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If you do not agree to these changes, you will be logged out and your account will be deactivated. Some pro accounts may receive partial refunds – please visit support. I was suggesting that humanity has achieved an unsustainable pinnacle of population size and consumption rates, and that the road ahead will be mostly downhill—at least for the next few decades, until our species has learned to live within Earth’s resource limits. Nothing has happened in the past three years to change that outlook—but much has transpired to confirm it. Since then we have begun a scary descent from the giddy heights of consumption achieved in the early years of this century. Worldwide economic activity began to decline in 2008 and does not appear set to return to 2007 levels any time soon. Asian economies and a few oil and gas exporting nations.
Worldwide shipping, a good index of global trade and manufacturing, peaked in 2007. Perhaps the most glaring exception is human population, which continues to grow and is virtually certain to pass the seven billion mark within the next couple of years. Here’s another non-peak: China’s economy is still growing rapidly, at the astonishing rate of 8 to 10 percent per year. That means it is more than doubling in size every ten years. Indeed, China consumes more than twice as much coal as it did a decade ago—the same with iron ore and oil. That nation now has four times as many highways as it did, and almost five times as many cars.
How long this can go on is anyone’s guess. For what it’s worth, my forecast is for China’s continuing boom to be very short-lived. China will get there sooner than most other countries because of its extraordinary consumption rate—currently three times that of the U. World population growth may likewise continue for a shorter period than is commonly believed, if global food production and economic activity peak soon in response to declining energy availability. In short, the world has changed in a fundamental way in the past three years, and the reverberations will continue for decades to come.
Indeed, we have just seen the beginning of an overwhelming transformation of life as we’ve known it. Let’s look at a few specific factors driving this transformation, starting with limits to world supplies of petroleum. It is still unclear whether world oil extraction rates have reached their absolute maximum level. As of this writing, the record year for world crude oil production was 2005, and the record month was July 2008. July 2008 oil prices spiked 50 percent higher than the previous inflation-adjusted record, set in the 1970s. The only serious argument that world oil production could theoretically continue to grow for more than a very few years is put forward by parties who explain away the evidence of declining discoveries, depleting oilfields, and stagnating total production by claiming that it is demand for oil that has peaked, not supply—a distinction that hinges on the fact that oil prices these days are so high as to discourage demand. The oil situation is dire enough that one might assume it would be dominating headlines daily.
Yet in fact it garners little attention. That’s because the world’s ongoing and worsening oil crisis has been obscured by a more dramatic and obvious financial catastrophe. The financial aspects of the crisis were so Byzantine, and the cast of players so opulently and impudently villainous, that it was easy to forget the simple truism that all money is, in the end, merely a claim on resources, energy, and labor. But that set of conditions is so last century. Thus Peak Oil likely represents the first of the limits to growth that will turn a century of economic expansion into decades of contraction. But more constraints are lining up in the stage wings, ready to make their entrance.
In the original edition of this book, increasing scarcity of non-energy minerals was barely mentioned. In the three years since, the subject has received increasing attention from researchers and journalists. Generally increasing global NNR production levels in conjunction with generally decreasing global NNR price levels indicate relative global NNR abundance during the 20th century. Generally slowing or declining global NNR production growth in conjunction with generally increasing global NNR prices indicate increasing NNR scarcity during the early years of the 21st century. 20th century, then increased during the 21st century. Take the metal gallium, which along with indium is used to make indium gallium arsenide. This is the semiconducting material at the heart of a new generation of solar cells that promise to be up to twice as efficient as conventional designs.