Monday, January 3, 2011
Commodities Surges: A Harbinger of Future Destitution?
Commodites increases shown for oil, iron ore and cereals over the past 2 years.
The latest report on commodities indices from The Financial Times was nothing to embrace for any basis of happiness, or even remote contentment. What it showed ('Commodities surge still gathering pace', Markets & Investing, p. 5) is yet more indicators that our global population appears to be caught in a trap wherein consumption is outpacing the capacity of the planet to produce the resources to support it. As we know from the case of the Easter Islanders, when this occurs scarcity and prohibitive costs follow, and if the scarcity itself is bad enough - a widespread collapse can ensue once a "tipping point" is passed.
To get a handle on this, consult the accompanying graphics, especially for oil and cereals. Oil has now more than doubled its per barrel cost and there's no sign of the trend abating. From the FT report oil demand is surging, and consumption in 2010 rose by nearly 2.3 million barrels a day. We know one of the things feeding this is the growth in global population, since directly or indirectly every new baby born will end up as an oil consumer - much moreso if born in the US of A. The FT also notes supply factors are playing a role, since OPEC cut its output. But unsaid in the FT piece is another side, from what I read in a recent issue of the Oil & Gas Journal, which is that OPEC didn't merely cut output to preserve current prices ($70-90 a barrel) but to preserve current SUPPLY.
We already know too, that in the past ten years global oil production has leveled off worldwide, which has been another factor driving deep sea drilling, to keep pace with demand - or to put in in other words, keep pace with population. (In much the same way, job production must approach or exceed 125,000 a month simply to keep pace with growing population!) Is this a sign of Peak Oil? It could very well be, but most analysts believe the first indicators of Peak Oil will be gasoline at or around $7 a gallon in the U.S. And we aren't there yet.
Cereals are even more worrisome, because they comprise the literal "bread basket" for the world. If they decrease too much in supply and the prices therefore spike out of control, many millions will be forced to the bare existence threshold. Exacerbating the situation with cereals have been catastrophic weather events- such as in Russia and Pakistan- which have generated a string of bad crops and a dent in the supply. But the other side is that many millions more people per year are consuming these crops. Every year that brings 50 million or more births adds to the stress and the food shortage problems - and would even if no major deleterious weather events occurred.
Again, all three indicators - for oil, iron ore and cereals- are critical for the world both in economic and political terms. Recall that two years ago similar food shortages (for rice, wheat and corn) and price spikes triggered food riots in dozens of afflicted nations - threatening political stability.
The cost of iron ore (used to make steel), meanwhile, is critical to the global economy as it affects steel prices and ultimately the cost of everyday goods such as cars and washing machines. The same is true for oil prices which adds inflation not only at the gas pump but also along the whole supply chain due to higher power and transport costs.
Might the commodities indices be telling us something else? I believe so, and I am convinced that it's in terms of the human population growing in excess of the planet to support it. One of the best indicators for this is provided by the Global Footpoint Network, at:
According to this site, we currently need not one but one and one half EARTHS to sustain our current rate of consumption. This means it requires on average 1.5 years for the Earth to regenerate the resources humanity uses in one year! Thus, even if the estimate is high- with current growth rates we'll soon reach the actual limits defined and dictated by this number - which means a tipping point and crash. See also:
My argument here is that this spike in critical commodities - contrary to the economic pro-growth mongers, is telling us we need to halt or reduce our growth or we'll all be for the high jump. The only other alternative, based on the excess footprint numbers, is we need to find another planet - at least half the size of Earth- and FAST! (Of course, even locating such a world wouldn't help since it would take the better part of a century to develop the infrastructure to mine what we need and ferry it back to the home world in adequate quantities.)
This means that only two choices remain: drastic and dramatic reductions in population growth from NOW, or be prepared to suffer a world with chronic and critical food shortages, power shortages and yes, water shortages.
The key culprit in this whole piece? GROWTH! Excessive economic growth, excessive growth of consumption and excessive growth of population which is feeding into both as well the growth of greenhouse gases that fuel global warming. Growth is consuming non-renewable resources and destroying renewable ones. As one commentator put it in a recent issue of Eos Transactions:
"The policies of most nations resemble a drag race with a bridge abutment at the finish line. There is something comic as well as tragic about this."
It then stands to reason that instead of dabbling in and promoting a specious "happiness index" or some misbegotten concept of "gross national happiness", e.g.
Leaders get serious with their people for once and tell them straight that at the rate they're consuming, they're directing humanity's survival toward a long, deep drop .....into oblivion.
Of course, it's much easier to sell the people fairy tales, since most people's brains are more wired to accept them than the truth anyway. Just look at Pastor Mikey and his afterlife and "god" delusions!