Links for 2012-04-14

Quick links to a few items I found interesting.

Professor Tom Murphy, my colleague in the Physics Department here at UCSD, relays an interesting conversation between a physicist and an economist on the limits to growth. Here’s an excerpt:

Physicist: At that 2.3% growth rate, we would be using energy at a rate corresponding to the total solar input striking Earth in a little over 400 years. We would consume something comparable to the entire sun in 1400 years from now. By 2500 years, we would use energy at the rate of the entire Milky Way galaxy– 100 billion stars! I think you can see the absurdity of continued energy growth. 2500 years is not that long, from a historical perspective. We know what we were doing 2500 years ago. I think I know what we’re not going to be doing 2500 years hence.

Bill McBride, with whom one is wise not to disagree, has this take-away from recent evidence on labor force participation:

This suggests that any bounceback in the participation rate as the economy recovers will probably be fairly small, and the number of jobs needed to hold the unemployment rate steady is probably closer to 100 thousand per month than the frequently reported 150+ thousand per month.

Liberty Street Economics discusses resentment of New York’s wealthiest 1% in 1765.

Some Individuals of our Countrymen, by the Smiles of Providence or some other Means, are enabled to roll in their four–wheel’d Carriages, and can support the Expence of good Houses, rich Furniture, and Luxurious Living. But, is it equitable that 99, or rather 999 should suffer for the Extravagance or Grandeur of one? Especially when it is consider’d, that Men frequently owe their Wealth to the Impoverishment of their Neighbours.

Golden State Outlook has an interesting map summarizing how long it’s been since real house prices were as low as they are today for different California counties.

The Environmental Defense Fund raises the issue of methane leakage associated with natural gas production.

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10 thoughts on “Links for 2012-04-14

  1. Anonymous

    Interesting conversation with Pr T.Murphy,moreover when estimates of the sun life are set at 10 billions years and 5 billions are already burnt out.
    It could be opportune to introduce an historian in the exchange,whom would confirm that awareness of light and energy consumption has always been firmly
    anchored.In “La vie quotidienne sous Louis XV” C.Kunsler is giving details of the number of candles burnt as a token of esteem for a guest.
    The conclusion could be left to the economist whom would promptly add “everything remaining the same,in 5 billions years we may at last, collect empirical evidences on the theory of relativity”

  2. Bruce Hall

    Wow! Thanks for that softball!
    Malthus lives!!!
    http://www.economist.com/node/11374623
    Zero-sum thinking survives!!!!!
    What will happen when all of the buggy whip manufacturers are put out of business? There is no future for flat screen TVs because how many can afford $8,000 for a 42″ display?
    What stands in our way of solving seemingly intractable problems are people who have a fear of innovation. Fear that it will destroy our world in one way or another. Fear that someone will reap large profits even if it benefits others. Fear that their fantasy of Eden might be wrong.
    For example… example… the U.S. alone buries a quarter billion TONS of garbage each year while it spends billions of dollars in fuel generating electricity. Innovation says use plasma arc technology to virtually eliminate landfills while generating a surplus of electricity in virtually any location… perfect recycling of everything. That’s politically incorrect because of the fear of process pollution… which is significantly less than the pollution of 250 million tons of trash plus the mining of coal or the drilling of natural gas and the burning of those fuels for that same end product… electricity.
    Fear… all the way back to Malthus and beyond.

  3. Steven Kopits

    I think Murphy’s right in the sense that the 20th century (or more broadly, the Industrial Revolution) will likely prove the historical anomaly that it appears. That doesn’t mean there won’t be more growth, but after a point, it will be more linked to intangibles than physical assets. But if Murphy really wants to be a doom-monger, then he should focus on the next ice age. That’s where the real risk lies, if we’re considering times scales in the thousands of years.

  4. benamery21

    Energy available thru the combustion of solid waste would replace only 1% or so of our energy use. All of that sort of scavaging energy (methane from manure and sewage, cooking oil, etc) is ultimately just an increase in efficiency and can never produce more enrgy than put into the trash in the first place (probably less than about 5% of total energy consumption). Greater recycling has slightly greater efficiency potential than combustion, but unless we posit perpetual motion, it will neveer be an energy source.

  5. kharris

    Bruce has, of course, disproven his own case. If Malthus feared innovation (I’m not aware of any evidence that he did), that fear did not prevent innovation. If, as Bruce seems to contend, there is a history if such fear and that fear prevents innovation, then there must still be a buggy whip maker in every town. There is not? Well, then, we have little to fear from the fear of innovation. We may well have reason to think that energy consumption growth will have to slow, though, based on the math here presented.

  6. AS

    I have a couple observations for the economics and energy experts. If I have analyzed the data properly, I notice that U.S. Primary Energy Consumption per Dollar of Gross Domestic Product, 1949-2010 as shown at http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/perspectives.cfm declined from 17.3 thousand BTU per chained 2005 dollar to 7.4 thousand BTU per chained 2005 dollar, from 1949 to 2010. I also notice that energy usage increased about 1.3% per year from 1960 to 2010 and energy usage has been somewhat flat since 1996. Have we already started to change the energy consumption problem?

  7. Bruce Hall

    kharris… does that mean you believe in Mathusian economics? If so, you may be a redneck.
    benamery21… with regard to generating electrical energy from plasma arc incineration of waste, it is obvious you interpreted my statements to be toilet waste ["methane from manure and sewage, cooking oil, etc"]. I suggest that you actually read about plasma arc incineration technology.
    Here is an example:
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304444604577337702024537204.html
    I will re-iterate: fear of innovation is the main impediment to energy freedom. That fear takes form in fear of competition, fear of unknown or presumed side-effects, fear of being wrong about your own world view.
    For those of you who can’t get beyond the notion that the term “solid waste” does not refer to “poop,” I will offer another example of fear of innovation… the fears of special interests.
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherhelman/2012/04/03/ethanol-minus-the-corn-it-could-fuel-america-if-it-werent-illegal/

  8. EC

    Bruce: I freely admit that I am afraid of “energy freedom.” Freedom to destroy the earth does not look good to me. Call me a redneck if you like, but my MIT education taught me to be suspicious of cheerleaders who write for Forbes and the WSJ. JH’s physicist colleague is right that we should be considering these issues.

  9. Chris

    The article by Tom Murphy was absolutely galling. I sure hope most physicists aren’t such self-righteous, condescending wretched little hypocrites in their private lives, as the author of this little straw-man diatribe sure makes himself out to be.

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