, nor to which they could turn for help; nor shall we modern Earthlings have recourse elsewhere" if we destroy the natural capital of our planet. Indeed, Diamond asks, "if mere thousands of Easter Islanders with just stone tools and their own muscle power sufficed to destroy their environment and thereby their society, how can billions of people with metal tools and machine power now fail to do worse?" Diamond might have added that people producing toxic wastes that poison the air, water, and soil and armed with nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons are certain to destroy Earth, especially when almost every government is unaccountable.

    On Easter Island trees were the major resource for the population. Trees provided food, housing, watershed that protected against soil erosion, compost, and the large canoes that allowed the inhabitants to leave the island and to fish offshore. What, Professor Diamond asks, was the ruler thinking when the last tree was cut down?

    The answer perhaps is that the ruler was thinking of his own glory. How would his
    stone monument be rolled into place without the aid of the last tree? What counts, the ruler thought, is not that the Easter Island population survive, but that I have no less glory in my monuments than my predecessors. Thus, with the last tree felled, Easter Island's death warrant was signed.

    When the original colonists arrived in Australia, they made a mistaken inference and concluded bountiful harvests were in their reach. Alas, there is salinity under the soil and irrigation brings the salt to the surface where it destroys the crops.

    Salinity brought to the surface by irrigation then runs off into the surface water. The Murray/Darling River accounts for about half of Australia's agricultural production. But as the river flows downstream, more and more water is extracted. The river becomes progressively salty as its volume decreases and more released salt deposits run off into the river. Diamond reports that "in some years so much water is extracted that no water is left in the river to enter the ocean."

    Clearing the land of its native vegetation contributes to the release of salinity. Diamond writes that 90% of Australia's original native vegetation has been cleared.

    The problems with Australia's soils and waters are profound, but don't expect the government to take them into account. Capitalist enterprises can make short term profits by destroying the fragile soils and waters of Australia. The small population of Australia is all the country can support considering its fragile ecology.

    This brings us to the rain forests of Brazil, the most extraordinary modern example of the wanton destruction of immense natural resources by the blind force of unregulated capitalist greed, a destructive force as dangerous as that of nuclear weapons.

    In The Fate of the Forest, Susanna Hecht and Alexander Cockburn take us through centuries of destruction of the most valuable forests on earth and the indigenous peoples that inhabited them. This book is an extraordinary learning experience and covers many centuries of man's destruction of the Amazon rain forests, medicinal plants, waters, indigenous peoples, and animal, vegetable and insect species. Every development plan failed, whether originating in a Brazilian government, private capitalist such as Henry Ford and Daniel Ludwig, or international organization.

    Briefly what happened is this. In order for outsiders to gain title to land inhabited by natives, rubber tappers, Brazil nut gatherers, and others who had use rights to the forests and knew how to exploit the forests without damaging them, the trees had to be felled, because titles were granted to cleared land.

    Land speculators and cattle ranchers acquired vast land holdings by wiping out forests of mahogany, rubber, and Brazil nut trees along with the native inhabitants. The cleared land, deprived of its stewards and its nutrients, became compacted and infertile after a few years. Cattle farming is profitable for a short time before the soil is exhausted, but the-short term profits exist only because of government subsidies and because the external costs of the value of the forests that were destroyed in order to gain a land title are not counted in the cost of the cattle.

    The Fate Of The Forest was published in 1990 by the prestigious University of Chicago Press. The information in the book goes to 1988. What has happened to the Amazon since I do not know. Hecht and Cockburn report that remnants of indigenous peoples, despite the murder of many of their leaders by the land barons who were never held accountable, succeeded in forcing the corrupt government of Brazil to establish "extractive reserves" that were supposed to protect the use rights of existing social organizations to the forests. The authors indicate as of their time of writing that the corrupt rich and well-connected were able to take advantage of the extractive reserves to continue their process of land theft. The same misuse is made of national parks. The indigenous inhabitants are moved off national park lands, but favored capitalists are given access to exploit the resources.

    I recommend this book to everyone. It shows conclusively without being didactic that unregulated capitalism is one of the greatest forces of destruction of peoples, animal and plant life, and the Earth's ecology. The book shows that for short-term profit, capitalists are willing to destroy irreplaceable resources. Future profitability is not important to them.

    And so we have GDP accounting that measures the Gross Domestic Product of countries without regard to the cost of polluted air, water, and soil, and without regard, for example, to the dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico from oil spills and chemical fertilizer run-off from farming. We add to GDP the value of the fracked oil and gas, but do not subtract the value of the ruined water supply of peoples and the life in the streams.

    When mining corporations blow off the tops of mountains, GDP counts the minerals extracted as an addition to value, but does not offset this value with the cost of the ruined scenery and environmental effects of destroyed mountains.

    When fishermen dynamite coral reefs in order to maximize their fish catch, the value of the fish obtained by destroying the environment that produced the fish is not offset by the destruction of the coral environment that would have produced a future supply of fish. The dynamite purchase is counted as GDP, but the destroyed reef is not counted as an offsetting cost.

    Ohio has experienced earthquakes from fracking. How severe will these become as the earth is fractured in the interest of short-term profit?

    Heinlein recognized "Mankind The Destroyer" and depicts humans as destroyers first of their Galaxy and then of other Galaxies.

    Will the real human race, as compared to Heinlein's fictional one, have the possibility of escaping from a destroyed Earth to other planets? Or is the destruction of Earth's ecology much closer in time than the ability of humans to colonize space?

    Economists have responsibility for earthlings' ignorance about their environmental dependence. Economics claims that man-made capital is a substitute for nature's capital. As nature's capital is depleted, reproducible man-made capital will take its place. This assumption is embodied in the production function that is the basis of modern economic theory. The assumption is absurd, because it assumes that finite resources can support infinite growth. Economists should begin their education with courses in physics.

    The correct description of the production process is that natural resources are transformed into useful products and waste products by labor and man-made capital. Nature's capital and man-made capital are complements, not substitutes. Nature's capital is used up as resources are exploited to make useful products, and air, land, and water become polluted with the waste products from production. The capacity of the planet's "waste sinks" is limited.

    GDP accounting does not include the costs of environmental destruction as a cost of production. For example, the costs of the unexpected consequences of genetically modified crops are not included in the prices of the wheat, corn, and soybeans. In 2011 plant pathologist and soil microbiologist Don Huber described these costs to the US Secretary of Agriculture. Toxic effects on soil microorganisms have disrupted nature's balance, resulting in an increase in plant diseases. Soil fertility, micronutrients, and the nutritional value of foods have all been harmed. Animal reproductive problems, weak immune response, and premature aging are linked to herbicide-resistant GMOs that have become animal feed.

    According to ecological economist Herman Daly, if all the costs of production are included, the decrease in nature's capital could outweigh the value of the increase in GDP. As Hecht and Cockburn make clear, this has certainly been the case in the exploitation of the Amazon. The output is worth far less than the resources that were ruined in order to produce it.

    There is very little of the earth left that has not been ruined by humans. The little that is left is the Antarctic, the Arctic, and some parts of Alaska such as the wilderness above Alaska's Bristol Bay. The Antarctic is protected by treaty largely because no major power has figured out how to claim it. However, Shell Oil Company, with Obama's blessings, is now involved in offshore drilling in the Arctic, and a consortium of global mining corporations is lobbying Congress, the White House, and the Environmental Protection Agency for a green light for the Pebble Mine, an enormous open-pit mine to be placed in wilderness above Alaska's Bristol Bay. Scientists have concluded that the mine will make a dead zone out of a huge area of spectacular scenery encompassing the largest remaining wild salmon runs, and the wildlife, native inhabitants, and commercial fisherman dependent on the fish.

    EPA's scientists have concluded that the Pebble Mine would be environmentally and economically devastating, but this is a weak argument in the face of the greed of a few powerful moneybags for more profit. Just as Easter Islanders cut down their last trees, Americans are set to destroy their last wilderness and its fish, wildlife, and water resources. The mining lobbyists call this ecological destruction "progress" and "jobs" but do not count as an offset the 14,000 jobs related to the salmon fishery that will be destroyed by the Pebble Mine or the dead waters, fish, and wildlife that their toxic process will certainly produce.

    Robert Redford and the National Resources Defense Council have arrayed with the EPA scientists against the Pebble Mine. Will Washington listen to fact, or will homo sapiens yet again discard fact for temporary profit and take another step toward finishing off the planet's life-sustaining capability?

    Will the idiots who rule the earth destroy it before humans can escape to other planets?

    From all evidence, the destruction of earth's ecology has an immense head start on homo sapiens' ability to colonize space.

    Dr. Paul Craig Roberts is the father of Reaganomics and the former head of policy at the Department of Treasury. He is a columnist and was previously the editor of the Wall Street Journal. His latest book, "How the Economy Was Lost: The War of the Worlds," details why America is disintegrating.


    http://www.silverbearcafe.com/private/01.13/limiting.html
     
  2. Tecumseh

    Tecumseh Silver Member Silver Miner

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    I couldn't finish the article because after a couple paragraphs it read like propaganda.

    I'm open minded about hydraulic fracking but just from a common sense point of view - drilling one hole in a two square mile area that goes very deep,far beneath the aquifer with a secure well head that is reinforced with multiple layers of steel and concrete, drilled by a well funded company seems safer for the environment then drilling 10-12 conventional wells in the same surface area, all perforating the aquifer with less casing and reinforcement many done by not well funded wild catters.

    Water is definitely an issue and I don't know a whole lot about how much is consumed but I believe they are finding ways to recycle the water they use.

    I know the technology has been around for a long time - the more recent development of horizontal drilling (which I think is actually very good for the environment) made the use of fracking much more widespread.
     
  3. brosil

    brosil Gold Member Gold Chaser Site Supporter

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    There are other errors as well. Polynesians used long canoes for voyaging. There's evidence that the Easter Islanders used reed boats like the Iraqis. They did cut all their trees and it didn't help them. The Icelanders did the same. It just seems like another " We're all gonna DIE!!!" piece.
     
  4. Scorpio

    Scorpio Скорпион Founding Member Board Elder Site Mgr Site Supporter ++

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    along with that common sense,

    I might add, prior to the advent of fracking, you didn't need to open your window to take a shower,

    laws of unintended consequences may certainly be in effect,

    and to what effects does this contribute to earth geology? Balance, weight distribution, lubrication, etc.

    Might be just a pimple on a knats ass in the grand scheme of things but?

    I don't know enough about it to make educated arguments to or fro
     
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  5. BarnacleBob

    BarnacleBob GIM Founding Member & Mod. Founding Member Site Mgr Site Supporter

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    Reads like the SCARCITY meme.... maybe, just maybe if the system of capital accumulation & distribution was changed to a new system of equitable sharing & loss, maybe all inhabitants, present & future will practice reasonable conservation & use of all resources.....
     
  6. Cigarlover

    Cigarlover Gold Member Gold Chaser

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    I do think mother earth can protect and even rejuvenate herself up to a certain point. I dont know what that point is and sadly neither does anyone else. How many car and factories can spew co2 before our plant life cant absorb anymore? How many trees can be cut and not throw that balance out of whack? How many people can the world support?

    For an intelligent species we do a lot of very stupid things. Sad to say that the world would probably be a much better place without any of us on it.
    How many thousands of nuclear warheads have we tested above ground and under water? We contaminated our food supply with radiation and yet we go on day to day wondering what gadget to buy next like its going to make some huge difference in our lives.

    The real question in my mind is how many people and what type of society can the world support. IMO this grand experiment that is the US is a dismal failure. It started out on the right path but was hyjacked by corporate greed and bankers.

    A new world order is needed but not one in where a few elite control everyone. I wont even bother with my vision as its never going to happen anyway but I think deep down inside we all know the current system isnt working.
     
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  7. Tecumseh

    Tecumseh Silver Member Silver Miner

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    I don't know about that Scorp - I passed on a property for sale that had a conventional well drilled back in 1912 whose casing had detiorated and was leaking - you could certainly smell the gas (it had methane in it) and you could see it bubbling when the field was wet.

    Methane and natural gas have worked their way to the surface and to ground water for a long time - long before fracking became prevelant. When a company is fracking a tight rock formation for gas they are typically doing it at depths of 7,000 ft to 12,000 feet. I don't think that there are many places where the water table goes below 1,000 feet. When I read stories like you posted I think fracking is getting blamed for what may be a natural phenomena or something completely unrelated to fracking.

    Like I said I have an open mind about it - I can see the argument that it is much safer for the environment than conventional drilling or deep sea drilling. I hate to say it but for the most part I find the environmentalist camp to be untrustworthy and willing to twist data and "facts" to suit their argument.
     
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  8. Scorpio

    Scorpio Скорпион Founding Member Board Elder Site Mgr Site Supporter ++

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    Hey up Tec,

    yours is a reasonable position,

    and I don't take issue with it, as I don't know enough about it to go one way or the other,

    another thing I take issue with though is his 'the evil corporations will do anything and everything for a buck'

    sure they will,

    but we demand that oil, and we demand it at a price we are willing to pay,

    and if we are fracking in someone elses back yard, no one else gives a whit,

    as this author drives home using oil, to a lighted and heated house, using oil, opens up the fridge to grab a cold one and talk about how smart he is while that electricity and beer has a oil based generation.

    we are all at fault for fracking

    it becomes a question of what price are we willing to pay for any of this environmental collateral damage?
     
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  9. Tecumseh

    Tecumseh Silver Member Silver Miner

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    Yeah Scorp... I have a liberal cousin who I like a great deal but we have Facebook battles all the time over exactly what you describe. He is constantly posting about being fossil free and about all the evil corporations who are determined to destroy the planet in pursuit of every last dollar. At the same time the kid likes to travel. He has racked up more airline miles than my entire family will in their lifetime. In fact his wife works for an airline. When I point that out he says that he gets a free pass because he is forced to use the airline as a person in the modern world and his wife's airline has experimented with biofuels from algae so she gets a free pass too.

    I have some O&G investments so maybe I'm a little sensitive...
     
  10. gnome3.0

    gnome3.0 New Member

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    I'm uninterested quibbling about the details, but in the big picture Roberts is right on.

    Wealth is facilitated by capital and labor, but all wealth originates from nature.

    The present model of 'economy' is nothing but a liquidation sale of our natural resources.
    For the seller, there is a quick buck. For the consumer, you might be able to pick up some cheap goods.
    For the next generations, all that will be left is an empty shopping mall.

    The world has 70 years of farmable soil left. In America we have the illusion of fertility, kept up with fertilizer and water pumped from the aquifers. Take those away and you have land that will grow little but weeds. Agriculture in many once-fertile places is now impossible. Take a look at the middle east, mediterranean, africa, australia and china. The dry areas are hit hardest.

    We are approaching peak everything.

    Here's a short list:

    peak oil
    peak water
    peak soil (depth & quality)
    peak farmland (area)
    peak phosphorus
    peak fish
    peak forests
    peak metal

    and this is all compounded with peak ignorance, peak debt and peak corruption.

    Artificial scarcity is a really important concept to get our heads around. Most here at GIM easily understand how the bankers create financial scarcity (money as debt & not enough money to pay the interest), but I think we have to look deeper at the physical economy to really get how we've allowed ourselves to be sold into poverty, thinking consumerism was abundance.

    Consumerism uses concepts like planned obsolescence which waste resources and catch the consumer in and endless cycle of consumption and debt. Take the lightbulb, there are actual written records of the light bulb manufacturers getting together and agreeing to limit the life of an incandescent bulb to 1000 hours. There are lightbulbs out there that have been continuously burning for over 100 years!

    Cars, computers, cell phones, suitcases, tools and home appliances are all designed to be replaced in 5 years. It is an epic waste of natural resources (energy, materials) as well as human labor (to make, sell and perpetually shop for all that crap). And then there is the debt on top of that.

    A big part of the open source hardware concept is that products can be designed to last forever. They are designed for durability and repairability as well as upgradability. If a car lasts 50 years instead of 10, then you have cut your waste of resources by roughly 80%.

    There is also the vast amount of energy that goes into defending proprietary knowledge. Google and apple spend more on patent law than on R&D. This hoarding of information is a form of artificial scarcity. It costs nothing to share info, in fact, the more it is shared, the more information increases.

    So, to me, and abundance mentality means rejecting corporate consumerism and moving towards a open source economy - not on a forced basis (statism), but on a voluntary basis.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2013
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  11. Ishkabibble

    Ishkabibble Gold Member Gold Chaser

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    Many thanks to the gnome for that brilliant and insightful post.

    Wish I could tap + a few times.
     

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