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John Quiggin's failure to grasp the resources shortage crisis

mike's picture
The following was originally posted as a response to an article Against the doomsayers by Social Democratic economist Professor John Quiggin on his blog site johnquiggin.com on 5 June 2006. In the article he stated “Most natural resources have actually become cheaper, but even in cases where prices have risen, such as that of oil, the economic impact has been marginal, relative to the long-run trend of increasing income”. Professor Quiggin places himself somewhere between the extreme of 'deep brown' (i.e. for full steam ahead with economic growth) and the other supposed extreme of 'deep green'. However, the practical implications of his approach have been shown to have been disastrously short of what was, and is, required.

Mike Stasse Says:

November 6th, 2006 at 8:17 am

John Quiggin states:

“we can’t protect the environment unless we are willing to accept a radical reduction in our standard of living”.

Sorry, but I cannot accept this statement. If you define a high standard of living as ‘owning stuff’, then you are simply wrong. If our standard of living is so great, why is it we have to spend so much money repairing people? Why is there so much depression?

Our modern lifestyle is crap! I know, because on the whole I have divorced it. I have never been happier than since I quit working (for a wage of course, at the age of 46!) June next year, I will ditch my car, and I can’t wait! Finally organised so I no longer need it.

I grow much of my own food (spent $50 shopping in the last 2 weeks), am totally water and energy self sufficient (apart from the 60L of petrol I still use a fortnight), and I’m debt free. Free of the economy. I need so little money to live on, it’s AMAZING! I’m also so healthy now, I haven’t even so much as had a cold in over two years (I’m 54 now). Once I’ll have ditched the car, my footprint will be sustainable. Totally. And my living standard is the BEST it’s ever been. I do what I want, when I want, well almost. Just give me six more months.

JQ then goes on to say:

“On the one hand, claims that we are bound to run out of resources, made most vigorously by the Club of Rome in the 1970s, have repeatedly been refuted by experience. Most natural resources have actually become cheaper, but even in cases where prices have risen, such as that of oil, the economic impact has been marginal, relative to the long-run trend of increasing income. The recent increase in the price of oil, for example, might, if sustained, reduce income by about 1 per cent, or around 4 months of economic growth.”

Really JQ? We’re not running out of resources? So they fall out of the sky to replenish do they? I don’t know where you’ve heard commodity prices have been falling. They’re all UP! Copper wire has doubled in price just this year (I know, I’m still building my house). Gold, silver, zinc, lead, nickel, all up, all past their peak of production most likely. Supply can no longer meet demand, just as the Club of Rome predicted! Why is it they are ALWAYS mis-quoted? They tried about six different models of growing resource use, and every model predicted a collapse of civilisation within 100 years of their report, 1970. We are now 35% of the way into this period, and they are BANG ON!

But of course, you’re an economist JQ, and you measure everything with dollars! I’m an energy man, and I measure everything in MegaJoules (MJ). So when you say the increase in the price of oil will reduce income by about 1%, I say so what? What if you can’t drive to work because of shortages, how much will your income be reduced then?

By ABARE’s very own figures, unless a shitload of oil is found very very soon, Australia could be totally out of the stuff within SIX YEARS. It will then be all imported, just as everybody else in the world wants a piece of the action.

Worse, as we ‘run out’ and slide down the backside of Hubbert’s Peak, the quality of the oil worsens (thicker, sourer) and the depths at which it needs to be extracted from get deeper and deeper, such that more and more energy has to be wasted to distil it to the standard we have all become accustomed to. The same applies to ALL resources. The easiest and best resources get used first, known as the low hanging fruit syndrome.

Furthermore, food volumes produced on this planet have been in decline for five years straight. Of course, the number of people keeps going up at about 4 Australias per annum. So less food is available, and the price goes up. But she’ll be right JQ, market forces will ensure that we with the most money will always be able to get our lot…. Hang everyone else.

Your precious economy is on the brink of collapse. Right now. Yes, the end is nigh. Inflation and interest rates rises will see lots of people going bankrupt as they can no longer fuel their 4WD’s, and nobody wants to take them off their hands.

Your statements on air quality are also fanciful. All we’ve really done is export the pollution to where all our ’stuff’ is now made, namely China.

Do yourself a favour JQ, buy a copy of “Limits to Growth”, and read it again (you have read it, right?).

Mike Stasse