Monday, June 3, 2013

A new report to the Club of Rome: "Plundering the Planet" by Ugo Bardi


From the site of the Club of Rome.

Launch of the new Report to the Club of Rome by Ugo Bardi in Berlin on June 6th



The Club of Rome, in partnership with WWF Germany, the Worldwatch Institute and the German Association of the Club of Rome invites to the launch of


 PLUNDERING THE PLANET
HOW TO MANAGE THE EARTH’S LIMITED MINERAL RESOURCES
The new Report to the Club of Rome by Ugo Bardi

Thursday, 6th June 2013, 11.30h – 13.00h
(Registration with refreshments begin at 11.00h)

 Hannoversche Straße 5b, 10115 Berlin-Mitte, Germany

PROGRAMME

Ernst-Ulrich von Weizsäcker (Co-President of the Club of Rome)
Ugo Bardi (Author of Plundering the Planet)
Eberhard Brandes (CEO of WWF Germany)
Maja Göpel (Head of the Wuppertal Institute Berlin)
Erik Assadourian (Senior Fellow of the Worldwatch Institute)
Ian Johnson (Secretary General of the Club of Rome)
Questions and answers

The number of seats is limited.
The launch will be followed by a snack lunch starting at 13.00h.

The German edition of the new Report to the Club of Rome Plundering the Planet – How to Manage the Earth’s Limited Mineral Resources will be published by the oekom Verlag 
ISBN-13: 978-3-86581-410-4, Munich, 2013



Background

Ugo Bardi offers a fascinating inspection into the geological history of our unique planet. The inspection makes us shiver about the gigantic forces moving tectonic plates. He explains how concentrations of metals resulted from such movements. We realize that it is the high concentration of deposits that determine the availability of metals, fossil fuels and other chemical elements and compounds.

It is against this geological background that humanity has to reflect the way of dealing with the limited treasures of our Planet. In the early phases of human history, the treasures may have appeared limitless. Limited were rather the human capacities to access the treasures. One can interpret human history as the growing capacity to access the treasures – thereby steadily increasing prosperity.

After centuries of ever more successful prospecting and exploitation of mineral resources, we have come to the point where we have to restrain ourselves because, after all, resources are not infinite.

A milestone in this debate was the publication of the first Report to the Club of Rome in 1972, The Limits to Growth.  This put forward scenarios of possible development paths of humanity between 1972 and 2100. For the first time it presented a quantitative model of the path of the world’s industrial civilization as a function of the reduced availability of mineral resources.

As already stated in The Limits to Growth, we are not going to “run out” of minerals in the near future, but we are facing higher costs for extraction and exploitation. Also the amount of energy needed for a ton of pure metal is increasing as we have to rely on less highly concentrated ores. Hence, the real limits may lie in the availability of energy.

Fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) are mineral resources (of organic origin) but also represent energy resources allowing us to extract inorganic minerals. Fossil fuels have been our main source of energy for the past two centuries and have been the main factor that created the birth of the industrial revolution and the development of our present civilization.

Common sense would suggest that we start managing natural resources in a sustainable way by moving from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources and by decoupling economic growth from resource consumption. We would do better to avoid being deceived by the current hype of shale gas, shale oil and tar sands. They may postpone the time of real scarcity by some thirty years, but at the same time, they aggravate the problem of global warming and are likely to lock us ever deeper into industrial processes, infrastructures and consumption habits that are unsustainable in the long term.

In this Report to the Club of Rome, Ugo Bardi has now taken a look at the history, present day activities and the future of mining. He takes great care to emphasize that the world will never run out of mineral resources, but it faces an increasing depletion of “cheap” oil and high grade ores, leaving us with lower grade ores, which are more expensive to extract, more damaging to the ecosystem and more polluting. I see the book as a very valid sequel to The Limits to Growth and also as a wake-up call for a new and sustainable civilization.

18 comments:

  1. When will the English edition of this report be available?

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    1. As soon as possible, but it will take a few months

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  2. To "the site of the Club of Rome" which posted this:

    I already have bought and started reading the Italian edition of the book "Il Pianeta Svuotato" and am now about half way through it and I think it's excellent. It is indeed "a valid sequel to Limits to Growth and (yet another) wake up call for a new and sustainable civilization". So congratulations to Ugo Bardi on a very worthwhile contribution.

    I also completely agree with:

    "Common sense would suggest that we start managing natural resources in a sustainable way by moving from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources and by decoupling economic growth from resource consumption. We would do better to avoid being deceived by the current hype of shale gas, shale oil and tar sands. They may postpone the time of real scarcity by some thirty years, but at the same time, they aggravate the problem of global warming and are likely to lock us ever deeper into industrial processes, infrastructures and consumption habits that are unsustainable in the long term"

    And I can only hope that now (51 years after the first publication of LTG in 1972) (which I also had bought and ready immediately after it was published) we will indeed use "common sense" and heed this new call to action even if "we" certainly didn't do so 50 years ago.

    Regrettably to date I don't think a fair minded observer could say honestly that "we" (meaning humanity and in particular its leadership structures in the public or the private sector) have used "common sense" (or even scientific sense and knowledge) very much in this respect.

    But perhaps some lessons have been learned over the past half century that now might be applied. We certainly cannot afford to wait another 50 years, so time and practical action are "of the essence"

    I look forward to reading later about what the Club of Rome is doing to spur the actual systemic and policy reforms needed at the many levels where they are needed. In this respect a recommended action program of actual systemic and policy reforms needed and who (which states and private sector or civil society actors ) should implement them and how, would be another very useful contribution.

    regards,

    Max Iacono





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    1. Hi Max, thanks for this comment. Only one note: the Italian book "La Terra Svuotata" is not the Italian version of "Plundering the Planet". They are two different books, although dealing with the same subject. The Italian version is shorter and more "philosophical". The German version (to be translated into English, is longer and it goes more in depth in the matter of depletion

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  3. Hi Ugo and thanks for the reply. After posting my comment I realized that I had written the wrong title for the Italian version which is "La Terra Svuotata" and not "Il Pianeta Svuotato". And I also didn't know that the Italian version and the German version -and its later English translation- (Plundering the Planet) are in fact two different books. Later I also will try to read the book in English. In any case again big congratulations for a really well written and important book.

    The rest of my comments above were directed more to the Club of Rome than to you personally. I think that someone soon needs to come up with a draft action program for the transformation that is needed. As you know I had outlined some preliminary ideas about what other kinds of general variables need to be taken into account in my earlier guest post on Cassandra Legacy (last November) by the title "Limits to Growth: An Alternative History".

    Since then I my thinking has continued along those same lines and recently I also was able to read (with much interest) the WBGU's indicative program for transformation. It is a comprehensive and well thought through indicative program but it is not an action program. Perhaps an action program (of systemic and policy reforms nationally and internationally) only can be developed jointly by countries who then also will commit to implementing it. But the closer external parties such as the Club of Rome can come to recommending one, the more likely it is that nations may then develop and implement an actual program. In my opinion, without such a program "a new and sustainable civilization" will remain only a dream pushed ever further out until it becomes unachievable.

    The series of U.N. climate change summits have accomplished very little (or at least they haven't changed all that much) and new institutional mechanisms much more likely to produce results need to be conceived and implemented. (and in my view, urgently)

    regards,

    Max



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  4. Ugo, I believe we should begin to question the idea that it is possible to "decouple economic growth from resource consumption". It is not. At least if we understand "economic growth" in its common (and up today, only) meaning. There is no economic-relevant activity that doesn't require energy and resource consumption. The "service economy" gave rise to some of the most power-hungry infrastructures in the world, such as telecom networks and data centers. Therefore, once we will have pushed energy efficiency to its fullest physical potential (let's assume it is possible for the sake of discussion), the growing economy will start again to consume a growing amount of energy and resources. But probably the most convincing argument against this possibility is observing that there is no historical example whatsoever of any country that managed to grow its economy while at the same time decreasing its energy consumption. Indeed, on a global scale, humanity has never experienced anything like that, and this notwithstanding the extraordinary progress in technical efficiency, especially since the start of the industrial revolution.

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    1. Unfortunately the problem is much worse than that.

      Current society without economic growth just means : same number of barrels burnt this year as previous year, same number of tons of coal burnt this year as previous one, same number of cars built, same number of houses built, same number of fertilizer used, same number of copper ore extracted, etc, etc

      Growth just means the value of all the flows currently used or in place (many in fact most of them non renewables) growing, but no growth doesn't mean them getting to zero at all.

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  5. Yet another crappy report

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    1. I am sure what you really meant to say was..."another ignorant and ill-motivated comment" (by you, who is the person in the best position to know why you made it)

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  6. Noam Chomsky recently gave an interesting interview (most of his interviews are interesting) whose transcript can be found here:

    http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/06/04-7

    ....in which (among other things) he also provides his views about resource extraction. The article is fairly long and also discusses a number of other issues. The part which is most relevant to what is being described in "Plundering the Planet" above is the first section by the sub-title: "How to destroy a planet without really trying". Allthough I certainly appreciate his irony, personally I would say that humanity -and in particular certain segments of it- is actually "trying pretty hard".

    Chomsky starts out like this by asking:

    "What is the future likely to bring? A reasonable stance might be to try to look at the human species from the outside. So imagine that you’re an extraterrestrial observer who is trying to figure out what’s happening here or, for that matter, imagine you’re an historian 100 years from now -- assuming there are any historians 100 years from now, which is not obvious -- and you’re looking back at what’s happening today. You’d see something quite remarkable"

    He then goes on to say lots of things which some may indeed still find remarkable but which increasingly are becoming much better known and understood (fortunately) . And this also thanks to earlier books like "Limits to Growth" and now to "Plundering the Planet" .

    One could say that what "Plundering the Planet" says from a scientific and in particular from a geosciences perspective Chomsky then comments from his typically more political-activism oriented perspective, for instance by saying things such as:

    "In fact, all over the world -- Australia, India, South America -- there are battles going on, sometimes wars. In India, it’s a major war over direct environmental destruction, with tribal societies trying to resist resource extraction operations that are extremely harmful locally, but also in their general consequences"

    Later he also says:

    "Both political parties, President Obama, the media, and the international press seem to be looking forward with great enthusiasm to what they call “a century of energy independence” for the United States. Energy independence is an almost meaningless concept, but put that aside. What they mean is: we’ll have a century in which to maximize the use of fossil fuels and contribute to destroying the world. And that’s pretty much the case everywhere"

    "Everywhere" meaning that the plundering of the planet's non-renewable and renewable resources in unsustainable ways is by no means only being done by the U.S. or the OECD countries. The BRICs and others also are doing it and the two often are "working together" hand in glove. For instance Australia exports a lot of its coal to China which then proceeds to burn it in countless coal-fired power plants thereby having some of the cheapest electricity in the world in turn raising its "competitiveness" ....and "embedding cheaper energy" in its exports. And China is now of course also "all over Africa" striking all sorts of "great mineral extraction and land deals" in places and with regimes such as Sudan's and South Sudan.

    But I shouldn't end up quoting his entire interview since anyone interested can read the transcript itself at the above links or watch the interview directly here: http://whatonline.org/en/s/what-about-the-future-noam-chomsky/

    Different readers may have different views and opinions depending on their own political perspective or ideology about the views and political activism of Noam Chomsky. But whatever anyone may think it is difficult to deny that Chomsky generally "does his research meticulously and thoroughly", "tells the truth" and mostly "gets it right" ...(and this, whatever the topic may be)










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  7. Considering basic economics and exploring ways to proceed into sustainability, I ventured to write a little essay on sustainable growth (http://remarksandobservations.wordpress.com/2013/06/05/ber-nachhaltiges-wachstum/).

    Its basic statement is, that growth of qualitative productivity is the key and that it can be created by a shift in the societal value spectrum, reflected in the societal price list. In other words: promote higher value to "sustainable" goods and services and reflect that in the prices ready to pay. Promote higher negative value in nonsystainable transactions and charge a higher price for them.

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    1. Unfortunately, I think that a purely "qualitative" growth is just delusory, in economic terms, without a substantial material growth. For a start, if population continues to grow, material production (food, houses, energy, transport, stuff) must grow as well, as the average human being needs a non-zero amount of resources to survive (indeed, to live a satisfactory life). Then there is no practical case, in the real world, for qualitative improvement of products and services "decoupled" (how this term is trendy today!) from an increasing consumption of resources. The display of today's tablets is "qualitatively" much better than just a few years (or months) ago, so you are willing to pay more for the same item? maybe, but to achieve this better quality you need design times much longer and complex, and an underlying technology development, which in turn require more people and resources allocated. Not to mention the fact that, if you want this "qualitative" improvement to be actually deployed, you need to manufacture and distribute billions of new tablets, replacing the old ones at an ever faster rate. It is true that the economic value of any single item is based on the perceived value, and it is not related (to a first approximation) to its energy or material content. But at global economic system level, the economy grows if the total OBJECTIVELY perceived value of all the products and services grows. The word "objectively" is important. If the improvement was just a matter of taste, there would be no objective way to measure an increase in economic value, therefore no real economic growth. We can say that a modern house is "objectively" better than an 18th century house (as valued in the 18th century of course!) not because we prefer modern design for our furniture, but because we enjoy running water, central heating, better insulation, in-house sanitary systems, electricity, etc. We can therefore say that there has been an "objective" and measurable growth of the economy in the building sector from the 18th century, even if we assume the same number of houses built every year. The growth in economic value is due to improved quality, but this improved quality (to be objective) requires in turn much more resources.

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    2. Thanks for your answer.
      1. A purely qualitative growth could one day be reality - when there will be nothing unsustainable left on earth, but for the time being you are right. So we talk about a degree of sustainability.
      2. I think there are quite a lot of innovations, which realize higher consumer value and less resource usage at the same time. LED lighting uses up way less energy than light bulbs. New internal combustion engines usually are more fuel economical than their predecessors. If the startups Ecomotors and Achates are successful with their opposed poston designs, they will be even simpler, lighter and cheaper. Same holds for vehicle and airplane aerodynamics. Automatic extraction and separation into sort fractions of plastics from garbage slows down considerably resource usage for creating new plastics. Steel works use much less energy nowadays than in former times. And so on and so forth.
      3. The distiction of both kinds of growth is somewhat blurred. Your house comparison belongs to this blurred region. New products often use less mass, but more rare resources, like e.g. rare earths. To compare them, one has somehow to translate the created entropy into energy-to-reverse-it. This may - or may not - lead to a higher total resource consumption, depending on the specifics.
      4. Often but not always, qualitative growth is linked to more complexity. Complexity is not quantitative per se, because our ability to deal with it is growing, too. Longer development working hours per product may well be - or be not - set off by a more resource-economic product, again depending on the case.
      5. What you call "objective" growth is a delicate thing and a core point of my reasoning. What you call "objective" comes out of the human value system, which differs from time to time, region to region, class to class, individual to individual and has a lot in common with "taste". One could link it to the basic human impulses towards status, convenience, power, beauty, health et c. But everybody has a different weighing of those impulses. The mainstream paradigm is techology. But there has been created economic growth with biological food, which are low tech products, and really a matter of "taste". Imagine a society, where people appreciate stairs over lifts, because the latter actually decrease your life expectancy! Imagine a society, where people appreciate playing handmade instruments more than the latest mp3 player and wouldn't bother to buy one. Its just "taste"!

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    3. Dominik, this is a very interesting discussion and it lies at the heart of some of the most popular "solutions" proposed to overcome our current predicament. Basically, the questions are:
      1) is it possible a "sustainable" economic growth?
      2) is it possible a purely "qualitative" economic growth?

      My humble answer is NO to both of them, as you may have imagined. But I tend to be rather pessimistic :-)

      If economic growth means material growth, I think logics, mathematics and physics can show that it is impossible in a finite world. And between the laws of thermodynamics and the "laws" of economics I have no doubt who will laugh last.

      The second question is more subtle. I believe the answer is again NO, but probably this is not the place to articulate more my ideas. I just point out that energy efficiency has never produced the desired effect of lowering the global energy consumption. Any efficiency gain achieved by single products and services (LEDs, ICE, electric motors, etc.) has always been more than outweighed by increasing global consumption. It is a common phenomenon observed by Jevons in the 19th century. Besides, there is a hard limit to the achievable energy efficiency, and in many sectors (like electric motors which make up the backbone of modern manufacturing) we are quite close to those limits. Coming to your last point, I just ask: how do you compare the GDP of your imaginary society where people prefer stairs to elevators, and walking to cars, to the GDP of the same society in the 1960's or '70, where people preferred elevators to stairs, and cars to walking? The people in both societies are "happier" with opposite things, and this is fine, but how can you say (and how can you MEASURE) that "something" has grown? and just what IS this something? I suspect that if you try to define it, it would look quite different from what we mean by "economy"...

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  8. Hi, I am from Australia.
    One of the movers and shakers of the original Club of Rome report was Ervin Laszlo.
    Ervin wrote the introduction to the book that is the inspiration for this website which features many people an outfits who are working on trying to allow something new to emerge. Noam Chomsky is one of the featured persons, as is Chris Hedges.
    http://www.dabase.org/GCF.htm
    Plus two related sites
    http://www.beezone.com/news.html
    http://theblueok.com

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  9. Dear Ugo,

    why do sensible undertakings have so lousy PR sometimes? I have just been really excited and disappointed at the same time. I live a few blocks away from the place where you launched the new report and i diligently read my news (including RSS of your website) weekly. Now i open my news and find myself dumbfounded that i could have met you - if only i had read my news yesterday. Damn! Will buy the report and read it, thank you for the work that you do.

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    1. Well, if you are in Berlin, there will be another presentation this Monday. I still don't know the location, but do keep in touch. It will be announced soon

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  10. I think that Your review of the new Lenr-nickel technology generators , ZERO impact , will be the main chapter , hope You reserved the right space to this new advances , also applicable to electric production,
    as stated by PhD Levi of Bologna university & Svedish collegues on CornellLibrary, that can definetively resolve main part of energy availability & pollution-CO2 problems;
    Happy to read about soon .

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Who

Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014)