Re: POL: Reaction to Microsoft Ruling

From: Michael S. Lorrey (
Date: Mon Apr 17 2000 - 06:39:04 MDT

Charlie Stross wrote:
> On Sat, Apr 15, 2000 at 03:59:47PM -0400, Michael S. Lorrey wrote:
> > > Clue: I am _not_ a libertarian; I'm a liberal, in the classical sense
> >
> > At least we know where you stand now..
> Gee, does that mean I get my own entry in your database?
> :
> > > In dealing with a finite resource?
> > >
> > > You gotta be joking.
> >
> > You are making the infounded assumpution that it is a finite or
> > practically finite resources. This is an incorrect assumption.
> Uh-huh. You've just _asserted_ that it's an incorrect assumption. We're
> sitting on a planet that masses about 10^27 kilograms. I'd say that puts
> a fairly clear cap on any particular resource that's embedded in our
> planetary crust!

Thats why I said PRACTICALLY FINITE. If the singularity comes before
we've used it all up, then it might as well have been infinite, right?

> Facetiousness aside, your point about the methane hydrates, Atlantic
> fields, and so on, is taken. However, there are two problems with taking
> it at face value:
> Firstly, petrochemicals _can_ be extracted from these deposits, albeit at
> a cost greater than today's oil price. However, the price of oil is dictated
> to some extent by demand, which in turn depends on how useful the stuff is
> to us. If it costs $1000 in today's terms to extract a barrel of oil, then
> I very much doubt that anybody would consider burning it for energy. Other
> energy sources will be around, and cheaper, at that price. As a bottom
> line, it doesn't make sense to extract petroleum for fuel when the
> energy cost of extracting it exceeds the energy it contains (plus any
> other intangibles, like the fact that it's readily transportable).

Of course. There are plenty of other alternatives out there, and the
sooner we stop burning the stuff off the better. Oil should really only
be used for making composite and polymer materials. As soon as the price
per barrel raises the energy cost of oil based energy production above
about $0.12-0.25 per Kwh, you will see it being replaced by many other
sources, from nuclear, to wind, and solar. Solar PV roof shingles have
been trying to come on the market for 8 years now, but are still not
cost effective in 99% of all applications due to the alternative (oil)
cost curve being where it is.

> Secondly, if you keep on burning this stuff we ultimately run up against
> a different limit: oxygen. Believe it or not, it's possible to admit that
> we _do_ inhabit a planet where the oxygen mostly gets generated by C3 and
> C4 photosynthesis cycle organisms, which in turn get their ATP by devious
> means from sunlight. This may strike you as a reductio ad absurdam, but
> even if our planet's mantle is swimming in dissolved hydrocarbons, there's
> a limit to our ability to oxidize them without fucking over our breathing
> mixture.

Actually, its quite evident from the evidence at hand that nature in
some areas is stepping up to the plate to absorb this. The forestation
levels for North America, for instance are up some huge amount since the
turn of the century, and apparently our natural resources actually
absorb as much carbon emissions as we produce here, making N.A. a near
zero net producer of carbon based emissions. If other areas can do the
same... The main net contributors to carbon pollution are mostly China,
Japan, and Europe. This being said, you are overestimating by a huge
amount the percentage of the atmosphere that humans can modify with
pollution. CO2 is a very, very minor part of the atmospheric mix. It is
up by some 30% over this past century though, with no ill effects, and
further increases have a diminishing impact upon the greenhouse effect
as well.

> > >
> > > > There won't be a shortage, this is bull. The market will finally meet the demand
> > > > at a market determined price, not a producer determined price. If the british
> > > > oil unions go out of work, well, I won't cry for them.
> > >
> > > There ain't no such animals; just high-tech companies that specialise in
> > > extracting oil from under half a mile of frigid and turbulent ocean.
> > >
> >
> > Good, so answer my other point.
> What other point -- that we should all bow down before the holy market,
> because the invisible hand knows best?
> Markets are a _tool_, Mike. We use them because they work, and they're
> remarkably flexible and general -- but like all tools, they have their
> limits. I don't buy your religious belief that because you understand
> how a hammer works, it follows that all problems are nails. From the
> outside, you'd be surprised how similar market fundamentalists look to
> Christian fundamentalists, or _any_ other followers of irrational
> orthodoxy. Whether the followers reflect the veracity of their belief
> system accurately is, of course, another matter: but it's not a promising
> start.

Markets have limits at any given point in time. What amazes me about the
chicken littles is that they can't imagine the future market growing to
the point where such things are possible. I'll bet you right now that by
2050, the price of oil will be around $100 per barrel, and nobody will
think that is especially expensive at all. Do you know how much oil is
recoverable at that rate? About 300-400 years worth at current
consumption rates.

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