back to article New Scientist goes innumerate in 'save the planet' special

If you’re going to start demanding a new economics, as the New Scientist just has, then it would be useful if you understood what the old economics you’re trying to replace has to say... as the New Scientist clearly doesn’t. Take this seemingly uncontroversial statement: "We live on a planet with finite resources - that's no …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Seems to be that even if you can make fewer bottles and more chips, there is a limit to how much of that one can do. Eventually, to grow further you need more sand, regardless what you do with it. The bigger picture may be different to what is suggested in the detail.

  2. MacroRodent
    Thumb Down

    Growing without growing?

    "If I use sand to make a wine bottle I will add some small amount of GDP. If I use that same sand and make a computer chip instead I will add more value and thus more to GDP with the same use of resources. "

    But in practice you cannot do it with the same use of resources. Processing the sand into a microchip takes more energy, tools and auxiliary materials. And if nothing else, more labour. The singer example is better, but there the available growth potential is limited by the number of listeners willing to listen to you (also considering other available entertainment vying for their attention). Ultimately a continuously growing GDB requires a growing number of people making and buying things and services, even if those things are made without adding to the consumption of raw materials.

  3. Alex


    'There is thus no requirement for economic growth to mean an increase in the use of resources, natural or otherwise.'

    Perhaps not 'theoretically', but certainly empirical studies suggest that it does in fact lead to an increase in resource use. Oil for instance:

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Green issues

    Hmm I think both sides are missing a few points here. Although you can use the sand to make chip and thus ad value you are of course using other materials in the course of making such items not to mention the power required to make them.

    I would be much more interested to see people growing rather than economies. We use the economy to somehow show how good we are without changing at all. I think the human race can only 'grow' through the people. We could all become less egotistical, less demanding, more encouraging and loving. Now that would be good growth instead of hiding behind the masks of economics, science, and politics.


  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Another obvious error...

    Sure, you reduce the size of transistors, and you can make the same chip with less sand. But you don't keep selling it at the same price, or you go out of business fast. You either make it cheaper, and add less GDP for less sand, or you increase the number of transistors to add value and add the same GDP for the same amount of sand.

    I didn't bother reading the rest after seeing such obvious mistakes in the first paragraph of an article supposedly explaining economics.

  6. Parax

    You know the point is correct...

    when the only holes people pick are in the examples!

    I wonder why they are not nit picking the singing example?

    The point is in future when you can make chips by a highly efficent means then the resources and energy used will be less than the furnace used for glass making.

    Growth is about improvement not consumption. (added value of volume!)

    NS went to the media lovies too long ago...

  7. Pete Silver badge

    one simple question for Tim

    >More growth means using more resources." Umm, no, it doesn’t mean that.

    So how would you go about growing the world's GDP by say, equalising the quality of life of everyone (on the planet) to, western european levels, without consuming more resources?

  8. Anonymous Coward


    You are talking shit again.

  9. Dave
    Dead Vulture


    Let me get this straight? You are saying that the earth's resources are NOT limited?

    That this planet can continue to support more and more people infinitely?

  10. Dave

    ducks in a row

    It might be the case that NS is pursuing a policy of plunging into some second Dark Ages of small economies and general ignorance & are recognising an approach of getting the ignorance bit done first

  11. Douglas Lowe

    unlimited growth

    Fantastic - so if we all become bankers we can achieve immense economic growth and save the planet at the same time!

    Mine's the one with holes in the elbows

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    GDP & Growth

    "If I use sand to make a wine bottle I will add some small amount of GDP. If I use that same sand and make a computer chip instead I will add more value and thus more to GDP with the same use of resources"

    Granted that is true. But if GDP ergo a nations wealth is low, then they will either a) buy the bottle or b) buy the chip. If a nation is wealthy, then there is the more common option c) buy both, thus comsume more resources.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Seems that GDP is the tool to measure growth, any suggestions to a better way?

  14. Keith Williams

    singing doesn't increase GDP

    If I pay Tim 20 units of currency to sing/not sing, we haven't actually increased the GDP, we've merely transfered 20 units of currency from one owner to another. GDP is increased by PRODUCING things (thats why it's the Gross Domestic PRODUCT)

  15. Luis Enrique

    Tim (mostly) right about this

    Tim is right, and the New Scientist ought to be embarrassed publishing such ignorant drivel.

    Look at it this way: imagine a future whereby solar and other renewable technologies continue to improve, and better renewable (or plentiful) materials are developed (bio-plastics, carbon fibre composites, whatever, it doesn't matter what) Of course such a system requires an input of energy - but that's the sun. It'll run out one day, but let's not worry about that yet. Never mind whether you think this is likely to happen or not, the point is that such a world would be sustainable no increase in resource use other than solar energy capture, and yet the economy would continue to grow in the economic sense.

    You can pick holes in Tim's examples, but the point that technology progress is capable or reducing resource requirements is undeniable. You can get economic growth purely from the service sector - again, imagine that productivity in the production of goods and services rises, consumption of goods stays constant (no resource growth), but workers are reallocated to the service sector. That's economic growth.

    Oh and to the 'obvious error' commentator above, who thinks that bringing prices into the picture negates Tim's argument - what do you think the general equilibrium consequences of a reduction in the price of computing power is .... oh that's right: growth.

    It's quite possible that rich countries are close to the stage where economic growth takes place without increased resource use, especially as technological progress starts to focus on renewables. Where Tim is wrong, is that economic growth in currently poor countries is going to entail increase resource use, until renewable techs reach the level required.

    NB nobody is saying the world can support more and more people indefinitely ... has anybody taken a look at the data on population growth trends, ex-immigration, in the rich world recently?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @the critics...

    Read the article again - more carefully this time. His complaint is with New Scientist and their reasoning. The message might be right, but the logic is wrong. And it is wrong because the authors clearly don't understand the discipline known as 'economics'.

    His follow-up point is that if those authors *did* understand economics then they would propose alternative, and more effective, ways of tackling the problem of the earth having finite resources.

    My own point of view is that *anything* we propose or do is pointless until we have population growth under control. Once the world decides what an acceptable population count for humans is then we can sensibly focus on allocating resources amongst them (us).

  17. James Robertson

    Yeah - cos' the Adam Smith institute would never push a "growth at all costs" agenda...

    Riiiight - let's believe a mouthpiece for the Adam Smith "Greed is Good" institute over a bunch of dispassionate scientists.

    Last time I looked the burden of poof on science was far higher than that required for economists... - and it's non-existent for right-wing growth-at-all-costs think tanks.

  18. Pete Wilson
    Paris Hilton


    A few comments.

    One big factor missed is that 'resources' includes energy. As one example, while the sun's output is certainly limited, we don't have any control over its output (well, not yet, perhaps). So there's a great pile of free extra resources flowing in to the planet every day.

    That said, there are real limits to growth. Even if we had free fusion-driven power, we couldn't deploy so much of it that the energy density was such that the average terrestrial temperature rose 100 degrees, for example.

    And the simplest (in principle) method of reducing the rate of real or imagined natural resource depletion is to reduce headcount.

    Paris, just because

  19. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Re: WTF?

    "Let me get this straight? You are saying that the earth's resources are NOT limited?"

    Let me be equally straight. That's not how I read the article. In fact, other than to briefly note that the finiteness of the Earth is, well, duh!, I don't think the article was about resources at all. It was about growth, and how that is not the same thing as resource consumption.

    I don't know what "Reg" you've got buried under that headstone, but it isn't the one I'm reading.

  20. David Pollard

    GDP is a poor measure

    New Scientist's article may be wide of the mark in several ways, but GDP is a rather poor measure of wealth.

    For example, providing that the infrastructure isn't too damaged, natural disasters and wars lead to an increase in GDP. Neither does GDP indicate the distribution of wealth: if the super-rich get richer while many poor people get poorer GDP may nevertheless increase.

    Wasn't it Ted Heath, whose single great innovation the three day week remains almost entirely unacknowledged, who talked about improvements to the quality of life?

  21. docjekill
    Dead Vulture

    Singing for <strike>Jesus</strike> the Economy

    Ok, Parax demands someone pick a hole in the singing example. Well, here goes: It's not actually producing anything of sustainable value. You are turning something without material cost (your voice) into something without material value (a song). Can be done without much magic any day of the week.

    But then, you'll say, how come people pay for it!? Well, to be honest, that really is a puzzling question. How many people have bought the winning singles from X-Factor over the years? Loads, I would suggest, given the fact that it is being tried every year again. How many are still proud owners of the winning X-Factor single of, say, three years ago? (I can't for the life of me remember what it was and must, therefore, resign myself to not call it by name)

    So, people spent money on something (come to think of it, even for music, resources are actually <strike>wasted</strike> used, for CD production, distribution, recording, etc) which, ahem, did not exactly keep its value... Burning money on nothing is not actually creating wealth, though, is it? For the people involved with the original production, of course, but the purchasers do not get to keep something of equal value. So there is no overall improvement. Which we did not expect from X-Factor anyway.

    And now for the actual article, which clearly hails a "dead Reg" icon: Every bit of human experience is that we improve design, yes, but in overall terms increase consumption all the same. You make CPUs faster and cheaper - yet their increased sale increases total use.

    By simply claiming that improvements in a single unit of anything clearly means growth can be reached without additional resource consumption is ignoring the bleeding obvious: Growth first and foremost means increasing numbers. There was a time when a computer filled a whole room and had next to no computing power and memory, no graphics, no storage and no sound. I bet, it was a resource hog, too.

    Still, at the time, all the computers in the world didn't use nearly as much electricity to run as the computers in a single medium-sized company will today. Despite the current ones being so much more efficient individually.

    Scale up any other development in the world and you'll find the same thing. Yes, we improve the designs. Efficiency means less consumption per unit - but the increase in units always makes up for it. More than.

    And one final thought on music: There was a time when music was heard by making it. You played in the privacy of your own home. You went to a concert, possibly directed by Mozart of Beethoven themselves. And the energy spent on making the music was nil beyond the living requirements of the musicians.

    These days, people have massive audio systems, likely in more than one room in their house, in all of their cars and if they are out and about, iPods and their competitors will happily sap away some batteries' power to play music straight into their ear canals. And you are going to say that growth (i.e. the sale of all those things, because growth is measured in sales values) comes without an increase in resource consumption?

  22. RichardB

    So I guess it comes down to

    definitions of Finite. Something may be finite, such as sand, but I truly do believe that even if we increased production of glass and chips tenfold today, we would be in no danger of running out...

    The real question - which is never properly answered, is which resources these characters are worried about, exactly how finite they are, and why they think business won't adapt in the x hundreds of years between now and any resource becoming nonviable.

  23. Mike

    Who's ignoring the real world here????

    In the “messy and complex human interaction part of the world”, which you imply scientists ignore, growth certainly DOES mean using more resources. Look at the evidence of damaged, degraded spaces, depleted natural resources, and plummeting bio-diversity the world over. That’s what science does- it looks at the evidence.

    So, umm, well, Mr snidey, sarcastic, rather unpleasant and angry sounding economist- it seems it is YOU who is ignoring real-world complexity. I suggest you return to studying your “core discoveries of the subject” (which, by the way, have helped precious little recently). And try to devise an economic model which proves your point. Or would that involve getting too messy and complex…?

  24. Richard Wharram

    You are all missing the point.

    The article simply states that economic growth does not necessarily mean increasing resource usage. That's just a fact no matter how many examples you attempt to pick apart. This is about the theory and lack of understanding thereof on the part of NS. Real-world doesn't come into it at that point.

    Anyway, back in the real-world and to join in the missing-the-point debate, there's fantastic amounts of resources we haven't even thought about using yet. We'll just start switching over time. Running out of resources completely isn't something we have to worry about for a while yet.

  25. Steve
    Thumb Up

    Get to the point

    What's at the bottom of the economic chain.

    If you imagine a very simple economy, the thing supporting everything else is food production.

    If you produce excess food you can sell it. If food exists for sale then it allows other people to produce other things (instead of growing their own food) and exchange those things for food.

    Is this not still the basis of our economy, it has to be, we all work to live (ie to eat), work is analogous with production and live is analogous with eat. So without excess food produced by someone we'd all be back to spending time trying to ensure we had food.

    In an economy with that basis, growth is just an increase in food production. If you can do that without using more land and resource then you've increased everyones wealth as they can now exchange a smaller unit of labour for enough food to live.

    Maybe I've got it all wrong, it's much harder to keep it all in your head when you scale it beyond an agricultural economy.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Focused editions

    Normally I like New Scientist editions that focus on one topic but I found this one very hard to get through.

    The whole thing seemed to be a very complicated way of saying "There are too many people on the planet for them all to live like Americans and this is why."

    Re: Tim - good argument.

    @Dave - Are you sure you posted this against the correct article? Where did he say that? The point is that you can have economic growth without using more of the earth's resources.

  27. Philip Skinner
    Thumb Down

    Sorry mate...

    ...but I think you missed the point of the article in New Scientist.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

    You fail to make the distingsion between renewable and finite resources, and that is key to the whole argument.

    In your example, your singing voice is nothing moire than a continually renewed resource.

    As long as we are using finite resources, like sand or oil, to fuel growth then we will constantly staring down the wall.

    We can achieve neverending growth, but only if we move over to using renewalble resources.

  29. alan

    Increasing GDP increasing resources

    But as a countries GDP increases, its consumption of materials will increase. This is nessecarily down to the fact that you need to use resources to generate GDP, but the fact that as peoples affluency increase so do there assperations.

    This is the way consumerism works, third world countries the main focus for most people is to have enough food and water to survive. In the first world, we consume much more food and water than this (resources) and we want new cars, iphones, etc. Thus down to our increased growth, we have greatly increased resource use. directly or indirectly.

  30. The Other Steve
    Thumb Down

    All well and good but

    higher GDP == higher employment rates and higher per capita disposable income, which == more consumption, you need power and heat for the extra employees, and they buy stuff. Sure the technical measure of "economic growth" might be tied to GDP, but in practical terms a growing economy uses more resources, all that added value has to go somewhere, or it isn't, in fact, value at all.

    Making a chip might add "more value" (here apparently defined as an increment of GDP) than making a wine bottle, but that's not an either/or choice is it ? We make wine bottles _and_ chips, not chips instead of wine bottles. And if making chips has a more pronounced effect on GDP, and therefore per capita income, it actually leads to higher consumption of other resources, especially ones like wine bottles.

    @Parax :

    "You know the point is correct when the only holes people pick are in the examples!"

    Epic fail, if you use examples that are easily picked apart to illustrate a point, then your point becomes suspect even if it is a good one. After all, if it was a good point, you'd be able to come up with some good examples.

    And unfortunately for the above commenter, the singer analogy is equally broken, since it it seems to assume that a professional singer consumes no resources which is utter arsewash. Singers consume resources in food, clothing, travel, education, power, construction of venues, travel resources for spectators, promotional materials, etc, etc. The singers (and indeed other musicians and performers) I know have carbon footprints like a charcoal yeti, so what's your point again ?

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Dodgy thinking

    but then, coming from an Adam Smith Institute fellow, I'm not surprised the free markets ideals are shown to be the best!

    It is indeed possible to increase wealth without using more resources, as you demonstrated with your singing example. But then, what do you do with that wealth? Buy land on the moon? No, increase of wealth means increased consumption of stuff, although not all the stuff will be resources-based (singer example again).

  32. Keith Spencer


    WTF. Actually, the world resources are closer to infinite than you think. Currently, we are not using a significant proportion of the world's resources. We're not even close. From a mass balance point of view the total quantity of each element on the planet has remained pretty much constant over the last couple of billion years. What's really being talked about here is that we're taking a material, pumping in energy, and converting it to something we consider to be more useful. The mass goes nowhere, it's still all here on planet earth. All that happens is we shuffle around some chemical bonds. The ONLY resource that is being used is energy but even that's not really a problem; it's still available in quantities we don't even get close to using. Currently most of the energy we use is in the form of energy stored that originally came from the sun. That is being depleted but the amount of energy that hits the surface of the earth every day is massive and we don't really significantly use it. Why is this important? If we could actually capture any reasonable amount of the suns energy or use something like a fusion reaction then energy would cease to have significant value. And at that point we can simply drive chemical reactions backwards and turn all that water and CO2 back into complex organic molecules that we do find useful. It's actually pretty easy (for example syn gas) but the issue is energy. So actually the BIG problem is not finite resources but our ability to capture enough energy to fully and repeatedly exploit the resources that are there. Trust me, there's a lot of carbon out there that isn't being used (carbonate rocks for example). So perhaps it is more accurate to say that there are finite resources that we can currently access. And that will change as it always has done.

  33. Mike

    @Tim - I'm with the AC

    >You are talking shit again.

    Or more eruditely, your point while valid, is only very minor, the trend is that increased growth leads to increased consumption, the key thing with economics is that the average standard of living cannot be above average, but that's what we strive for, with anything but communism you end up with a pyramid scheme, no matter how you cut it what something is "worth" depends on how much of it you have.

  34. Robert St-John
    Paris Hilton


    Paris, as i think she could of written a better article

  35. Rob Fisher

    Still not understanding?

    The point is that economic growth does not *require* increased use of resources. In the example of oil, what's likely to happen is that if it starts to become scarce it will get more expensive and other ways of making energy will become cost effective. But that doesn't mean growth has to end, as the NS was asserting. Growth can continue to come from better technology.

    It's possible to ignore GDP and just consider how wealthy people are. I imagine "equalising the quality of life of everyone (on the planet)" by using solar powered nano-assemblers that grow houses and food directly from atoms in the rock. Such a development would represent vast growth in wealth and not need more physical resources at all.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "I wonder why they are not nit picking the singing example?"

    I will attempt to nitpick it. The singer will draw crowds, the crowds will need petrol for cars, paper for tickets, food and drink to consume during the performance. The more singers added to the population also increases the amount of food, fuel, land and other resources they consume. The economy can only really grow when there are more people ready to consume (which is why China is offering so many opportunities), so as a singer you would encourage the use of lots of resources to attract people to a performance and the use of resources in the course of putting on that performance. The more we have of anything the more resources it will consume.

  37. Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner

    @David Williams

    will you still be "more interested to see people growing rather than economies" when you reach retirement age a pension fund smaller than your IQ?

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture


    Brilliant! Just shut down the oil, gas, lumbar and mining industries and we'll all become Opera singers! Brilliant! Why didn't these whingeing eco-terrorists think of this first! We can just listen to armchair neo-liberal economists called Tim singing Wagner all day. Brilliant!

  39. Francis Fish

    It's just that there *isn't* a linear relationship between resource availability and use

    That's all. Plus, you forgot, the NS innumerate "hockey stick curve" graph that had 8 or so curves plotted on it all heading for disaster with no scale on any of them to give you any idea of what they meant.

    Just spreading panic and not science.

  40. John McCoy


    Have some ambition Dave, There is a whole universe full of resources, this is not the only planet.

  41. Eddie Edwards
    Dead Vulture


    The reason people are picking on the examples is that the author wishes to prove a point - that GDP can rise without natural resource usage increasing. If this point is true, it should be possible (easy?) to come up with some examples which, when all variables are taken into account, clearly show a rise in GDP with no corresponding rise in resource usage. Since the author failed to do that, his overall point is basically lost.

    For instance, the chip example, it takes 100s of man years of work to just design the chip. The "value" comes from the design, not from the sand-to-chip process. And 100s of man years costs a lot of money in light and heat and computer time. And those computers have to come from somewhere. As does the software they run. And so on, ad infinitum. That "extra rise in GDP" because you're making chips rather than glass doesn't come from nowhere, and the author is disingenuous to claim that it does.

    It seems naive to me to think that you can somehow magically "add more value" without actually doing more work.

    There's no simple relationship between GDP and resource usage, that's true. But to claim that ever-increasing GDP does *not* require ever-increasing resource usage is a very bold claim that deserves some level of justification over and above this rag's insistence on ridiculing everyone else's points on the subject.

    Historically, as GDP has risen, so has resource usage. That's an empirical fact. Until I hear otherwise, I'll take the empirical facts as being representative of the truth.

    BTW, Tim, New Scientist did not accept that economics was a valid way of describing the world. On the contrary, by pointing out its hubris and flaws, they demonstrated quite clearly that it fails to do so. AIUI New Scientist accepts only empirical science as a valid way of describing the world.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Assume a can opener

    Mr Worsthall has Challenging Opinion here. To evaluate it, we can look at say, evidence. Instead of metaphors conjured from thin air - I don't blame him though, he's an economist.

    What do we find?

    Here were the highest consumption growth rates from 1990-1998, accompanied by their respective growth in GDP:

    And the lowest:

    We can see that the countries for which higher (or lower) GDP did not march hand-in-hand with higher (or lower) resource consumption were those that were suffering political crises or are otherwise in a weird client-state relationship with another power - Moldova, Georgia, Sierra Leone, etc. with Sweden being a (slight) exception because, well, it's Sweden.

  43. Paul Clark

    True only for limited sectors in developed economies

    Tim: Like most people in the software business, I know all about GVA through intangibles, thanks. Musicians and artists are the same, as you point out, as are labour-only services (hairdressers, gardeners,...) and you could argue to put financial services in that pot, too. But these are all tertiary additions to our existing and growing resource usage in the underlying primary/secondary economy.

    As 'Pete' points out above, the major issue is how we get the rest of the world up to the level where you can even think about growth in terms of intangibles, within the planet's many resource constraints. Even the primary needs of food, shelter and clean water are a mammoth task, let alone the transport systems, chip fabs and concert halls necessary for your examples. So you might be right in some academic economics sense within a limited scope, but it bears no relation to what is happening in the real world.

  44. AJames

    Attack on New Scientist is off base

    Their basic point is right. Everyone knows it. Going off on NS as the basis for a political rant is not a very effective way to make your point. After all, if you want to get really picky like you are doing with NS, holding a concert or packing more transistors on a chip does use more resources.

  45. Anonymous Coward

    Wingnut Tim

    Wingnut Tim to the rescue of a boring Thursday!

  46. Gerry
    Thumb Down

    Growth without growth

    "But that doesn’t change the fact that the basic point that they’re trying to make, that we must curb growth because it will inevitably mean the consumption of more resources, is simply wrong."

    And what happens in the case of growth in population and in consumer demand (as we are witnessing in China and India, for example)?

    Thanks for clearing up what GDP means but your carping about the central point of the the New Statesman is bollocks. Just playing the purist for the sake of looking smart.

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The author did not say anything about population growth and his whole point was that "growth" isn't necessarily guaranteed to increase resource consumption. So you failed to get this straight.

    You might also consider that the birth rate in developed countries (certainly Europe) has declined to less than 2 per person, leaving longevity and immigration to account for reasonably slow population growth.

  48. Francis Vaughan


    Both sides are making limiting assumptions. New Scientist (ironically) would be correct in the face of zero technological progress. This article demonstrates that zero change in the rate of resource use can occur in concert with economic growth if there is technological progress or some other structural change. Clearly neither extreme is realistic. But the sin New Scientist commit remains. Only one counterexample is required to disprove something. Once this is done the rest is just rhetoric. New Scientist's sin is in starting with a false axiom. They could have done it right, and taken a researched middle ground. But starting a psuedo-scientific polemic like they did is just shoddy writing. The sad thing is that they are one of the better popular journals. It only goes downhill from there.

    In the limit Mathus was clearly correct. But there has been an extraordinary amount of very shoddy writing of late about the imminent falling of the sky. It would be a very good idea if some of the writers actually got up and went out to talk to people in the primary resources industries, instead of simply repeating the same meme.

    Also worth noting - the earth is a closed system except for energy. With enough energy anything is recyclable. Energy is a technological issue. Probably our biggest problem is an addiction to ridiculously cheap and easy energy. Move past stone age energy technologies and the current hand wringing over resources becomes quite obsolete.

  49. Anonymous Coward

    Definition of growth

    When I think of the term growth in relation to how it's integral to the current system, I look at like this:

    Under the current system, a company is only as viable the value of it's shares, and the share price seems dependent on the continued growth of their profits. Thus, no company can be happy with sustained amount of profit, let alone decreased profit, even if it's still a huge monetry amount. Just look at the oil companies.

    This leads companies - which are essentially amoral institutaions - to sacrifice human values and morality for the bottom line via efficiency and "working the system", because their survival depends on it. All the bad that we see companies and corporations doing around the world comes down basically to this.

    It's not something inherent to companies or the people who work for them that makes them act like this, it's the current system at the root that is built the need for a constant growth of profits.

  50. Tim Spence


    So what you're saying is that the entire population should sing for a living, and we'd be okay? I think you only have to watch ITV on a Saturday evening to know how wrong that is.

  51. Tim Worstal

    No, not what I'm saying.

    "You are saying that the earth's resources are NOT limited?"

    Certainly not. There's obviously a certain number of copper atoms on the planet.

    I'm saying that economnic growth is not necessarily limited by resource availability.

    Note the "necessarily" there. The NS argument is that growth is necessarily limited by resource availability. Mine is that it isn't.

  52. Neil Hoskins
    Thumb Down

    Come off it

    Economics is smoke, mirrors, and skyhooks by any definition, and about as far removed from science and engineering as it is possible to get (apart from, perhaps, religion).

  53. jimbarter


    I spot a flaws in your argument.

    Chips are made from Potato. A renewable resource.

    ...And the world cannot have too many wine bottles.

  54. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Oh, here we go again...

    @David Williams "We could all become less egotistical, less demanding, more encouraging and loving."

    No. We. Couldn't.

    If we could we would have been living in caves now but more likely we would long since have stopped living altogether, replaced by a more pragmatic species of primates. That's the whole and the sole driver of the human progress (which I believe is the extension of the evolution) - consume more resources before something else hasn't consumed them ahead of you.

    Both Tim and the New Scientist are right and wrong at the same time. Yes, resources are limited; yes, it is possible to optimise the use of resources for someperiod of time while retaining growth.

    What is not possible is to retain growth indefinitely while not increasing the use of resources.

    There is only one solution to depletion of the Earth resources - get more resources from outside the Earth.

    Environmentalists and economists may squirm and fidget and wriggle and struggle and try every other wrong option, attempting to avoid the inevitable but in the end we will do the right thing, with them or without.

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    New Scientist hypocrisy

    In order to access a lot of the content on the New Scientist website, you have to subscribe to the printed weekly magazine. I am happy to pay for the content, but only need to look at it online.

    This was not possible when I enquired, the only way to access the online content was to take out a subscription to the paper magazine. Two years later I have about a tree's worth of magazines in my flat. If NS really care about the environment so much, why don't they allow you to access the online content without dumping loads of dead wood on you?

    Disclaimer/Disflamer - There is some NS online content which is free, and my enquiry was a couple of years ago, so it's possible they may have changed their policy.

  56. Nick Askew
    IT Angle

    Growing pains.

    I'm guessing I suppose but Tim's get out of jail card is the fact that he is saying that growth does not necessarily imply more use of resources but in the real world it usually does imply that. Growth does either require the more efficient use of the same resources or for people to value the end product more highly. If people stop valuing the end product (perhaps because the bank is threatening to take their house away or has squandered their pension) then the price will go down and growth will only be achieved through the production and sale of more product and that will require more resources (for example two beer swilling, fag smoking, singers rather than one).

    Just as this article oversimplifies the sand example by ignoring energy input it seems the New Scientist article is somewhat oversimplifying growth by implying it always means using more resources when really it only usually means that.

  57. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    The GDP is not synonymous with: business profits are the only important piece of the economy

    Ok, after seeing most of the people who responded missed the point and need dictionaries for what economic growth is defined as, GDP growth is NOT population growth.

    If you're going to point to population, which is just a small part of the problem to be bluntly honest (unless some kind of environmental catastrophe is coming, like a galactic plane shift lighting the earth up like a neon sign, harr-harr! *craps pants*), you need to also look at how resources are used, waste is managed, health costs of mismanaged resources (including employees' stress levels causing illnesses because of mismanagement), etc. etc... Most of what I've heard so far describing "growth" has been twisted towards ideas that lead more towards population control as a form of economic control (I mean it's not like, whenever there's been major unrest that could effect the "status quot" between people and their "handlers", wars start even if the people are complaining peacefully or anything. Oh wait...). The Haves are having a hard time "supporting" the have-nots in their view (we're peasants with what may as well be alien tech, as in 99% of the people in the world would never be able to recreate the things we take for granted, and it all can be easily taken away, just accept it). They cannot keep becoming more profitable if resources are being poorly used by their industries being overly wasteful, and not wanting to spend the profits to do things better, though they are more than willing to borrow a good idea of doing so if someone else is willing to pay to find those ways.

    Perfect example of an almost blatant case of mismanagement, corn. Once bio fuel started using corn as it's primary ingredient, prices skyrocketed. Corn prices, by the way, are also strictly controlled here in the US by having farmers sit on huge quantities of corn so that there isn't "too much" on the market, they can't even use it as feed [term used for farm animal food for those who are civilized :P] since they are being payed to have it rot (I'm dead serious, I come from farm country originally). Meanwhile the farmers are also using resources and land to grow this corn, wasting huge amounts of resources. When corn prices rose to the point South America started having problems feeding it's people with corn being a staple, do you think they started releasing the unused corn into the market to help stabilize the price? NOPE, they just used it to back up the whole, too many people to feed to be affordable, line.

    I could go on and on but I really don't know enough about the rest of the markets of the world to dissect it thoroughly, but I just wanted to make the point Tim knows exactly what he is talking about. AND he seems to be aware there are a lot of things he doesn't know as well, just like the rest of us, we need answers, and not the scary kind. Our handlers have a history of keeping fixes secret if the peasants wouldn't like the end results :P "...I'll let you know what my idea is once I've taken over control of the gov, and it will be great, I promise..." is all I keep hearing all around the world and all through the history books.

    Just because the jerks in power are panicking doesn't mean what they are afraid of is reality (they're human too). Just look at wall street, they make it so supply and demand of actual products have almost nothing to do with prices, just the supply and demand of the companies themselves, hence everyone outside the loop, including myself, are frighteningly confused as to what the future holds for all of us, since the current thermometer of the economy seems to focus on what is equivalent to betting on a track race.

    It's a sad day when I feel Dr. Horrible (if you don't know look it up) is actually more honorable than our handlers. I think Honor probably died with the samurai. And every time peasants want it back they are persuaded that it's bad for them, or will actually make their lives less safe. I mean the Chinese stuck together when they had their disaster, which was much worse than the hurricane here, but what did we do, bitch about how we're forced to take care of each other, not to mention the raping and murdering. The result of our insane form of capitalism. Not that capitalism is bad, but its just one part of a society, the whole world isn't a market, its a society! ARGH! why is this so hard to understand. I personally believe most people do understand, but we're taught some strange things by those who fill the media and Government, such as ultra-nationalistic ideas that are similar to sports team mentality, except people die... lots and lots of people. AND it's scarily made a lot of people sympathetic to what the Nazis did, with all the violent disrespect we have for each other. If we survive this, I hope it isn't look back at as being akin to a world wide Rape of Nanking, which is what it looks like right now :(

    That's my rant :)

    Good luck everyone! :-D

  58. SPiT
    Thumb Up

    Both are right and both are wrong

    I've read the New Scientist issue and this articles complaint is valid BUT it is also clear that in many areas growth has lead to greater use of resources. This article doesn't actually claim that we aren't over using resources, just that the claim that it is implicit is wrong so strictly speaking the article is right and New Scientist is wrong.

    The truth lies somewhere in between, resource depletion is not inherent in growth per se but the real world we clearly are making a good solid effort and ignoring the limited resource issue. One day everyone will wonder why we don't get good sound coverage of this issue somewhere in the middle.

    I guess the biggest problem is that the media generally preferes those with definite views rather than those with a good grasp of the problem but no solution. In this case those with definite views tend to be at the extreme end of opinion.

  59. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Interestingly, population growth is a very big problem (if we halve per-capital resource consumption and pollution generation, and then the population doubles, we've gone nowhere - and are possibly in a worse situation assuming we've already taken all the easy reductions) but you very rarely hear anything about it. It's all about the GDP. And the avoiding the otherwise inevitable invocation of Godwin's law, of course. :-)

    In light of the survey mentioned a while back on El Reg - that some 60% of the population are now "off message" on AGW/MMGW, with potentially even more "don't know/not sure"s - I think it's time that people sat down and realised environmentalism, even minor, sensible things like the reduction, re-use, recycling ethos, are fundamentally doomed to niche fad status unless we can adequately separate the environmental movement from the anticapitalist movement.

    (I have a sneaking suspicion that correctly pricing the environmental impacts of resource usage and then sitting back to let everyone get on with it would be more effective than centralised command and control. Not that it'd ever work, of course. You've got no hope of rolling it out internationally, because there will always be more than enough countries willing to say, "relocate to us, we don't have environmental taxation!")

  60. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Hmmm, can we apply the third law of thermodynamics to economic growth?

    I mean really, it depends on what you're growing, no?

    If singers can improve technology, lower the costs of plasma TVs, feed & educate our children, you might be right. Last time I checked though, my kids like hamburgers and ice cream, and plasma TVs are toys that we all want rather than need, but you can't teach everyone to live within their means.

    If you do come up with something that costs less to grow than you put in, let me know, cause I'd love to be a lazy millionaire.

  61. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    >So how would you go about growing the world's GDP by say, equalising the quality of life

    >of everyone (on the planet) to, western european levels, without consuming more resources?

    Equalising the quality of life of everyone on the planet doesn't have to have an effect on GDP at all.

    Consider clean drinking water, if the weather randomly shifted such that everywhere in

    the world had predictable and sufficient rainfall then it would be very cheap to give everyone

    drinking water, the previous expenditure in equipment would become worthless, many of

    the water workers would become unemployed so GDP could fall whilst the quality of life for

    everyone improved. You could imagine a new very cheap system for desalinating water could

    have a similar effect, without requiring an act of god.

    If the people who didn't have a western european quality of life didn't have any children then

    we'd be at equal levels within a few couple of generations. Global GDP would probably fall

    thus growth would be negative despite an equalising of lifestyles.


    >Let me get this straight? You are saying that the earth's resources are NOT limited?

    No, he's saying that the economic worth of things isn't a sum total of the resources

    used to make them, given that half the people on here are computer programmers

    that should be pretty bloody obvious.


    Isn't growth measured as growth of GDP, not per capita, which means that in

    practice GDP growth means population growth?

    Population growth does increase resource consumption.

  62. Dr Stephen Jones

    Malthusians are already out

    Thanks for revealing your nasty little agenda for us, Dave:

    "Let me get this straight? You are saying that the earth's resources are NOT limited? That this planet can continue to support more and more people infinitely?"

    Resources are whatever we invent, that we need at any given time. We can feed the world already, and once energy is nailed with renewable and fusion/fission, we can save the recoverable oil for useful things like flying and plastics production.

    As for population, the only worry is that it fails to reach fertility levels to keep the economy going.

    So there's a good chap: put your chlorine pellets away, and shove off.

  63. Joe K

    No surprise

    New Scientist completely lost it years ago. I cancelled my subscription when it was obvious that they were going the way of that Horizon tv programme:

    Assume low intelligence of the audience


    Waste time explaining things over and over again

    Sensationalise everything.

    I weep for british science and the decline of the countries gray matter.

  64. Anonymous Coward

    An alternative

    quit whining about space travel and beating Terrorism/drugs/whatever else. Earth's resources are limited, so we should merely hold back the Terrorists and other bogeymen, pull mostly out of invasions, and start working on a big-ass interplanetary spacecraft and asteroid mining equipment.

    The alternative is cutting down consumption and hoping that this will let us somehow survive indefinately.

    *cancels NS subscription*

  65. jason

    Resource-based economy

    I suggest you take a look at this different approach. It's our system that is not efficient, not the resources that are few.

  66. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    tim the blatherskite

    > They’ve entirely missed how those dastardly neo-liberal economists [whom] they want to overthrow define and measure growth. [snip rant about how growth is tied to GDP, not resources and how NS knows nothing about economics]

    Tim, I think you're the one who's been drinking some sort of Kool Aid, not New Scientist. I know your point is a subtle one--that growth can be achieved without <i>necessarily</i> draining scarce resources, but then you go on to argue that, somehow, the finiteness of resources is somehow irrelevant. I suppose it's this sort of thinking that has turned Britain's economy into a services/entertainment economy. It has externalised a lot of the actual industry and convinced itself that, so long as there is money sloshing around to pay for importing renewable (eg, foodstuffs, wood, textiles), non-renewable resources (eg, oil, coal, nuclear fuels) as well as much of the labour associated with these sectors of industry (mining, forestry, farming, mills, sweatshops, etc.) there is no need to factor scarcity or eventual depletion of these resources into the economic equations.

    Ignoring the need to have real value production at the base of your economic system is simply "bubble economics" and is unsustainable.

    Whatever will you write about next, Tim? Are you going to tell us that the Singularity is Near? Because, frankly, that's exactly the same sort of ungrounded (in all senses of the word) thinking that those nutters engage in. You simply cannot ignore the second law of thermodynamics. Entropy may suck, but it's the clearest reason why "bubble economics", pyramid schemes and the idea of a technological Singularity are not grounded in reality.

  67. Scott van Looy
    Jobs Horns


    "all that matters is growth"


    "all that matters is economic growth"


  68. frymaster

    theory versus practice

    @Dave re: WTF: No, he's saying they are limited but that doesn't necessarily mean you can't support some growth (and certainly not infinite growth)

    However, while I agree that theoretically growth needn't result in more resources being used, in practice it pretty much does

    with that out of the way, I agree with everything else in the article :)

  69. Simon
    Thumb Down

    What planet do you live on?

    "If I use sand to make a wine bottle I will add some small amount of GDP. If I use that same sand and make a computer chip instead I will add more value and thus more to GDP with the same use of resources."

    So whichever product you make with that sand, you are still using a raw material to produce it. Whatever the size of the increase in GDP you will still be using a finite resource. Therefore, if you want to increase GDP, you have to increase the amount of raw material used.

    But what about the concert? How do people get to the concert? Car, bus, train? All will use energy to get there and this energy comes from a raw resource (oil, coal etc). Even if they are walking, they will consume energy and will need to eat to replace that energy. More food production? That consumes resources, doesn't it?

    Not sure where you get your logic from...

  70. Steen Hive
    Thumb Down


    Point us to one instance - just one, ever - of the World's total GDP increasing while it's resource consumption decreased?

  71. teacake


    "Let me get this straight? You are saying that the earth's resources are NOT limited? That this planet can continue to support more and more people infinitely?"

    He's talking about economic growth, not population growth, the two are not the same.

  72. Tom

    When you read articles of faith like this

    it make you realise the guiding hand of the free market is partly closed and waving back and forth.

  73. Mike Groombridge

    @one simple question for Tim

    that' not the point is it

    the point is that adding to GDP of one country doesn't Necessary mean more rescourses

    if i make a processor today with x about of sand and y amount of power. then tomorrow some one says you can do it with half of y the rescources are less for the same GDP.

    now it is ture that if i make double the number of processors i make then i'll use more rescources.

    i think the point trying to be made is that stating a 10% growth in GDP is linked to a 10% growth in resource usage is wrong . the turth is a 10% growth in GDP we probable by a 6 or 7% pregrowth in resources as companies will try to reuse any waste etc that can be be

    also strength of the pound and weakness of the dollar and as well as other ecomonic pointlessness effects gdp too.

  74. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    @Parax - the point is correct??!!

    As the examples are used to justify the points made this surely makes the whole article meaningless........? Doesn't it

  75. Ash
    Dead Vulture

    El Reg's Green Editorial Stance

    I get the feeling The Register is losing its way on its reporting of green issues. Let's see, skepticism is good and exposing fallacies in a lot of the gumph we seen been talked in the climate debate is excellent.

    Recent articles however, including this one, seem only to exist to push an 'anti-green' policy. I don't want agenda's shoved down my throat, I want reasoned scientific examination of the complex issues involved. Stop taking individual sentences out of entire articles and completely ignoring the context they were written in, anyone can argue any old shit with that method.

  76. Killian
    Thumb Down


    "Modern, neo-liberal, economics doesn’t ignore these questions, far from it, it’s managed to not only spot them but to work out what you can actually do to solve them too."

    Well that's not really the whole story, is it?

    You missed out the part at the beginning where it creates most of the problems, generates a shitload of wealth for a tiny percentage of the population and then pretends they don't exist for as long as possible.

    Cherry-picking just what you need prove your point and ignoring the broader realities doesn't really advance the debate.

    Neither does dismissing as 'eco-dribble', an article that discusses the _demonstrable_ fact (see the supporting graphs in the article or maybe "don’t sweat the details") that the unbridled growth we've experienced is not sustainable in the context of the resources we have available. I'm not an economist but recent events indicate to me that it doesn't appear to be economically sustainable either.

    It's nice that you're "delighted" that scientists are entering the debate. I am too, since scientists tend to work from a basis of actual data and propose theories that can be tested and quantified. Certainly preferable to poorly framed analogies about theoretical cases that don't match the historical reality.

    Are you seriously suggesting that everything's fine - we just need to 'stay the course', tweak things around a bit to improve efficiency and that we can use the market to finesse our way around these monumental issues?

    BTW, nice use of "Dark Ages" in the subtitle. Straight from the Ken Clark handbook of how to talk total bollocks.

  77. Tim

    Apples and oranges?

    Isn't the issue more to do with energy rather than resources? GDP growth does require more energy and your examples support that statement. Trivially, the singer can entertain more people through amplification.

    The error that NS have made is to equate resource and energy usage. At the moment, resource usage is a rough proxy for energy production (chiefly because we obtain most of our energy by burning resources). Future advances in fission and fusion power will bring exponential increases in energy production for linear growth in resource consumption. When we reach that point global GDP will grow rapidly through energy intensive activities that have minimal impact on supplies of other resources, to the betterment of all mankind.

    Rather than embrace the science that will bring us this cheap, clean, abundant energy, the environmental movement is trying to put the brakes on the global economy. For a bunch of scientists this is a myopic and quite futile approach, not to mention a breathtakingly cruel way to treat the world's poor countries who need cheap energy to attain modern standards of living. Sadly political winds blow strongly, and ivory towers do sway in a breeze.

    In My World I would stop trying to cripple economic output by fussing over CO2 and start to invest heavily in high capacity nuclear energy generation. Modern fission plants today, fusion tomorrow. At the same time liberalisation of global trade will allow the third world to pursue its competitive advantages equitably to the benefit of their countries' economies and their peoples' health and education. Without CO2 paranoia all that nonsense about not buying Chilean strawberries in January because of "food miles" - denying the world's poorest farmers a market in the process - will stop. African growers, given fair export channels to Europe, will drive their GDP upwards. Their governments will invest in cleaner power generation technology over time and become energy rich themselves.

    Crucially, cleaner forms of power are more expensive. If the non-Western world is ever going to move on from coal then they have to become much, much richer. We will all, globally, be better off as a result.

    Accepting that we are in our 'carbon phase' as a species is vital. Doing our utmost to move on from it as quickly as possible is the next step. Trying to turn back the clock will only leave us stranded forever.

  78. Anomalous Cowherd Silver badge

    @ singing doesn't increase GDP

    It does if Tim is British, and you're not. Or if Tim declares himself an independent republic.

  79. TeeCee Gold badge


    I think you'll find that the construction of additional concert halls, building of instruments (a *very* time consuming, resource intensive and skilled process) and use of musicians to allow everyone to hear all the music they want "first hand" far outweighs the music-system-in-every-home impact.

    Oh and on a slightly off-topic climate cobblers subject, apparently a lunar landscape is typified by the vast quantities of snow and hail up there. Who knew?

  80. Martin Jones

    Worst refutation ever!

    Shockingly bad refutation of the NS.

    Accusing them of not understanding Economics, then showing that you understand it considerably less.

    The sand analogy :

    Sure, you're making chips, and as has already been pointed out - that takes vastly more power and resources to acheive than making bottles.

    But its also ignoring the fact that people still need bottles, so someone else now has to make those, so ultimately there is MORE sand being used by your new endeavour.

    And the singer one is even worse.

    Unless it applies to singers performing in tiny rooms in little houses where no amplification is required, your new career needs power for your mic, pre-amps, mixing console, any effects (eq and compression are virtually ubiquitous, even in live performance) and the PA.

    Oh, and lighting, advertising, transport, studio time.......

    Utter rubbish. WP The Reg.

  81. Steve

    @ Parax

    "I wonder why they are not nit picking the singing example?"

    Ther are 5 posts before you, the 2nd mentions the singer example - so that's 20%. Since you missed it though, I'll expand a bit.

    For the singer to increase the value that they add, they must either increase the rate at which they add value or the time spent adding value. To increase the rate, they will need to have a larger hall or start to use amplification (which will both increase the rate at which they use resources).

    The time they can spend has a finite limit so cannot be relied upon for continual growth. Even before that limit has been reached there will be a point at which spending more time singing is detrimental to the quality of the performance and thus reduces the value added.

    "The point is in future when you can make chips by a highly efficent means then the resources and energy used will be less than the furnace used for glass making."

    Will these highly efficient means be used to make my flying car and robot butler as well?

    Once you have this futuristic chip plant in place, and it's churning out these chips, you're going to have to reduce the price to reflect the lower cost of production or be undercut by competitors. The only way to grow and compete now is to increase the volume of chips produced and so use up more resources.

    Couple this with the fact that the company will be looking for steady growth that it can link to it's investment whilst R&D is far less predictable in terms of exactly when you will see the pay-off from your investment and you still end up with the company trying to grow through increasing production and sales.

    It has to increase its resource use to grow and remain competitive enough to still be around when its R&D investment pays off.

  82. Parax

    Im still with Tim...

    @docjekill: im confused you say:

    'Burning money on nothing is not actually creating wealth, though, is it?' and

    'And you are going to say that growth (i.e. the sale of all those things, because growth is measured in sales values) '

    so does selling = growth or not ? make up your mind.

    As I see it (along with this author) growth doesnt have to rely on consumption! (this is regardless of whether it does or does not do so currently!)

    We can still achieve growth with a finite quantity of resourecs by adding man hours, as long as we add man hours in a productive manner the value is increased (productivity) and growth is achieved! it is not solely about resource consumption as NS puts it.

    @the other steve: sorry my point was that of all the examples conveying a principle no nit picker had dissmissed all in one go, they had addressed different imperfections of each example. afterall If it was obvious then no example would be nessacery, as i see them examples are only analogies, and so are often imperfect.

    @Anon: 'As long as we are using finite resources, like sand or oil, to fuel growth then we will constantly staring down the wall.'

    Didn't einstien make it clear that matter can only be destroyed by converting it to pure energy? ie nuculear fussion? I doubt then that all our resources will be consumed in this manner... just because we run out of it in the ground doesn't mean it is all gone, there is a thing called recyling, it uses man hours to add value...

    Therin lies the best example of them all:

    The Growth of Recycling!

  83. Tovalds

    singing does not increase GDP

    Why didn't someone jump all over this. If you get up on stage and sing, all you've done is transfer the cost of the admission ticket from the pocket of each of the member of the audience to your own pocket (assuming no other 3rd parties are involved). You have not increased GDP. You've only transferred wealth. Where did you learn economics? The New Scientist article is right on target. We need to be very very smart about growth, and be as efficient as possible with the use of resources involved. AND...growth most often DOES involve the consumption of resources of one kind or another. Not always, but most of the time.

  84. Mike Bell
    Paris Hilton


    "Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist." - Kenneth E. Boulding, Economist.

    There's a neat animated movie that shows just how crazy the economy really is at

    Paris, because she can simply conjure money out of the air whenever she feels like it.

  85. Frumious Bandersnatch

    crux of NS's argument

    There's a very telling article on page 46 of the issue written by Herman Daly. I don't think it's available online, so I'll just quote the first few paragraphs of it (fair use and all that):


    Here is a salutary tale about the World Bank. The first draft of its 1992 World Development Report, dedicated to sustainable development, contained a diagram labelled "the relation of the economy to the environment". It showed a rectangle labelled "economy", with an arrow entering it labelled "inputs" and an arrow exiting it labelled "outputs". That was it.

    It was my job, as senior economist in the bank's environment department, to review the draft and offer suggestions. I said drawing such a picture was a great idea, but it really had to include the environment. As drawn, the economy was receiving inputs from nowhere and expelling outputs back to nowhere.

    I suggested we draw a big circle around the economy and label it "ecosystem". Then it would be clear that the inputs represented resources taken from the ecosystem, and that the outputs represented waste returned to it as pollution. This would allow us to raise fundamental questions, such as how big the economy can get before it overwhelms the total system.

    When the second draft came back, a large unlabelled rectangle had been drawn around the original figure, like a picture frame. I complained that it changed nothing. In the third draft, the diagram was gone. The idea that economic growth should be constrained by the environment was too much for the World Bank in 1992, and still is today. The bank recognised that something must be wrong with that diagram--but better to omit it than deal with the inconvenient questions it raised.


    I've rated this Reg article the lowest possible since Tim seems to have deliberately picked up on a point of semantics (growth is measured in GDP and that doesn't *necessarily* have to consume resources!) as a means of totally discounting the uncomfortable truth that *in practical terms* someone generally has to pay for growth with increased resource/energy costs and that (quoting another part of the NS issue) "economists see no limits to growth--ever." It's Tim that's disconnected from reality on this issue, not New Scientist.

  86. Mark


    How did all that water get up in the air? Water rolls DOWNHILL. It doesn't fall up.

    The only way to get that happening is for it to be boiled and that turns it into vapour.

    So all that snow must have been put there by an ENORMOUS amount of extra energy.

    Thereby proving GW.

    Or, alternatively, you can stop obsessing about one small segment to "prove" your point.

  87. Mark


    "I would stop trying to cripple economic output by fussing over CO2 and start to invest heavily in high capacity nuclear energy generation."

    The difference being only in the reason, not the result. So why obsess about the reason? Stop obsessing over it.

    "Without CO2 paranoia all that nonsense about not buying Chilean strawberries in January because of "food miles" "

    As long as we have nuclear powered trucks, tankers, fertilisers, harvesters and so on. Until then, there IS a problem with it. Even in "your world" the problem is that a finite resource is being spent fruitlessly (pun unintended) getting luxury goods to the first world. Most of the money you're spending on strawberries in january is going to the Middle East and funding terrorism. Or at least ensuring that terrorism will result in the have nots getting a cut of the moolah by it.

  88. Frumious Bandersnatch


    There is potentially a solution to our energy problems... liquid fluoride thorium reactors. The reactor designs are orders of magnitude safer than current designs (with practically no chance of thermal runaway), they aren't suitable for producing weapons-grade material, and the basic fuel (Thorium) is more plentiful and easier to work with both as a raw fuel and in terms of waste product than Uranium-based reactors.

  89. John Savard

    Resource Use Danger

    While it is true that some forms of production use less resources than others, surely resource use per unit of GDP is affected by the types of product people choose to consume? If the people of the world started to buy less food and clothing, and spend more money on downloading music, one could indeed have an increase in the dollar value of the economy with a decrease in resource consumption. Absent a shift of that nature in consumption patterns, one can indeed say that a growing economy correlates with growing resource use... other things being equal.

    Both the economy and resource use must grow significantly to provide a decent life for Earth's billions, unless resources can be used in a much more efficient manner. Since population control is also difficult to achieve, perhaps we should be looking for resources not in short supply.

    Instead of trying to deny global warming, for example, I would urge a switchover to nuclear power.

  90. Mark

    The point is that economic growth does not *require* increased use of resources.

    No it doesn't HAVE to.

    Then again, outsourcing work doesn't *necessarily* mean redundancies.

    Never yet found a case where it didn't.

  91. Andrew

    rare metals for instance

    "Tim Worstall knows more about rare metals than most might think wise"

    To address the theoretical / empirical distinction highlighted by several previous commenters, perhaps Tim could tell us how commodities markets generally price in expectations of future economic growth.

    Are there circumstances in which it is possible to zero out supply variation in one's analysis, to be left with roughly the impact of demand for (consumption of) resources on price, under changing expectations of future GDP growth?

    In other words, does he agree with those analysts who believe that recent commodity price slump across the board is largely caused by the markets' revised expectation of economic slowdown ?

  92. AJ

    Don't go over yourself Tim Worstall

    This article is a joke. It seems that the author has some source of frustration with the New Scientist magazine and as a vent is trying to belittle their writing by dissecting, in a very shallow fashion, a few sentences taken out of the context from a recent issue. I've just read these articles over lunch today and the claim is not as simple as "more growth=more resources" although the end result is such.

    Apart from theoretically stating the blatant fact that it is possible to generate revenue without the use of physical resources, how do you build an entire global economy with healthy growth based just on that? How do you have economic growth with a continuous population increase without even a slight increase in exploitation of finite natural resources?

    Does Mr. Worstall have answers to these questions? Of course not :) That's a bit beyond him :-)

  93. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    What about all the other energy and resource costs of your "Added Value"

    What about all the other energy and resource costs of your "Added Value"?

    How do you get the sand, employ the hardware engineer and sell your product. So your added value has very real pollution, energy and resource consumption (you just pass it on to someone else's account, like the UK does to China). Even if you go and sing for your added value you still have to get to the venue and you have caused all those poor people to travel there too.

  94. Tim


    As an aside, maybe it's time for an updated Godwin's law encompassing terrorism. Osama's Corollary perhaps. Anyway.

    "I would stop trying to cripple economic output by fussing over CO2 and start to invest heavily in high capacity nuclear energy generation."

    'The difference being only in the reason, not the result. So why obsess about the reason? Stop obsessing over it.'

    I'm terribly sorry but I'm afraid I don't really understand what you've written there. My point was, in part, that research budgets, media coverage and, especially, legislative time expended on carbon control would be better directed at promoting nuclear power as a clean and efficient solution to our energy needs. All sorts of good stuff flows from cheap, clean electricity - not least affordable electric transport. I accept that CO2 emissions are bad, but I contend that we can solve the problem more effectively through development effort in replacement technology than controlling laws. You get better results working with human nature than against it - create an attractive alternative and it *will* be used. Put yet another way, spend your money treating the disease, not the symptoms. With a stick, not a carrot. Flies with honey. And so on.

    I entirely reject your fatuous argument about third world food production funding terrorism. Even if global food trade does fund terrorism (and I do not accept that for a second) then the answer to that is liberalising the trade, removing barriers and encouraging legitimate enterprise.

  95. Luis Enrique
    Thumb Up

    try again ....

    oh dear, this is terribly depressing. I thought the Reg readership was supposed to be smart, but we're getting just the usual muddled nonsense from people who think they know better than all those stupid economists.

    You really don't understand what economists mean by growth. Really. It is not increasing quantities of stuff produced. There are an awful lot of people here who are very quick to pour derision on economics, while having very little clue about it. Economists - neoclassical or otherwise, do not espouse "growth at all costs". They may exclude resources from their models, if they think resources are not relevant to the model is question, this does not mean economists ignore resources.

    Economic growth is about increasing the output of things we value. These things need not be tangible. Some people seem to think that services, entertainment etc. do not "really make anything", and hence growth in those sectors is some sort of mistake. This is an error. Take 100 workers making real tangible things. Now improve technology of production, doubling per-worker productivity, hold resource consumption and production of tangible goods constant, and move 50 workers into the production of non-tangible services. That's economic growth without resource growth.

    Now it's true that the service sectors do still consume resources. The above is just a simple model / parable. You can finesse the story by allocating realistic resource-usages numbers to different activities. The point will remain that it is possible to re-allocate workers, capital, re-organize production, improve technology etc. and have growth without resource growth. In fact, as the service sector continues to growth and the goods sector continues to focus on environmental impact, that's what you'd expect to happen.

    Back in the real world, growth in output-we-value has meant growth in material goods consumption and thanks to existing production technologies, that has mean growth in resource consumption. Poverty reduction in the Third World will mean more resource consumption. It's less clear that economic growth in advanced economies does. For many purposes, economists have not regarded resources as an important constraint on growth - and they've mostly been right - but of course with oil running out etc. it has been obvious for a long time that technologies of production need to change in response to depletion of currently used resources. Pick a random economists, and 90% of them will talk happily about the importance of renewable energy and materials tech progress.

    But this doesn't mean we somehow have to abandon growth - quite the opposite, we're going to need growth (which, again, means increased productivity in the things we value) so that we can afford to develop and use all these renewable techs that we so obviously need, sooner the better. Renewable techs are more expensive (in some senses) than burning oil or smelting aluminum. Everybody knows that we urgently need to address resource constraints and develop renewable technologies, but where NS is utterly wrong is how they relate that idea to economic growth. Developing and using renewable techs will <i>be</i> economic growth - and the NS also also wrong to think that those dumb economists don't know about the importance of resources. The truth is, the NS knows sweet f.a. about economics.

  96. Tim

    @Mark (again)

    "Even in "your world" the problem is that a finite resource is being spent fruitlessly (pun unintended) getting luxury goods to the first world. Most of the money you're spending on strawberries in january is going to the Middle East and funding terrorism. Or at least ensuring that terrorism will result in the have nots getting a cut of the moolah by it."

    (I'd get shot on usenet for this kind of follow-on posting, but this is web 2.0)

    It's not being 'spent fruitlessly'. I get strawberries and the farmer gets my money. The farmer's country's income increases and, if I buy enough strawberries, his government will eventually build cleaner power stations (after they've spent more of my strawbug money on educating their people, sorting out public health, creating a middle class and becoming a decent place to do business.) *THIS* process is how you stop the third world building dirty great coal-fired power stations. Not by keeping people in poverty by refusing to trade in the only goods they can produce at their current level of development.

    Since you're bound to be tiresome and pick apart my example with some incredibly specific case of fragarial terrorist financing, replace 'strawberry' with whatever other agricultural good you like. Coffee, green beans, peppers, potatoes, broccoli, whatever. The principle is identical.

  97. Steve

    @Keith Spencer

    "WTF. Actually, the world resources are closer to infinite than you think."

    They are finite and therefore are infinitely far from being infinite - even if you choose one of the smaller infinities as being your benchmark for infinity. The difference between any finite amount and any infinite amount is always infinity.

  98. Tim


    You are not just transferring wealth from your audience's pockets to yours. Nobody jumped on it because it was a correct statement: GDP is the total market value of all goods and services available in a given economy.

    Your audience paid for their ticket with taxed income. When you receive it it becomes your income, and is taxed again. There is then more money available for the government to spend on roads, hospitals and airports than if you had never given the performance. That money then goes into the pockets of contractors, doctors, air traffic controllers and minimum wage security drones who then go on to spend it themselves. So, that's how your singing drives GDP.

  99. Vladimir Plouzhnikov


    "Most of the money you're spending on strawberries in january is going to the Middle East and funding terrorism."

    You listened to G W Bush and Jacqui Smith too much and are in need of urgent counselling.

    Perhaps you will find the following web site useful:

  100. Dr Stephen Jones

    @Eddie Edwards

    "New Scientist accepts only empirical science as a valid way of describing the world."

    I think you meant to write:

    "New Scientist *should only* accept empirical science as a valid way of describing the world."

    So you're ignoring the 20 pages of groundless, politically-motivated speculation that magazine has just published?

    Nu Sci lost its credibility a long time ago. Long before the eco-nutters took over.

  101. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Singing doesn't increase GDP.

    Yes it does.

    GDP is generally calculated by expenditure not income:-

    "The total market value of all final goods and _services_ produced in a country in a given year, equal to total consumer, investment and government spending, plus the value of exports, minus the value of imports."

    It is a service that has a value, and so is counted.

    @Martin Jones

    >Sure, you're making chips, and as has already been pointed out - that takes vastly

    >more power and resources to acheive than making bottles.

    Does it?

    What if your bottle plant is so fantastically inefficient that you burn just as much power?

    Why are some companies chips worth less than others even when they're made by the

    same fabs?

    It's not the energy that makes the chip special.

    >But its also ignoring the fact that people still need bottles, so someone else now has

    >to make those, so ultimately there is MORE sand being used by your new endeavour.

    No, because the chips are driving the computerised bottle plant to ever greater efficiencies.

    >And the singer one is even worse.

    >Unless it applies to singers performing in tiny rooms in little houses where no amplification

    >is required, your new career needs power for your mic, pre-amps, mixing console, any effects

    >(eq and compression are virtually ubiquitous, even in live performance) and the PA.

    The singers economic worth is not in correlation to their resource consumption though is it?

    I could use Madonna's gear and burn half the national grid yet still not get paid a bean for it.


    >For the singer to increase the value that they add, they must either increase the rate at which

    >they add value or the time spent adding value. To increase the rate, they will need to have a

    >larger hall or start to use amplification (which will both increase the rate at which they use


    No, they can charge more for their service by producing a better product.

    - It doesn't necessarily take longer, just more skill.

    - It doesn't need a bigger building, they may even choose to ditch the building completely.

    - They don't need amplification, they may just charge a smaller number of people a larger

    amount for their service.

    Finally, if you divided the megastars total production by their resource consumption relative to a more minor star they will produce more per resource unit than the minor star, they have increased efficiency.

    Tims flaw (and NS's apparently) is that GDP doesn't equate to standard of living.

  102. Luther Blissett

    First rule of economics

    As a basis for rational action, the majority is always wrong.

  103. Eddie Edwards

    And another thing

    To those who say that GDP *might* be able to increase without resource usage increasing, because of better technology, I say this ...

    Star Trek isn't real.

    You can't base arguments about actual events on things that happen in Star Trek.

    Yes, one day we might all be swooshing around in starships that are fuelled by dilithium crystals. But it's not a realistic future to pick compared to all the other millions. You can't rely on things happening which we can neither control nor predict from here.

    Unless you have a proposal for an ACTUAL technology which can sustain increased GDP across ALL INDUSTRIES versus zero increase in resource usage, STFU. Anything else is science fiction, and not relevant to the current debate.

    Any machine merely converts energy from one form to another. The economy can only get more efficient, it cannae break the laws of physics.

  104. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Like it or not, singing is a service

    And services are measurable output to the economy. Their value is measured, not in terms of *physical stuff* but in terms of what others pay for the service. Also known as the market price.

    All the stuff about concert halls and microphones and audio equipment are complete red herrings.

    Many of you would do well to learn some economics before bashing the economist!

  105. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What about all the other energy and resource costs of your "Added Value"

    >How do you get the sand, employ the hardware engineer and sell your product. So your added

    >value has very real pollution, energy and resource consumption (you just pass it on to someone

    >else's account, like the UK does to China).

    Less so for the chip than the bottle but the chip has a greater value (depending on the efficiency

    of your manufacturing plants).

    >Even if you go and sing for your added value you still have to get to the venue and you

    >have caused all those poor people to travel there too.

    That's the same regardless of the value of the performance.

  106. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Two little words

    Ceteris paribus

  107. vrghost
    Paris Hilton

    “Polar bears swims to far, therefore dying”

    Does people read before replying?

    The article does is not questioning weather or not we really have a problem with using up sand, or any of the number of resources we do not have infinite amount of resources for, the article is questioning the methodology and the problem statement on which the suggested solution is based.

    To say that reducing the economic growth will reduce the expenditure of resources to a representative amount is incorrect because there is no absolute connection between economic growth and required resources. So in the case of the sand, we can prove the economic growth can be stimulated by reduced usage of natural resources, and as such I could make a theory stating that we must speed up economic growth in order to reduce the usage of natural resources, and I can use pretty much the same examples as the opposition making my point, and according to the statement be just as correct as anyone opposing my statement.

    I could make a similar argument as that of economic growth to natural resources by presenting a couple of solutions to the polar bears dying out (I’m not an employee of any US wildlife agency so can discuss the poor things however much I like).

    Polar bears are dying out because the polar caps are melting and the icebergs are further apart, forcing the bears to undertake swimming expeditions far exceeding their physical ability, resulting in them drowning, or dying from exhaustion.

    If I in my problem statement give undue weight to the fact that polar bears are forced to swim further then they are capable of, something that clearly is in some way connected to the problem, it is killing them as stated earlier, I can still come to a sensible solution, somehow stopping the icecaps from melting might actually save them, I could also argue that we must drain the ocean, which will also reduce the amount of swimming required, or sending a team of specially trained animal trainer to teach the polar bears better techniques for swimming, all of the above solutions are valid according to our pseudo science problem statement “Polar bears swims to far, therefore they are dying”.

    We must question the problem statement to ensure that it is correct, as any solution based on an incorrect problem statement that actually solves the issue would solve it by luck, and there is reason why the roulette table seldom features as a vital part of problem solving.

  108. Simon Walker

    @Luis Enrique

    *Stands and applauds*

  109. Mark

    @Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Well it isn't going to the Venezuelan strawberry grower, is it.

    Unless he owns an oil company.

  110. Mark

    "I get strawberries and the farmer gets my money."

    No, he doesn't. He gets a miniscule fraction of your money. You get an entire strawberry. The oil company gets a huge wodge, the agro business gets a large wodge. So does the supermarket and hauliers.

    The farmer gets fuck all.

    Just ask the dairy herd farmers in the UK about how much of the 49p of a pint of milk the farmer gets (and how much of the pittance actually goes on other companies to get the milk).

  111. Nano nano

    Although we don't all smoke fags ...

    like they do in the novels, Asimov had it right - we need to build our own Second Foundation ...

  112. Mark

    @Stephen Jones

    No, the New Scientist isn't a journal.

    It may be politically motivated but you only believe (for your own politically motivated reasons) it to be groundless.

    There's plenty of grounds. Just not ones you're prepared to accept.

  113. Anonymous Coward

    Did you even read the article?

    Or did you just take snippets because your head hurt when you read the entire thing? If you read it properly then you would know your awful attempt at journalism is only proving your lack of understanding.

    Given that The Register rip off New Scientist for most of their Science news it would be a good idea to actually read the articles and not just the headlines.

  114. Watashi

    If its broke, fix it

    There are a growing number of scientists working in fields relating to complex systems who view the field of economics as being ripe for the picking. In the two centuries since Adam Smith's inspirational works set the scientific community ablaze with innovation (Darwinian evolution came about as a direct result of Smith's new thinking) not that much has changed in the introspective and narrowly mathematical field of economics, and intelligent empiricists are now looking to make a name for themselves in an arena they see as backward and underdeveloped

    Kool-aid drinkers like Worstall may not believe they are fighting a rear-guard action, but this is exactly what they are doing. Science has got some shiny new tools (Emergence being a conceptual one and the supercomputer simulator being a physical one) that economics has pretty much completely ignored. If this was a war, its a war between a bow-and-arrow wielding tribe who win battles because they are experts in thier local geography coming up against a battleship bristling with cannons, machine guns and missile launchers. The battleship may get lost and comically run aground occasionally at first, but I know which side I'd rather be on.

    Taking on economics illiterate science journalists may feel edifying, but this is just the first glimpse of a new science that will probably be called something like awful 'human interaction dynamics'.

  115. Dr Stephen Jones

    Counselling probably won't help Mark

    tim: "I get strawberries and the farmer gets my money."

    mark: "No, he doesn't. He gets a miniscule fraction of your money."

    So you've agreed, the gets your money. A transfer of wealth has taken place and value has been added. The qualification in your next sentence is just that - a qualification and not a contradiction.

    You really aren't very good at this rational debate thing, are you?

  116. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Mum's gone to Iceland

    Of course the New *Scientist* didn't get their economics right, economics isn't a proper science.

    The Economist's grasp of stellar theory is equally underwhelming though somehow far less controversial.

    PH prefers media studies anyway.

  117. Adrian Esdaile

    What about non-radioactive steel, eh?

    Take a circle.

    Don't use an 'economics' circle (an approximation - just a polygon with a lot of sides), you have to use a true circle for this.

    Cut it in half. Now, cut the bits in half. Repeat. Forever.

    Notice something? Thats right! You CAN have an infinite spread of finite resources BUT, and this is one hucking fuge BUT, each share ends up becoming infinitely small.

    Maths, about year 7, I think.

    Apply to real world - growth CAN continue indefinitely AS LONG AS GDP per capita DROPS!!!!!111one!!!eleventy

    Sorry, but this is a pretty sucking fimple concept, and no amount of econimists (bloody B-arkers) can prove otherwise.

    The inferrence? We'd all better get used to extreme socialism for that to work!

    Now, to the subject - non radioactive steel is only now available from the remains of the WW1 german fleet suck at Jutland. Non-radioactive steel is crucial to aircraft, spacecraft and radiation detectors. ALL steel now made is radioactive due to atmospheric nuclear testing, and will remain so for several hundred thousand years. If humans don't find a good source of non-radioactive steel soon, we will run out, and be stuck of this dirtball with an infinitely-increasing population of economists (clearly the result of infinite GPD growth - like a Shoe Event Horizon only worse).

    If that isn't hell I don't know what is.

  118. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    pot - kettle

    Saying GDP is not related to resource consumption, is like saying the brightness in a room at night is not related to the number of lightbulbs. While in theory you can produce light in other ways in practice just doesn't happen, the same goes for GDP / resource consumption.

    But its nice to know how great economists are at science, because you sure are cr*p at making the worlds banking system run well. On the other hand what did economists ever know about money?

  119. Mark

    PS Ask about "the man from Del Monte

    Or the origin of "Banana Republic".

    Countries that convert to cash crops that lock them into buying stuff they used to make. And because of that, they must continue to make cash crops. And the Man From Del Monte now owns you, If he doesn't like the price you're fooked.

    You really aren't equipped for thinking, are you Stephen Jones.

  120. Mark

    @Stephen Jones

    No, He gets a miniscule fraction of your money you spent on strawberries.

    Hell, you could say that the australian aborigine gets some of my money spend on strawberries:

    Oil company CEO invests in Opals.

    Opal miner buys beer from pay.

    Beer made by a brewer.

    Brewery buys hops.

    Farmer employs aborigine.

    I mean, not MUCH of my money, but prove NONE of it ever goes there.

    As the UK dairy farmers if they get your 49p for your milk.

    Prepare to duck.

  121. Obama Smith


    As long as something can reproduce or be recycled then we have near unlimited resources and capacity for growth. And then there's our future adventures into space is certain lobbies would get out of the way of industry.

  122. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Eddie Edwards : ACTUAL technology.

    >To those who say that GDP *might* be able to increase without resource usage increasing,

    >because of better technology, I say this ...

    >Unless you have a proposal for an ACTUAL technology which can sustain increased GDP

    >across ALL INDUSTRIES versus zero increase in resource usage, STFU. Anything else is

    >science fiction, and not relevant to the current debate.

    How about accounting? There was an innovation that delivered large and sustained

    increased GDP across every industry to the point that those that don't do it simply vanished.

    Money itself is another one, although you could claim there's a resource in generating

    coinage, it should be evident that the value of money isn't the value of the resource from

    which it's made. (Except for 2p's a few years ago.)

    Language, another innovation that delivered sustained GDP without resource consumption.

    More recently we could have breeding improving the efficiency of existing farms, without requiring more feed or land (doesn't check your one innovation for all-industries box, but hey it's a pretty stupid box).

    Or are you dumb enough that you can't see the self-evident truth that you can do more than

    one thing with a log some of which will be more valuable than others.

  123. Estariel

    Free Market Meltdown focusses the attention somwhat.....

    What a difference a month of free-market meltdown makes.

    Last time a Reg writer laid into the "environmental doom approaches" folks, they were lauded.

    This time around, they get hammered.

    I find myself wondering if the Reg really has this "anti-green" bias, or its just the Moderatrix enjoying throwing raw meat into the raptor pit that is the Reg commenting userbase.

    Infinite, renewable, clean energy is clearly a solution.

    However the political animals who line up with the Adam Smith Institute are not known for supporting massive funding on non-carbon alternative energy sources. Instead its pork-barrel for the oil industry and invading countries where the oil is.

    When your practice is the opposite of your words, your words will be found suspect and discarded.....

  124. Tim


    Read your own posts! Your "aborigine" in your example gets richer as more of us buy strawberries. You're arguing the same point that Stephen is! He'd be a whole lot richer too, if trade was liberalised, which is the point I was making.

    Show us your vision. How would you cater for a growing world's demands for energy without polluting it horribly?

  125. Mark


    "More recently we could have breeding improving the efficiency of existing farms, without requiring more feed or land (doesn't check your one innovation for all-industries box, but hey it's a pretty stupid box)."

    In the early 19thC the US produced 3400 calories of food for 1 calorie of oil.

    In the 12stC the US prodcudes 1 calorie of food for 1 calorie of oil.

    Oil based fertilisers. Long distance haulage. Mechanisation. Refrigeration. Inefficient but *effective*. But nobody is thinking of making it more efficient. Thinking of making it even LESS.

  126. Tim Worstal


    "However the political animals who line up with the Adam Smith Institute are not known for supporting massive funding on non-carbon alternative energy sources. Instead its pork-barrel for the oil industry and invading countries where the oil is."

    I try not to tell other people how they should spend their own money....but I've spent some of mine subsidising research into solid oxide fuel cells. Does that help at all?

  127. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    @Mark, again

    Thanks for the heads-up.

    I'll ring Washington tonight, will ask them to add Exxon-Mobil, Shell, BP, Texaco, Total, Rosneft, Lukoil, TNK-BP, Surgutneftegas, Petronas, SaudiAramco and a few others to the list of terrorist organisations.

  128. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    >In the early 19thC the US produced 3400 calories of food for 1 calorie of oil.

    In the early 19th century farming had progressed for almost 10,000 years.

    >In the 21stC the US prodcudes 1 calorie of food for 1 calorie of oil.

    Oil is not the only resource. In the 17thC all food calories were produced with no

    oil expenditure at all, was farming infinitely efficient back then?

    (Tim Worstal)

    >I try not to tell other people how they should spend their own money....

    Amen to that. So many seem intent on spending my money for me these days.

  129. Dr Stephen Jones

    I'll go slowly for Mark's benefit

    Is this the same Mark who post on environmental threads, posts 10 times an hour and ends up calling everyone else a f**cking idiot or f*ckwit after about 3?

    Anger-management issues and serious problems with deductive logic a speciality. Probably an eco-activist. I'm just guessing but it could be different Mark.

    - tim: "I get strawberries and the farmer gets my money."

    - mark: "No, he doesn't. He gets a miniscule fraction of your money.""No, He gets a miniscule fraction of your money you spent on strawberries."

    Again you have agreed that the farmer gets Tim's money. Could you get a grown-up help you?

  130. Mark


    But oil is a very limited resource.

    When oil is running out and reaching $200/bbl how much will food sources drop or prices rise to cover it?

  131. Mark

    @Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    You're welcome.

  132. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    FFS Yes, oil is limited, because we use it so that we can grow more food, if we didn't then food would be the limiting resource.

    Going back to early 19th century farming techniques would leave the world with a

    massive food deficit. Everyone, not just the third world, would starve.

    I think you misunderstood the farming example I used.

    "More recently we could have breeding improving the efficiency of existing farms, without requiring more feed or land"

    This was a reference to the selective breeding of farm animals to produce breeds with

    greater productivity than their wild counterparts which after all have a more challenging

    lifestyle. It started well before oil had anything to do with farming.

    "More recently" was more recently than my other examples of Money and Language which

    have also increased productivity without increasing resource consumption, yet are still

    pretty ancient.

    The fact is that productivity can be improved without increased consumption of resources,

    yes, consuming more resources is one way to make more stuff, but not the only way.

    How you've gone off on one about oil is beyond me...

    This comment:-

    > "But nobody is thinking of making it more efficient. Thinking of making it even LESS."

    Is just mind bogglingly stupid conspiracy theory crap.

  133. Mark


    So you agree that agriculture is less efficient (much less) despite GDP having gone up and a lot of effort put into making it profitable.

    Prosecution rests.

  134. Thomas Dent
    Thumb Down

    Neoliberalism no panacea

    " powered nano-assemblers that grow houses and food directly from atoms in the rock."

    Whoever wrote this (apparently without irony) should think about PLANTS - since that's the closest we're likely to come to such miracle-workers in the next century or so.

    So why don't we use plants for almost everything as was done up to the 18th century? Because given the current technology other things (specifically hundreds-of-million-year-old plants, aka OIL) are much cheaper. This is OK if and only if some great new technology is going to come along fairly soon that is in turn significantly cheaper than oil, *and* before oil has become expensive enough to cause a general breakdown of civilization. You might then argue that anything you could do to hasten the arrival of this great new technology relative to the oil crunch would be a good thing. Basically only 2 things can achieve this: big government investments in technological research, or sustained increases in the cost of energy stimulating private research and reducing oil consumption. In either case government has a significant role to play channeling tax revenue (from carbon taxes or other sources) into R&D.

    Neoliberals can try and argue that the externalities of using resources at a hugely non-renewable rate could be accounted for in a free-market-like 'Pigovian' way, but it doesn't seem to have happened, does it? (See: fisheries, chronically collapsing; carbon emissions, exponentially rising.) The problem is that 1) externalities, particularly relating to the future, cannot be determined accurately in themselves until it is too late, 2) nor can they be reliably traced to their sources, and 3) it requires a huge amount of political will to put systems in place which address 1) and 2).

    The classic example of a chronic failure to deal with externalities is noise pollution. In theory, one could allow people to sue each other for damage to quality of life due to noise. In practice, this damage cannot be determined objectively, and it would be impossible in most cases to affix responsibility reliably without everyone carrying decibel-measuring microphones and cameras (to record the source of noise) around with them. I.e. a noise-abatement police state. Not to mention low frequency noise that can't be traced back to source.

    Anyway, it seems fairly obvious to me that growth will only be consistent with decreasing use of (unsustainable) resources if and when the price of these resources becomes high enough. The most reliable and long-term-less-painful way for this to happen is sooner via the structure of taxation. Carbon tax is actually a reasonably well-behaved model because the use of carbon fuels can be reliably measured - however it requires an immense amount of political will.

  135. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    >So you agree that agriculture is less efficient (much less) despite GDP having gone up

    >and a lot of effort put into making it profitable.

    No, I don't, why would I agree to a statement as dumb as that?

    I'll accept (without checking your figures) that it uses more oil than it used to.

    If that is your measure of efficiency then yes, sane people however, realise that there is more

    than one resource in the world and that any measure of efficiency must look at the whole picture.

  136. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I dissagree

    What a moronic narrow minded article, "If I sing at a concert and people pay me then I use no natural resources" What about the flight to the city you're performing at and the electricity for the heating and lighting and sound at said concert, what about allt he peiople who will drive their cars to the performace? Have you been living in a cave for the last 50 years? the biggest users of natural resources are the countries with the highest GDP and as it goes up so will the useage.

  137. David Simpson
    Thumb Down

    oh dear timmy gets an F again

    even if your mythical no resouce consuming increase in gdp happens what the f*ck do you imagine the singer git will typically do with their riches .... yep use it to gobble resources.,

    Some economists fail consistently because they only look at one aspect of the question.


  138. Mark

    So you agree but don't agree, JonB

    And you accuse ME of being dumb!!!

  139. steve

    Economic 101 people

    Good conclusion in the article, however the salient argument for reaching that conclusion wasn't clearly demonstrated - hence why there's a lot of people here producing arguments that miss the point. There's also the classic economists trick of jumping to look at a comparison to a counter factual or a rate of change rather than the cruder absolute amounts.

    Hopefully this should make things clearer - I will do an example first - related to both IT and the environment as they seem popular round here, and then the models.

    EXAMPLE 1:

    in 1980 I could produce a circuit board for a PC. However manufacturing was inefficient and I wasted 50% of the input materials. All sorts of nasty chemicals were the waste by products of production.

    Today, due to technological advances, I can produce the same circuit board, with only 5% input material wastage. This allows me to produce more circuit boards today than 30 years ago. I'm still using resources but for the same output considerably less than before - and perhaps enough to be a sustainable level of input resources.

    EXAMPLE 2:

    <pinch of salt>

    Flying - it's fuels terrorism and despotism through money flows to undesirable states and spews filthy carbon like the halitosis of satan across the planet.</pinch of salt>

    Until along comes a technological advance. We suddenly have new airplanes running of nuclear or some other non oil resource (Say what you like about nuclear safety, radiation etc you can't argue that it's not resource efficient, even including the extraction process.

    Suddenly we could double the number of flights (growth) using no more of the preciously limited natural resource of oil on each journey. (Yes you need oil to make the plastics for the planes)

    In this example we use a small amount of resources today to make the planes, but save a shed load in the future. Over the period as a hole we have achieved growth and used less resources.


    Solow Growth from 1957 - note it is a model not a formula (It would never be dimensionally consistant!)


    Y= GDP

    K = stock of human & Physical capital

    L = unskilled labour

    A = constant reflecting technological starting position

    eu = rate of exogenous technology growth.

    Endogenous theories - same as above but attempt to bring in technology growth as a result of education and capital investment.

    CONCLUSION: Economics does not require us to be using more resources in 10 years time, just because we have grown.

  140. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yes, New Scientist

    has been going a bit lowbrow as of late, all very sensationalist, wouldn't surprise me if they introduced a play scientist of the month on page three.

  141. mr.K

    @"The Other Steve" (and Eddie Edwards among others)

    In recent months I have read a lot of comments sections etc where "neo-clever" people have looked around seen the collapsing market and jumped to the old conclusion that infinite growth can't be possible. Their logic is as Tim Worstal points out that growth means more consumption of resources. I have tried many places to explain to people that growth is possible without the consumption of more resources, and before people grasp that simple point any debate is futile. We have to agree on that point first. Since people really have a bleedin' hard time separating the issues, I will but in and try to explain here as well.

    These two statements are not equal:

    1. "Growth is possible without increase in resource consumption." This is what the article states.

    2. "Growth will not lead to increased consumption of resources." This is most definitely not what the article says.

    Statement number two is of course wrong, everybody knows that we have based a large portion of our growth during the last few hundred years on increase in resource extraction. That doesn't mean that there is also a portion of the growth that is based on knowledge on how to get more out of the same resources. To say that just because we have an unsustainable growth that is impossible to have a sustainable growth is, let me again use this nice word I have picked up, bleedin' ignorant. To try to pick an article apart for cheap shots just so you won't have to expand your mind a little is very, in lack of a better word, American of you.

    So to "The Other Steve", and partly to Eddie among others, you think that examples are meant to prove anything. Examples can always be picked apart, this is due to what an example is. I looked it up for you:

    "Example: 1. one of a number of things, or a part of something, taken to show the character of the whole."

    An example is meant to illustrate a point, not to be the point itself. It is an idea, a model if you like, it isn't meant to prove anything. Sure you can work to find an example that is more accurate etc, but the point is to communicate an idea. This means you want an example that is very simple, easy to understand and something suited for the receiver, i.e. something that he or she is familiar with.

    My favourite example for this issue is agriculture. Without agriculture the earth could only support so much people, then we invented agriculture, and the same earth and the same amount of resources could suddenly support much more people. This of course let to some loss of wilderness, but it was still a sustainable growth. We discovered a renewable resource.

    The two main resources are humans and knowledge. Then we have natural resources. Much growth has been based on exploiting non-renewable resources, but a large portion hasn’t. Common for all growth is that it requires knowledge. Since it is, in practise, an infinite universe in expansion and complexity, knowledge is learning about the universe and eventually how to adapt, then knowledge is infinite. With one infinite resource available, growth will always be possible.

    But again to spell it out to people: Yes, growth will most certainly lead to increase in resource consumption. That is beside the point. The point is, that unless you acknowledge that it is possible... (Let me stop right there for a moment and point out to those that have bother coming this far with me, I would like to point out that the last word before this parenthesis was the word “possible”, all right lets continue.) ...that it is possible to acquire growth without using more resources, we can’t move on. If we can, however, come to terms with that we can stop talking about a “demand for stop in growth” and rather start talking about a demand for a sustainable growth using less resources.

    Thank you for reading this far, unfortunately people only read what they agree with, so I suspect you agree with me, and thus this comment was a waste :) Enjoy your evening. Get my coat, please, it is the one with "bleedin'" written on it.

  142. Mark


    If you get to define what "growth" and "resources" mean, then of course you can make certain that "growth" doesn't mean "consume more resources".

    Please show me where the definition you and others are using for "growth" and "resources" actually fit the reality we are in.

    Unless of course you mandate a change in what economists do and think so that they stop using the old definitions (which The Other Steve et al are using) and use the ones that you want to be used.

  143. Mark



    Steve, we produce a LOT MORE PC boards than the 45% we get from your example 1. At 10% growth, that's about 3.5 years growth to cover that. Then where do you grow? The only way to "grow" without using more resources is to make the item more expensive per unit.

    Which is verboten in classical free market economics.

    Example 2:

    Flying isn't evil. Unnecessary flights are evil and flying is pretty damn stupid. However, when in the US you only get two weeks hols a year, you can't afford to drive or sail because that uses up too much time.

    Your example also requires that

    a) people accept nuclear power flying over their houses, crashes with nuclear engines (what if they crash in, say, Afghanistan Taliban held areas? etc.

    b) we can produce nuclear engines of sufficient power and ease of use to use there. Might as well ask for a matter transporter and other Star Trek conveniences while we're at it. And a pony.

    c) that the resources used to get this nuclear fuel are carbon neutral too

    d) we won't run out

    Oh, and it's easy to argue that it is expensive. If it weren't then the US nuclear lobby would not have threatened to pull out if nuclear subsidies were withdrawn because building and running nuclear plants would become uneconomic without them.

  144. mr.K


    I recon we mean the same, but I took the liberty to look them up anyway. The first one is from "WordNet® 3.0" by Princeton University about economic growth:

    Economic growth - steady growth in the productive capacity of the economy

    Then we have resources, here defined by The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language(I know an American dictionary, but it serves it purpose even with the “labor”):

    5a) The total means available for economic and political development, such as mineral wealth, labor force, and armaments.

    b) The total means available to a company for increasing production or profit, including plant, labor, and raw material; assets.

    c) Such means considered individually.

    The only claim I make is that it is possible to invent things, or figure out new ways of doing things, that will produce more for less. In fact I claim that this is what we have been doing since we climbed down from the trees. It is besides the point that such progress will make the resources more valuable since you increase the output from them, thus often leading to higher outtake. It is besides the point due to two reasons:

    -Likely outcome and possible outcomes are not the same.

    -Some resources we already have more or less maximum outtake off.

    Take hydropower here in Norway, which cover both of the above. We have increased the output our plants over the years due to better understanding and inventions. The natural consequence would be to more waterfalls to make hydropower, but we have capped it because we like to have some waterfalls that "run free", and there is very little expansion in the amount of plants. So it is limited renewable resource. Still we have during the years increased the output without adding to the input. And there you have it, growth without increased resource consumption.

  145. Mark


    Thanks for being nice in your response.

    I still don't see that as actually existing in the system we have.

    Hell, we are supposed to have informed consumers free to choose, but we have companies killing criticism and sites for complaints. We have companies denying the opportunity to benchmark their products. We have companies even saying they will ban and make unusable their products if someone on a discussion forum were to complain. Or removing of reviews that aren't positive about a product.

    All conspire to ensure the consumer is NOT informed.

    Hell, we have "the pay of each according to their worth" but a CEO isn't worth 200+times the one who actually PRODUCES the product. The CEO is not in competition with outsourcing, indicating that the workers are not a partner in the market but a resource to exploit. That isn't supposed to be there, but it is.

  146. Mark

    Maybe another way of putting the point

    The reduction of fossil fuel use and the introduction of measures to undo AGW damage don't necessarily mean that we will have reduced growth either. The energy is a resource and the whole point of this puff piece has been to say "increasing growth doesn't mean increasing resource use". Well, take it the other way. Reducing resource use doesn't necessarily mean decreased growth.

  147. Anonymous Coward

    got to love the amount of level-headed logical and apolitical positions taken here

    oh no, we can't, there aren't any. There are a fair number of misrepresentations of the original article - from both sides - and not one person seems to have read Lomberg / Levitt / Smith, or Malthus/ Gore / Ehrlich (ROFL still from the Julian Simon derivative wager, that is still hilarious and maybe that will never stop)

    maybe we could save the planet and reduce our consumption of resources by spouting less hot air and learning of that which we type before abusing our poor little keyboards, thus wearing down the plastic and requiring yet more landfill as security officers leave their laptops on the train in frustration because the keyboard doesnt work (cant be any other reason they would've done so?)

    by the way, anyone up for a rematch of the Ehrlich - Simon wager?

  148. Mark

    @Anonymous Coward

    So, instead of lording it over us with your gigantic intellect, explain what they really say.

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