Thursday, March 02, 2006

Where's My Free Lunch?

The popular truism, merely a restatement of the laws of thermodynamics, that is (simply) that you can't get anything for nothing is at strangely at odds with the economists "market will always provide", dogma. It used to be God that would always provide, but we mustn't forget, as we are told, we live in a secular society. And so, religious fundamentalism has been replaced by a corporate version of the same thing. Of course the market won't provide for free. No, and we ought to remind ourselves there is a double cost. The price we pay, and the price the environment pays.

Nevertheless, don't worry about supply, or the economy we are told - science and technology, like superman or the cavalry will come to the rescue. And so as New Zealand ponders the implications of the worst trade deficit in the history of our nation, more household debt that could be squeezed into a black hole it's "business as usual" folks. We all need to be MORE optimistic Dr Cullen tells us - otherwise we'll talk ourselves into a shithole. Forget the fact that we are hocking ourselves into a shithole in the name of "progress". No one for a second considers the possibility that we are a nation (a planet) living well beyond our means. Not just financially but in terms of our ability to continue to consume finite resources that we a constantly reminded are not finite, they are only limited by our minds or our ingenuity.

Don't worry about supply the American Roy Hemmingway tells us, will we run out of electricity, it's a "myth" Hemmingway tells us. Don't listen to the doom and gloom merchants - there's plenty of everything to go round. So, keep the spa-pool plugged in and head out to the Warehouse this Saturday armed with your credit cards for some retail therapy, it will help keep the economy ticking along too.

I say "the American" because, culturally Roy Hemmingway has a lot to answer for. His nation wastes more of every concievable resource the planet has to offer, all in the name of the "American Fucking Way of Life". We ought to be wary of the opinions of "optimistic" consumption champions like Hemmingway.

So, while Westport and the southern lakes run out of water, and while the economy looks like a jumbo jet running on one dodgy engine, there is a bizzare rush to bizzarely, build more motorways, because what we all really need in these uncertain times is less commute time. Surely somehow a faster trip to work in the morning will equate to billions of dollars in increased gross domestic product.

Oil production is expected to peak soon, next year maybe, or by the end of the decade. So, the billions that are spent today discounting the future, building Aucklands highways, will still be being paid back as we are on the downside of the production curve. After peak oil global production will be some 3 or so percent less each year, while demand growth continues to run at more than 3% per annum. Once this time arrives there will be no more economic growth because growth requires increased consumption of energy, as we are forced by circumstance to use lesser and lesser amounts of energy so too will economic activity and inevitably population claw back.

So what of the future? Ah, don't worry economists will tell you. For a 150 years scientists have been making discoveries, "they'll come up with something", like the proverbial magician pulling the the rabbit out of the hat. If we don't build the roads now, we'll all be sitting in our solar powered cars bumper to bumper circa 2015.

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