We need to implement reglobalization from the bottom-up in order to achieve a more sustainable global economy. Geopolitics is an extension of the Enlightenment view of human nature, the idea that we pursue our utilitarian pleasures and individual self-interests. In geopolitics, the nation-state becomes a macro view of that. Nations deal with nations by being rational, detached and calculating, pursuing self-interests, excercising power and acquiring more capital and wealth. That’s why Copenhagen failed. The world leaders weren’t thinking biosphere, they were thinking geopolitics. Everyone was looking out for their nation’s self-interest.
It is our contention that energy is not the only resource that will be scarce in the immediate future. We envisage scarcities of food, water, and a whole variety of minerals that are crucial to the operation of a modern economy. Our thinking so far has focussed on the 2020s as the decade in which scarcity starts to be felt (we call it ‘Scarcity Bites’), but recent events have drawn our attention to a much earlier manifestation.
A recent article in The Independent (see below for link), has drawn our attention to the case of the Rare Earth Elements (REEs), a group of 17 rare metals that are essential to the manufactures of the modern economy which are in a situation of scarcity (demand outstrips supply). The picture is further complicated by China being the main source of the REEs (it supplies over 95% of the world total of REEs) and following a policy of restricting their export. This conjures up some fascinating possibilities for the future.
Source: The European Futures Observatory.
For the first issue of the new decade, Nature asked a selection of leading researchers and policy-makers where their fields will be ten years from now. We invited them to identify the key questions their disciplines face, the major roadblocks and the pressing next steps.
Contributions include: Peter Norvig on search, David A. Relman on the microbiome, David B. Goldstein on personalized medicine, Daniel M. Kammen on energy, Daniel R. Weinberger on mental health, Leslie C. Aiello on hominin palaeontology, George Church on synthetic biology, John L. Hennessey on universities, Jeffrey Sachs on global governance, Adam Burrows on astronomy, Gary P. Pisano on drug discovery, Joshua R. Goldstein on demographics, Paul Anastas on chemistry, Richard Klausner and David Baltimore on the National Institutes of Health, David R. Montgomery on soil, Thomas M. Baer and Nicholas P. Bigelow on lasers, Robert D. Holt on ecology, Jeremy K. Nicholson on metabolomics.
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and Northwestern University have discovered that common bacteria can turn microgears when suspended in a solution, providing insights for designs of bio-inspired dynamically adaptive materials for energy.
“The ability to harness and control the power of bacterial motion is an important requirement for further development of hybrid biomechanical systems driven by microorganisms,” said Argonne physicist and principal investigator Igor Aronson. “In this system, the gears are a million times more massive than the bacteria.”
Source: R&D Magazine.
During the 1990’s an increase in oil prices of $10 reduced growth of real GDP by approximately one-half percent. Hence the concern after 2001 as oil rose from $20 to $40, then panic as oil rose from $40 to $80. At $120, oil prices are up 6x from the 1990’s average. Where is the global recession most economists expected if oil prices skyrocketed? (Matthew Simmons was one of the few experts who questioned this consensus, saying that rising oil prices were not necessarily poisonous to GDP.)
Source: Fabius Maximus.
New photovoltaic technologies, such as the recent introduction of thin-film cadmium–telluride (CdTe) materials, have nearly doubled the efficiency of solar cells within the past few years. But the methods of making the materials used for photovoltaic cells, whether from silicon, metal, or other material, have raised doubts about the environmental friendliness of these passive energy collectors. Purifying and producing silicon uses a lot of water and energy, and refining zinc and copper ores to get Cd, Te, and other elements creates metal emissions and an energy sink—all of which increase the technology’s environmental footprint.
Read about the new game Frontline: Fuel of War on CNN:
Over the last two decades prior to 2030 oil production has peaked and is declining rapidly, renewables never panned out, plagues hit, and starvation ensued. In other words, things have been very bad, at least according to Kaos Studios, the maker of this video game you’re playing.
If there are any lingering doubts as to whether the age of oil is nearing its end, the International Energy Agency has put them to rest and made it clear that only a massive and immediate investment in sustainable energy will prevent a global crisis.
The agency states in no uncertain terms in its annual World Energy Outlook that “alarming” growth in worldwide energy needs will within a generation threaten energy security, accelerate global climate change and possibly bring worldwide shortages and conflicts.
Also check out the China special: “Growing Pains of a Superpower” from the New Scientist.
It is downhill all the way for oil, according to a study by the Energy Watch Group (EWG) in Berlin, Germany. It reported this week that world oil production peaked in 2006 – far earlier than expected.
EWG analysed oil production figures and predicted it would fall by 7 per cent a year, dropping to half of current levels by 2030. The announcement comes as oil prices reached record highs last week, at more than $90 a barrel, and contradicts optimistic projections by the International Energy Agency in Paris, France.
The report also predicts significant falls in gas, coal and uranium production. The group warns that supply shortages could cause “a meltdown in society”, leading to scenes of mass unrest, such as those that took place in Burma earlier this month when the government pushed up fuel prices.