The principle of consuming resources at a rate no faster than their rate of renewal appears to be untenable in the case of resources whose renewal rate is almost zero, as is true of fossil fuels, gas, oil, and coal, also fissile uranium and thorium.
The mention of fissile materials necessitates examination of the of the “fast breeder reactor” whose promise encouraged a casual attitude towards energy conservation for some. This was more of an issue in the past but an examination of it will take place in a digression after this posting.
Are non-renewable resources not to be used at all simply because their renewal rate is practically zero? This would seem nonsensical.
A better answer would be to examine all the uses to which non-renewable resources are put and find ways of meeting these needs with renewable resources.
The renewable resources would need to be used no faster than their renewal rate and their use would not be able to deplete other resources by causing their renewal rates to be exceeded.
The next step would be to reduce the consumption of each non-renewable resource until its consumption rate is low enough to allow it to be replaced totally by a renewable resource without exceeding the limits imposed by the criteria in the previous paragraph.
An important point is that the consumption rate would always have to be limited by the actual state of technology at the time. Some people will say that all non-renewable resources can be used as fast as possible because market forces will always be able to produce the technology and provide the materials to replace them at any desired level of consumption.
Basing economic planning on this kind of nonsense rather than on actual existing conditions is not good enough when all people vitally depend on working, sustainable economic systems. No amount of technological breakthroughs or business brilliance can break the barrier imposed by the earth’s limits. This has been discussed in the post “Depletion and Inflation”. To sum up, consumption is determined by resource availability; current economics thinks it is the other way around.
The current belief that consumption creates wealth and makes economies bigger and stronger and that consumption must always be maximised to give any hope of full employment is the reason for the fingers-crossed attitude towards resource depletion. That belief is disposed of in other posts. If it were replaced by a realisation that (i) maximised consumption actually undermines economies and destroys jobs, and (ii) a thrifty society with consumption not growing can still be a full employment society, then a more practical approach to the use of non-renewable resources could follow.
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Posts in this Series
- Review of 1988 edition of Economics for a Round Earth
- Ends and Means
- Evolution Not Revolution
- Notes on Evolution Not Revolution
- Concepts and Terms – What is ‘wealth’?
- The Throughput Chain
- The Derivatives of Wealth
- Global Inequalities in Wealth
- Economic Growth Redefined
- Misconceptions in Practice
- Borrowing to Invest to Get Rich
- Environment versus Economic Progress
- Digression: Pollution Red Herrings
- Digression: Depletion and Inflation
- Value Inflation – the Trigger, not the Bullet
- Living Standard and Quality of Life
- Digression: Resource Consumption, Jobs, and Hands Off
- When the Boom comes
- The Effect of People’s Expectations
- Hard Work – Virtue or Vice?
- Who needs the Snail Darter?
- More Dollars for Conservation?
- Non-renewable Resources – Leave Them in the Ground?
- Digression: Fast Breeder Nuclear Fission Reactors
- Minerals in National Parks – Leave Them in the Ground?
- Population and Wealth
- Left, Right and The Environment
- Digression: “So Long As We Profit, Costs Elsewhere Aren’t Our Problem”?
- Limits to Growth?
- Solar Energy – a Special Case
- The Solar-Powered Car
- Money Supply, Throughput and Inflation
- Real and Money Wages: Living Standards
- Digression: Caution about “Increases” and “Decreases”
- The Idea of Proportionate Flows Applied to Wages: the Great Depression
- Deficit Financing
- The Optimum Proportionate Flow Condition
- Digression: Thrift versus Spendthrift
- Digression: the Private Motor Car – a Basic Necessity?
- The Idea of Proportionate Flows Applied to Wages – the Stagflation of the 1970’s and 80’s
- Excessive Wages Can Cost Jobs
- Fight Unemployment or Inflation First?
- Digression: Work and Jobs
- Other “Job Creation” Schemes
- Visual and Noise Pollution
- Digression: Renewal and Recycling of Resources; Wages and Jobs
- Ratio Distortion and Consumption
- Aggregate Demand – Components and Internal Ratio
- The Slave Economy
- Employment and the Steady State
- Consumer-Led Recovery
- Interest Rates and Ratio Distortion
- Demographic Trends and Living Standards
- Digression: Bad Economics Good for Conservation?
- Coping with Aging Populations
- Stabilising the Human Population
- Costs – What Really Costs Us and What Doesn’t?
- Digression: Other Comments on Statements in UN Report
- Discussion of Costs Resumed
- Budget Balancing Methods – Cost or Gain?
- Digression: Government Expenditure – Government Employees
- Expenditure on Weapons