"In the long run, we are all dead" -- JM Keynes
July 6, 2008 8:08 PM   Subscribe

oh shit (short-term?). oh shit (long-term!).
posted by orthogonality (65 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
The WashPost video is almost like fiction. About the only way to make the topic palatable I guess.
posted by stbalbach at 8:20 PM on July 6, 2008


A country boy can survive!
posted by nola at 8:21 PM on July 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


The short term will be over soon, then it'll happen again. Maybe I'll need to learn Cantonese at some point. Probably not a bad idea to start now.

I'm not the least bit worried about the long term shit. One of two things will happen:

1. We'll mine asteroids and comets for this stuff.

2. The rapture. Then there'll be a ton of flat screen televisions around for me to pick out of abandoned homes. I'll set up a 10 x 10 wall of them. It'll be great.
posted by roue at 8:21 PM on July 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Even zinc, commonplace old zinc that is alloyed with copper to make brass, and which the United States used for ordinary one-cent coins when copper was in short supply in World War II, has a Reller extinction date of 2037. (How does a novel called The Death of Brass grab you?)

More importantly, how does it grab Steampunk enthusiasts?
posted by cortex at 8:22 PM on July 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


Um . . . and the link that goes with that outburst.
posted by nola at 8:22 PM on July 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


My only comfort, and it is, indeed, a cold one, is that MetaFilter will never run out of snark.
posted by felix betachat at 8:25 PM on July 6, 2008


Not that you were speaking to me felix but my comment was more of a flat fact than a snark.
posted by nola at 8:26 PM on July 6, 2008


I'd like to see a country boy remove his own inflamed appendix.
posted by roue at 8:28 PM on July 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


The State of Things - shit fuck [NSFW]
posted by tellurian at 8:30 PM on July 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Man see now that's just mean ;)
posted by nola at 8:30 PM on July 6, 2008


I'd like to see a country boy without a Ford F-150 or F-250 or F-350.
posted by orthogonality at 8:31 PM on July 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


Not that you were speaking to me felix but my comment was more of a flat fact than a snark.

Hank Jr. is about as far from snark as a man can get.
posted by felix betachat at 8:34 PM on July 6, 2008


I'd like to see anyone get their inflamed appendix removed when the whole thing comes crashing down.
posted by nola at 8:34 PM on July 6, 2008


Oh, and repeating myself from the deleted thread about the latest Bush stupidity:

And happy 62nd birthday today to our Orwellian, memory-hole utilizing, brush-cutting, mission-accomplishing, head-in-the-sand looking for WMDs and oil incredibly shrinking 24% approval-rated worst-ever president.
posted by orthogonality at 8:35 PM on July 6, 2008


We may be surprised to see snark production cut by almost 35% as soon as January 20, 2009. Personally, I've been stockpiling.
posted by The White Hat at 8:39 PM on July 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


orthogonality, that was beautiful. You're like a hateful, hateful Marilyn Monroe.
posted by felix betachat at 8:45 PM on July 6, 2008 [8 favorites]


Aww shucks. Thanks, man.
posted by orthogonality at 8:47 PM on July 6, 2008


Ok, so I understand how radioactive elements can go extinct; they turn into something else. I can also understand (at least theoretically) how a space-faring race could bleed a lot of a particular element into space. But neither of these seems to be the case with gallium, hafnium, iridium, and zinc. The problem seems to be that it's just being used at the moment or is sitting in junkyards. I find it hard to believe that sifting junkyards and dumps for old monitors and extracting the rare elements used in their construction is significantly harder than the already fairly complex procedure for extracting traces of these elements out of metal ore mined from the ground. (I could be wrong, though. Anyone who knows better, please inform me. It strikes me as conceivable that one of the processes to use the elements ties it up in some compound that is extremely costly to reverse, but I am unaware of any such process.) I imagine it's slightly more difficult or we'd be doing it already, but once we start feeling the squeeze, I'm sure we'll start seriously mining our garbage in addition to the ground. The nice thing about elements is that they're not going anywhere. When a species goes extinct, there's no going back to make more (barring future developments in biology). Chemical compounds (especially organic ones) often get destroyed in the process and if rebuilding them takes longer (way longer in the case of fossil fuels) than the process of consumption, it's a very serious problem. But even if every trace of gallium on the planet sits in piles of garbage for centuries, they'll still be there for the extraction. Considering the number of problems we're facing that won't sit around and wait for us even after we've completely screwed up, it's hard for me to get worried about the "extinction" of elements.
posted by ErWenn at 8:50 PM on July 6, 2008 [8 favorites]


Well, good thing the space program has been well-funded, so we can go get all the trace elements we need!

... wait. What? We spent it all where?
posted by Michael Roberts at 8:51 PM on July 6, 2008


ErWenn -- right. Indium recycling has delivered more indium than mining has for years, now. The reason is easy: a pound of indium in 2003 cost $63. Now it's over $1000. Stake your claim on those landfills now! Your descendants will thank you for it.
posted by Michael Roberts at 8:53 PM on July 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


If this article is true, and we are indeed running low on zinc, then we may finally have a solid answer to the Fermi Paradox. The universe may indeed be full of life and advanced civilizations, but they nuke/climate change/waste their way back into the stone age before they become space-faring and/or galaxy-wide.

This may be the ultimate end for humanity: slowly, over centures, returning to the straw huts and villages from whence we came.
posted by Avenger at 9:00 PM on July 6, 2008 [9 favorites]


That's not a new idea, Avenger.
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:05 PM on July 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the link, sonic.

From the wiki:

Perry Arnett postulates the following timeline:[4]
1979: US per capita energy use peaked; still floundering on a plateau in 2006, but ready to fall precipitously (‘cliff’) at any time
2005: World crude oil probably peaked; still on an undulating plateau in 2007; starts off the ‘cliff’ ~2010-2012 or before
2005: World food production (grains) peaked
2008: World Natural Gas peaks (or sooner)
2010: Natural Gas ‘cliff’ arrives (or sooner)
2012: US electricity blackouts and brownouts become the norm (or sooner)
2012: US potable, available water peak and ‘cliff’; shortages and waterborne diseases increase
2015: US Health Care System in complete chaos, breakdown and failure; sanitation, drugs, return of communicable diseases, poorer nutrition etc.
2015: World “Dieoff” begins in earnest; largely starvation, disease and poor healthcare caused
2030: US per-capita energy consumption hits the “30% mark-AFTER peak”, equaling year 1930 lifestyles again (probably much sooner than 2030)


Yeah, we sound about right on track for 2030.

If this is true, then I would personally like to extend my sincere thanks and well-wishes to my fellow industrial-age citizens. It really has been a fun ride for the past century or so, and the fact that we'll never have these days again is really bittersweet. Like I said, it's been fun, and, minus the occasional Hitler and Stalin, you've all been great.

((hugs))
posted by Avenger at 9:23 PM on July 6, 2008 [15 favorites]


It seems like running out of oil is just the thing to remind people that we're on a massive fireball. If we can tackle the logistics, all that energy is ours for the taking, and some of the deeper oil wells are already drilling in the 10km range where things start heating up. That's in addition to the free rides from the sun and tides.
posted by mullingitover at 9:26 PM on July 6, 2008


Except that, as ErWenn points out, you can't waste your way back to the stone age in terms of elements like Indium or Zinc. Because all that indium and zinc is still there, it's just in landfills and the like.

Things like petroleum are consumed when you use them. Things like Zinc just sit around until you decide it's worth the hassle of digging it back up and re-using.
posted by Justinian at 9:29 PM on July 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


We'll find a way to ensure the continuing industralization of a least a small part of the world, I'm sure. My pet theory is that the world has enough resources to sustain a first-world quality of life for relatively small number of people (200-500 million), but only at the cost of basically having everyone else in the stone age. The overuse of nonrenewable resources has temporarily inflated this number but it is likely to come crashing down in the next hundred years or so, with nations fighting for the privledge of having enough resources to be "the it country," pillaging each other for nonrenewable metals. The only hope is that this country decides to invest in space infrastructure to bring more resources into the system.
posted by Electrius at 9:33 PM on July 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


My pet theory is that the world has enough resources to sustain a first-world quality of life for relatively small number of people (200-500 million)

I vote that we take over New Zealand.

Relatively isolated islands and thus extremely defensible. Near to Australia which can be turned into a client state to grow all the food we could need. Outposts could be established along the Melbourne-Brisbane axis to maintain control trade. New Zealand's climate is decent. Nice landscape. What's not to like about this plan?

We can, I'm sure, make the locals an offer that they (literally) can't refuse.
posted by Justinian at 9:40 PM on July 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


dibs on that hill they used to film Edoras.
posted by Justinian at 9:43 PM on July 6, 2008 [5 favorites]


Damn, that first video is fucked up.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:47 PM on July 6, 2008


Perhaps in 2030 we have engineered up some yeast or bacteria tolerant to heavy metals and then remediate the end-product in a bioreactor or some other precipitative chemical process. If we can learn enough about hydrocarbons to break them apart for energy to run the industrial age, it's not inconceivable we learn enough about life to manage it safely and run the post-industrial age of recycling.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:31 PM on July 6, 2008


That first video: wow. That guy is really not good at public speaking. (I sympathize with the poor guy. I assume he'll get fired for doing anything but repeating the baldfaced lie of a talking point he's been given. Of course I feel for those poor reporters more.) I hope this video is a sign of things to come:

Cheap digital video cameras + easy video editing software + newspaper reporter + Internet video distribution = painfully transparent government.

The cameras are only getting cheaper. The editing software's only getting more accessible. Podcasting's getting easier and bandwidth always increases. I suspect the US government can get a lot more painfully transparent.

Watch for reporter Dana Milbank to be denied access to future press conferences. That man's going to need a pinhole camera and a fake mustache.
posted by sdodd at 10:35 PM on July 6, 2008


The State of Things - shit fuck [NSFW]

I'm willing to consider a return to pre-industrial civilization if it guarantees the demise of postmodern performance art.
posted by nanojath at 10:59 PM on July 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


"This is a website for Phillip Swagel."

I am underwhelmed by your website, Phillip Swagel, but you went to Harvard and were a resident scholar at the AEI, so I'm sure you're eminently qualified for whatever position it is that you hold.
posted by phooky at 11:00 PM on July 6, 2008


This may be the ultimate end for humanity: slowly, over centures, returning to the straw huts and villages from whence we came.

Why? Because we run out of zinc?

While I'm normally a cynic and a pessimist by nature, it does seem remarkable that it took roughly just sixty-five years to go from Kitty Hawk to the Moon, and it took even less amount of time to master fission, then fusion.

Things are just getting started, but I would predict that, by mid-century, we'll see an entirely new energy economy develop that does not produce greenhouse gases. The typical challenge, though (the same one that exists today) is whether or not all people on earth will have equitable access to that technology and to the associated productivity gains.

Of course, we'll have to somehow deal with rising sea levels and drought. The future looks grim for developing countries, but, then again, look how grim things already are now.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:16 PM on July 6, 2008


long term...nah there's plenty of the stuff we need in the water
posted by badego at 11:58 PM on July 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


[obligatory Simpsons reference to that Zinc film they watched in class]
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:36 AM on July 7, 2008


The problem with recycling is that
a) a lot of these elements eventually end up get spread about as dust or ash, and finding them in sufficient quantity to be worth the effort becomes a game of diminishing returns.
b) recycling does not magic up more of them, it just allows you to reuse a percentage of that you've already used. Eventually, you have to decide which things you build get the gallium you can extract from landfill and recycling. Assuming gallium from mining 'runs out' in a decade's time, that's an awful long time for us as a species to be living without any more of it and rationing it.

Of course, finding new sources of it is one option - but that means a non fossil fuel based space economy, and we're running out of time to build one. We should be rapidly working on bootstrapping a new energy economy with the resources we have left - and instead, we're spending our time fighting over the remaining resources and not even succeeding at that.

End of the industrial age is right. How our grandchildren are going to HATE us.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:02 AM on July 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


In my job, I've noticed that non-native speakers of English often struggle with the metaphor-heavy finance and macroeconomics vocabulary. As in the video, for example, a "soft economy" is not soft like pillow, which is good. It is soft like a penis, which is bad.
posted by milkrate at 1:06 AM on July 7, 2008 [11 favorites]


That depends who is trying to shove it up whose arse, milkrate.
posted by flabdablet at 1:21 AM on July 7, 2008 [4 favorites]


[obligatory Simpsons reference to that Zinc film they watched in class]

[you meant the Zinc Oxide and You film from Kentucky Fried Movie, right?]
posted by effbot at 1:41 AM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


No no no no. this is NOT how it's meant to end. This is like the last few months of a dying smoker who knew they should have quit years ago- The world is meant to end in nuclear annihilation.

As a gen Xer and child of the eighties I demand to be nuked! I want to see, did the Russians have more nukes than the yanks? Did star wars do any good? Did the Chinese have the last word? Why were the French on the security council- I need answers.

And what of the antichist? Is there to be no antichrist now? What a fucking rip.
posted by mattoxic at 1:47 AM on July 7, 2008 [4 favorites]


In the long run, as soon as is becomes an economic necessity, technology will find a solution... in the short run, we're screwed.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:46 AM on July 7, 2008


At least as we go to 'hell-in-a-basket' I can read Metafilter and know that there is still wit, humor, and intelligence in the world to keep me sane. Thank you to all those posters who help to ease the pain. You do make a difference to those of us who lurk, and have little of the wit and intelligence possessed by others. Awhhhh, the Internets...
posted by vac2003 at 3:50 AM on July 7, 2008



At least as we go to 'hell-in-a-basket' I can read Metafilter and know that there is still wit, humor, and intelligence in the world to keep me sane.

Uh-hu. Dont think so. from the Wikipedia article on zinc
Zinc deprivation in monkeys showed that zinc deficient animals were emotionally less mature, and also had cognitive deficits
So i predict a slow collapse for Metafilter. When Zinc runs out we will turn into stupid Farksters or someting.
posted by uandt at 5:32 AM on July 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Avenger's post is excellent.

Swansong for the industrial age, indeed.

It's funny, I keep thinking of sci-fi books about calamities where a quick-thinking scientist hides a large cache of information -- encyclopedias and how-to information, great literature, etc., to help his descendants out of the coming dark ages.

Lucifer's Hammer, for instance: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucifer%27s_Hammer

Anyhoo. Looks like it won't really matter, because we're going to run out of the means to even HAVE an industrial society. Awesome. I'm going to start laminating EVERYTHING. Pictures, DVDs, etc., and start that cache up.

End of the industrial age is right. How our grandchildren are going to HATE us.

HAHAHA.

In the long run, as soon as is becomes an economic necessity, technology will find a solution... in the short run, we're screwed.

Unfortunately, I'm willing to wager the following is true:

A. Elements we need to create truly efficient solar panels will be "extinct" soon.
B. We're not going to be able to science-up enough non-petroleum energy infrastructure before we run out of the ability to make electronics for all but the super-wealthy (who will always be able to afford computers).
posted by taumeson at 5:55 AM on July 7, 2008


In the long run, as soon as [it] becomes an economic necessity, technology will find a solution...

I hear this argument time and again. How does this different from the religious "God will provide" viewpoint? Are there examples of other civilizations that got to the brink from resource exhaustion and then pulled through due to technology? Because there are certainly tons of civilizations that are no more for that very reason...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:58 AM on July 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Lucifer's Hammer, for instance

And within a few generations things go all A Canticle for Liebowitz. "Scientists" dedicate their lives to preserving technical manuals, little by little losing any comprehension of the information therein. As devices break down, no one knows how they worked much less how to fix them. Eventually you have abbeys filled with beautifully illuminated blueprints and shrines for the holy relics known as computers.

I might need to take a break from scifi novels for a while.
posted by JaredSeth at 6:39 AM on July 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


And FWIW, my opinion is that we're going to have to reach rock bottom before we recover and rock bottom will be a heck of a long way down. "And let us never forget/that the human race with technology/is like an alcoholic with a barrel of wine."

Talking to some perfectly intelligent people who can say things like "We have 50 to 100 years of oil left," and "Market forces will adjust for any shortages," (and "I think we made the right decision, invading Iraq," and, "We've done a lot of good things in Iraq") and really believe that it's a sign of mental illness even to worry about the environment, shortages or the future in general.... realizing that these people are the majority and literally nothing short of death in their own living rooms will change their minds.

I use to say that the United States would not wake up until bodies were lying in the streets. I was wrong, because bodies have been lying in the streets twice now and the country has still not woken up. Now I believe that the US won't change until it's brought exceedingly low.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:00 AM on July 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I really liked A Canticle for Liebowitz.
posted by Mister_A at 7:16 AM on July 7, 2008


In the long run, as soon as [it] becomes an economic necessity, technology will find a solution...

As someone who works in solar R&D, let me tell you not to hold your breath. While a combination of climate scientists, physicists and economists have been calling for a 'Manhattan project' of renewable energy since the first energy crisis, the Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush administrations have each successively chopped DOE funding to the point where it is less than 1/2 what is was in the 70s in real dollars. This despite the fact that the DOE commitments to nuclear cleanup and reactor decommissioning have increased greatly as our nuclear infrastructure has aged. Even the latest, loudly trumpeted, Bush increase to the DOE budget has been shot down by congress. Given the current situation, it is crazy that we are still not funding the kind of basic research in energy technologies that will be required to make the kind of game-changing development that we need. (read this pdf starting at page 9 to see what we need to develop).

Are you thinking that private money is going to fix this? Let me tell you, the most common thing I hear from venture capitalists is 'Will you have a product within the next 3-5 years?' Industry will exploit and develop already existing technologies but it it a bad bet to pay for basic research. So the money isn't coming from there.

So in the end, we're betting that something we've already discovered is going to find a new use in renewable energy. Since the days of the Reagan revolution, we have refused to pay for discovering anything new. The new democratic congress has shown itself to be thinking the same way.
posted by overhauser at 8:19 AM on July 7, 2008 [8 favorites]


lupus_yonderboy: Are there examples of other civilizations that got to the brink from resource exhaustion and then pulled through due to technology?

Well, there's the Fischer-Tropsch process which creates a petroleum substitute from coal and other substances. It was used to run the Nazi war machine in WWII because Germany had scant access to oil. Before that there were the Haber and Ostwald processes which made it possible for Germany to keep fighting in WWI when they lost access to saltpeter and therefore the ability to make things go boom that's so important to warmaking.
posted by Kattullus at 8:25 AM on July 7, 2008


Happy Monday to you, Metafilter.
posted by Dr-Baa at 8:40 AM on July 7, 2008


We are going to have to get alot better at mining trash, dust, water and air for trace elements... Two potential solutions; nanotech & biotech. We are already seeing specific advances in biotech - certain metals and elements actually tend to collect in living organisms.
posted by jkaczor at 8:46 AM on July 7, 2008


There really are a lot of negative nellies on Metafilter.
posted by Justinian at 9:46 AM on July 7, 2008


One problem with the "new technologies will solve all our problems" viewpoint is that you need tech to make new tech. Think about the clean-rooms and ultra-pure materials required to make electronics -- even as recently as fifty years ago we coudn't have done it.

What kind of future can you imagine without the microchip (or equivalent)?
posted by phliar at 10:34 AM on July 7, 2008


I'm not by any means suggesting we place all our eggs in the new-technology basket. However, I do think it's a good place for this element-extinction egg, primarily because of the arguments I gave above (unless the problem of dispersal as dust and ash that ArkhanJG brings up is significant). I hope that new technologies can help solve our other problems, but relying primarily upon potential future discoveries to solve our other problems (fossil fuel depletion, global warming, mass extinctions, etc.) would be a very bad idea.
posted by ErWenn at 10:53 AM on July 7, 2008


There really are a lot of negative nellies on Metafilter.

Yeah, but by 2015 this'll be a barren wasteland of hugs.
posted by cortex at 10:57 AM on July 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


In the long run, as soon as [it] becomes an economic necessity, technology will find a solution...

I'm afraid that as resources become scarce, "technology" is more likely to "find" a bigger gun to keep it for an increasingly smaller and richer population.

Glopping all human R&D effort into "technology" pushes me to agree with

How does this different from the religious "God will provide" viewpoint?

--

This scenario reminds me of the real estate bust vs. those who claim that housing in the (San Francisco) Bay Area will never go down. When you show them a decrease in median sales prices, they claim that's not the Real Bay Area. Eventually, the RBA will shrink to one block in Palo Alto.

--

For all of the bluster about "taking the fight to the terrorists," there may eventually be some truth to that as the shadow government can't make their own chips, refine their own copper or synthesize their own anti-cancer drugs under a mountain in Virginia. Comfy life depends on a global infrastructure. Fighting the portion of the 80% sick of seeing the 20% use 80% is safer if done at the 80%'s home. As the 80% grows, though, who will be left to fight on the side of the 20%? Stop lossed, vet benefit cut, no-other-option in this crappy economy "volunteers?"
posted by morganw at 1:14 PM on July 7, 2008


No no no no. this is NOT how it's meant to end.

Of course it is. Haven't you read T.S. Eliot?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:00 PM on July 7, 2008


Watch for reporter Dana Milbank to be denied access to future press conferences.

Watch how the Washington Press corp will finally grow some balls over the next 3 months now they know they can only be blacklisted for a couple of months. The last 8 years have been the most disgusting display of career over country in the history of journalism.
posted by any major dude at 4:51 PM on July 7, 2008


Of course it is. Haven't you read T.S. Eliot?

Yes, but reading and understanding are different things
posted by mattoxic at 6:28 PM on July 7, 2008


My pet theory is that the world has enough resources to sustain a first-world quality of life for relatively small number of people (200-500 million)

My pet theory is that this is what the nation of Dubai has planned.

Of course, we'll have to somehow deal with rising sea levels and drought.

My pet theory has one huge hole: Dubai is going to be under seawater if things go the way they're being predicted to go.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:37 PM on July 7, 2008



My pet theory is that the world has enough resources to sustain a first-world quality of life for relatively small number of people (200-500 million)

Compare population estimates for the world and the empire in Roman times. At the best of times, peaceful, plenty to eat (although they did farm North Africa to death), ample entertainment, opportunity to travel. As long as you weren't an overworked slave, could have been pretty sweet.
posted by gimonca at 7:50 PM on July 7, 2008


About that Olduvai theory linked above, and the whole civilizations-collapsing-back-upon-themselves thing...I find it interesting to consider the idea that, here and there throughout the universe, civilizations reach critical mass, become space-capable, and then collapse under their own weight before they're able to master it and leave the planet in any significant way. Each civilization's Industrial Phase blinking into being in an instant (epochs-wise) and then fading away just as quickly, like quasars; get a few rockets up, then fall prey to greed or squabbling or war or whatever, and back down you go.
posted by davejay at 9:59 PM on July 7, 2008


Y'know, if we weren't in Iraq, we could spend all that money on education and research to make the world less dumb than it is now.
posted by kldickson at 9:09 AM on July 8, 2008


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