11 thoughts on “Sandpit


    Eventually, our global economy must be run solely on renewable and ubiquitous resources. Waste generation associated with this resource use and production must be fully assimilable and degradable. All waste must be absorbed and recycled by the earth’s natural systems without significant damage to the biosphere or to ecosystems. Some resources, like fossil fuels, cannot be safely used up in their entirety due to the long term damage they will do to biosphere systems like the climate. All non-renewable or limited and non-ubiquitous resources will dwindle and run out if their use continues. Recycling of materials can ameliorate this problem but recycling never recaptures 100% of the material in question. Some proportion is always lost and dispersed in unrecoverable quantities.

    Only renewable and ubiquitous resources offer humanity any long term prospects for maintaining global civilization. This is whilst terrestrial and solar conditions remain sufficiently benign for human civilization to continue. A renewable resource is a natural resource with the ability to reproduce through biological processes or replenish through natural processes over time and in a reasonable terrestrial time scale. Resources which will eventually fail after vast periods of time, e.g. solar power when the sun explodes or fails, can be considered renewable for all practical purposes.

    Ubiquitous Resources are found everywhere and in large quantities. Key examples of ubiquitous resources on earth are solar energy, visible light, air, water, oxygen, silicon (as silica), nitrogen, carbon, sodium, chlorine, calcium and some others. We might add items like cellulose, carbohydrates, starches etc. from plants. Useful bacteria might also be termed ubiquitous resources. Not all of these items (where they are elements) are available in their free state. The graph of elemental abundances in the biosphere and crust of earth is some guide to this. However, even some abundant elements (like iron) are not economically recoverable except at specific locations. All such elements along with the rarer elements are correctly termed localized resources.


    Seawater is a good source of key ubiquitous resources if sufficient energy is available to extract them. “The four most concentrated metal ions, Na+, Mg2+, Ca2+, and K+, are the only ones commercially extractable today, with the least concentrated of the four being potassium (K) at 400 parts per million (ppm). Below potassium, we go down to lithium which has never been extracted in commercial amounts from seawater, with a concentration of 0.17 ppm. Other dissolved metal ions exist at lower concentrations, sometimes several orders of magnitude lower. None has ever been commercially extracted.” – Ugo Bardi, The Oildrum. Chlorine is also extracted from seawater or more precisely from treated brine. The ions Na+, Mg2+, Ca2+, and K+ can be economically extracted at that time.

    Localized Resources are only found in recoverable quantities only in certain, limited parts of the world (e.g., copper and iron ore). These localized resources are limited (though in some cases the limits are quite large) and non-renewable. Eventually all economically recoverable, limited and localised resources will be exhausted and scattered. Substitutions for many of these are feasible. For example iron and aluminium for construction can both be substituted with carbon fibre and glass fibre reinforced polymers. Carbon and silica are ubiquitous resources. Epoxy (the most common polymer) needs propene (also known as propylene or methyl ethylene) and chlorine as the basic feed stocks for manufacture.

    We have already seen that chlorine is a ubiquitous resource given adequate energy for extraction. Propene is currently produced from fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and, to a much lesser extent, coal. If these fossil fuels are conserved for industrial feed stocks rather than wasted by burning them, then propene production for epoxy is assured for a very long but not indefinite time. In the distant future, should all fossil fuels be used up for feed stocks, synthesis of propene from cellulose or pure charcoal from sustainable forests or from inorganic carbon sources like limestone, dolomites and carbon dioxide might be possible. Large quantities of energy would be required. Recycling of waste carbon fibre epoxies would have to occur probably through high temperature furnaces achieving complete combustion and producing useful energy.

    Some metals would seem to be needed indefinitely for the maintenance of a high technology society. For example, iron, copper and aluminium would seem to be needed for as long as a high technology electrical economy would continue (not to mention lithium, zinc and neodymium). I am not sure how this supply of metals can be maintained indefinitely given the exhaustible nature of these resources, their non-ubiquitous nature in practical recovery terms and their slow dispersal given the impossibility of 100% effective recycling. How do we eventually make electrical machinery (computers, generators, motors, transformers, inverters, transmission lines etc.) without metals? That is a question to exercise our minds but it might be solvable in the future by advances in carbon, silicon and polymer technology along with nano-engineering applications. It’s hard to know at this stage. Alternatively can iron, copper and aluminium etc. be recovered indefinitely in a sustainable, renewable, ubiquitous fashion?

    Of course, a sustainable world economy must sooner or later (probably sooner) feature a stabilised world population.

  2. Personally I’m not too worried about running out of any particular element. There are a few reasons why. Firstly, things such as actively destroying the climate worry me more and claim my attention, and secondly, for the most part there are plenty of elements lying about the place, they’re just in less convenient form or location but with effort we can get to them. For example, there is lots of copper near where I live, it’s just contained in very low grade ore. But if the price goes high enough it will be economical to mine. Even potassium and phosphorus can be obtained in large quantities from second grade sources, so we won’t have an agricultural crises when the high grade stuff runs out. In Australia we can afford to pay a few extra cents a day for our food. Of course, if you only make a couple of dollars a day it truly sucks. The third reason is there is lots of room for substitution. Well, we can’t substitute for phosphorus and potassium at the moment, but for many applications carbon can substitute. Or technically it can, the whole building a car out of diamond mesh thing is actually a little tricky. And of course there is plain old efficiency, or doing more with less. Note that I’m not saying resource constraints are not a problem. If the price of copper goes up we get poorer, but I am saying that modern civilization doesn’t look to be under threat from it. And if we end up poorer than I think and are forced to ride bicycles for a while until we build up new transportation infrastructure, well the exercise will do us good.

    Maybe at some point we’ll be reduced to mining sea water for some rare elements, but I figure that if we refrain from murderpalooza in the future we will be rich enough to afford to do it. Of of course elements can be obtained off earth, but I think it’s likely to be much cheaper to get them here.

  3. We could overcome problems by population shrinkage. Too many old people could be a problem from a too rapid tragectory of global population downsizing, but we could trim a few from that tail. Let’s face it. More than a few old people are simply annoying so a cull would make those remaining much much happier. And thinking about it the annoying don’t seem limited to that part of the age distribution so a far wider cull ought not be beyond consideration.

  4. Well what is and isn’t free speech continues to confuse.

    Apparently a film created with no other intention but to insult and distress muslims is protected free speech but the police in Sydney are hunting down the source of a text that, rather than the movie was the ‘real’ cause of unrest.

    And what presumably prohibited speech was expressed in that text? According to the media the outrage precipitating significant police resources devoted to a ‘text hunt’ were: “They have mocked him in pictures and now mocking him in a movie, why are we allowing this”.

    Truly way beyond what our free society ought to have to tolerate under the banner “Freedom of Speech”. And isn’t it great that no one is speaking up to suggest otherwise?

  5. Actually, Freelander, events in Europe and other places tend to show that culling people reduces overall life satisfaction among survivors and those who carried out the culling.

  6. Perhaps we should apply equine reproductive techniques to humans – select the best five per cent of the male population for breeding purposes, permanently render the remainder incapable of reproducing, and use the 95% for entertainment (jumping over fences, or racing in front of inebriated crowds, or letting children ride on their backs) or agricultural purposes (pulling carts), and recycle their biomass in the form of glue and pet food in cases where the aforesaid live uses prove uneconomic. 🙂

  7. Under this proposal, behaviours such as those exhibited by the Leader of the Opposition would disqualify a human male from inclusion in the breeding population.

  8. Another aspect of free speech is in the news.

    But really, if Kate nee Middleton wontonly taked her top off to display a less than impressive rack and provocatively, does so little more than 1.6 km away from an accredited scvmbag photographer what does she expect?

  9. Hey @Freelander, lurking around the internet at a far greater distance than 1.6km I happened across a gross display of your bollocks which I’m happy to sell to any Italian media outlet for a price far less than their current account deficit. Sue me, I’m Irish.

  10. Sorry, but I’ve under cut you. I sent them those pictures for free. Despite their inherent beauty and obvious newsworthiness, out of public service considerations they’ve decided not too publish. Their advisors suggested that the site of them, would make the rest of you, too sad in comparison.

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