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Running out of resources on planet Earth?

(43 Posts)
StrawberryDaiquiriPlease Sun 10-Mar-13 14:56:58

Are we running out of resources on planet Earth?

What are we, as intelligent beings, doing to solve problems such as not having enough food and water and resources for everyone?

Are we, in the UK, forward thinking enough with our building of renewable energy sources and renewable housing?

I hope to be educated by more knowledgeable mumsnetters than myself.


flatpackhamster Thu 14-Mar-13 11:56:39


I wish I knew more about our policies when it comes to renewable sources of energy. What are we as a country doing to harness different sources of energy? I’ve seen windmills going up and seen solar panels here or there, but nothing on a widespread scale that could replace our current primary fuel sources. Surely, as an island our main source of power should be tidal energy?

An awful lot of questions, and as a non-expert I'll try to give you a bit of an idea about the issues here.

When you're considering how much power the UK needs, you need to consider a few things. The first is that our requirements change depending upon the time of day, the day of the week, the weather, and so on. This is called the base load.

The second thing you need to consider is that transporting electricity is expensive and wasteful. The longer those electricity lines are from the place where the power is generated, the more electricity you lose.

The third thing to consider is that when you want electricity, you want it immediately, not in 2 hours' time. This means that a power solution needs to be scalable. That means that it should be easy to increase the amount of power from that solution. Nuclear is a good example of this - it costs as much to run a nuclear power station at 100% of its capacity as it does at 1%.

So the best power solutions are ones that can give us that base load, that scalability and that short transport distance for the power. The worst ones are ones that don't give us any of them. Most renewables fall in to this category.

Take wind as an example. Wind power is only available at certain times. If the wind is blowing too hard, or not at all, there's no power. You can't turn the wind up when you want more power. And because wind farms have to be in exposed places, that means that you have to have huge long cables to deliver the power.

Because wind is on and off, we either have to find a way to store the power when it is generated in huge battery arrays, or we have to use the electricity when it's available. The first is not cost effective and is far more environmentally damaging than a coal-fired power station, the second is what the eco-mentalists are trying to force us to do, and it's madness.

Realistically, we need a base load that is reliable. If we don't have one, the economy grinds to a halt. Renewables can't power the country, because they can't guarantee that base load.

How do we find out more about these issues? How do we get involved to bring about change?

What sort of change do you want to bring? There are already a number of projects that are bringing change, but not perhaps in the way you would hope.

The EU has written various laws to subsidise some forms of electricity generation and not others. These are bundled under its Renewables Directive. What these laws do is give taxpayers' money to wind, solar, biomass, and the like, and put a 'carbon tax' on coal, oil and gas.

One of the consequences of this is that fuel prices have doubled, pushing hundreds of thousands in to fuel poverty. The reason you're spending more on heating your house and cooking your food than ever is this directive. It takes taxpayers' money and subsidises inefficient power generation, and then you pay more for your electricity on top of that.

The solution in the short term is gas, some coal and plenty of conventional nuclear power. In the long term, the solutions should include thorium fission and fusion. China already has an operational thorium reactor. Thorium nuclear is far superior because, unlike uranium, there's no waste.

MoreBeta Thu 14-Mar-13 12:28:51

I am resolutely opposed to most renewables as just to expensive and requiring public subsidy. Hence they are not economically sustainable in the long run.

One form of local small scale energy I am keen on is burning household waste. Saves on using precious land for landfill and prevents emission of methane which is a much much worse greenhouse gas than CO2. Collecting methane form rotting waste in existing landfill is also very good as that gas can be burned in small scale but very efficient gas engines to generate electricty for the local grid.

Wind power is just about the worst of all renewable resources which apart from being unrelaible and very expensive to build hence needing a lot of subsidy also requires a carbon based power station (very often a coal station) burning fuel ready to run at a moments notice.

Gas is a renewable resource as vegetation is rotting all the time and is widely available. It honestly is the way to go and very scaleable. Gas fired power stations can also run in baseload mode (ie 24 hours a day 7 days a week) or in mid-merit or peaking mode (ie switching on and off to meet load fluctuations throughout the day).

mikey9 Thu 14-Mar-13 12:59:44

Where to start with some of the posts above..............

Best way is probably to go back to the OP question.
Are we running out of resources on Planet Earth?

Well - we are running out of certain easily accessible deposits of some resources.

The most important of these for our current standard of living is without doubt oil (along with gas) which underpins so much of what we have/do.

Food (fertiliser, pesticides, tractor fuels, heated greenhouses, international and local distribution etc.) all underpinned by cheap oil.

From where you are sitting - look around and try to identify the oil underpinning just about everything you can see.....

Although the oil isn't running out, I think it is unarguable that demand is only going one way (increased demand from India/China etc. - 5-10% GDP growth isn't underpinned by fresh air - and the expectations of the millions of consumers are similar to ours). So continuous increasing demand....

Discoveries of new oil peaked some years ago, the easy (cheap) to extract oil - (that includes the North Sea which doesn't look that easy to me)...has been expoited - what we know remains is mroe difficult (expensive) to extract - oil shales etc require massive investment of energy (oil) to extract compared with the boom we have recently enjoyed.
There is plenty of information out there on "peak energy" - which really just means wea are over the peak of cheap resources we have been exploiting over the last 100 years.

Result = higher demand+more expensive supply = significantly higher prices and only going in one direction.......and this is just what we have....

All this hand wringing suggesting everything is down to (start a list), the greens, the farmers, the EU, the corporations, the government, the windmills, nuclear power, the poor, the rich.....etc. is really just an excuse for not looking to closely at our own responsibility in this and the actions we should be taking.

We have enjoyed exploiting the cheap energy - but realistically - unless we change our behavior (massive consumerism, excessive travel, food from around the world etc.) then we will all become very poor very quickly or worse.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news - and as the father of two little ones, it pains me to say it but I don't hold out a lot of hope.
I think WE as a race are all too selfish to recognise our part in this - and just don't want to change our behavior - and will back any excuse to avoid action.

Bottom line is - do you feel lucky or are you prepared to act?

RichManPoorManBeggarmanThief Thu 14-Mar-13 13:07:34

It depends what standard of living people want.

e.g car ownership in the US is 750/1000 people. In China it's 53 and I believe India is also well below 100. That's 2.5bn people right there who will start to want cars in the very near future, consuming vast quantities of iron ore, coking coal, and oil as fuel.

Oil can only get more expensive. Steel can only get more expensive. Renewables at the moment are not really economically viable (i.e. they're the marginal producer- they're ok to plug gaps but that's about it). All I can say is first one to crack cold fusion wins whatever the fuck they ask for.

MoreBeta Thu 14-Mar-13 13:21:43

There has never been an energy resource in the entire history of mankind that has ever run out.

think about it. We began with burning wood and then when that became too expensive we used coal, then we moved to oil and now we are moving rapidly towards natural gas. It already is a very dominant fuel in electricty generation in the UK that has displaced a lot of coal and totally displaced all oil in electricity generation.

Natural gas can be a transport fuel too. It is just a matter of time and relative price versus oil before more vehicles burn natural gas. teh technology to convert vehicles to natural gas using a normal internal combustion egine is widely available. When oil becomes scarce then gas wil take over as the oil prices rise.

Incidentally, the USA is rapidly becoming self sufficient in oil once more and natural gas in the USA is so cheap all the shale gas producers are struggling to cover their costs. Its like history repeating itself. No evidence of 'Peak Oil' there.

flatpackhamster Thu 14-Mar-13 13:52:30

I've found this useful PDF report which shows the increase in the cost of living since 2002. It indicates an increase in the cost of electricity of 142% in 10 years.

flatpackhamster Thu 14-Mar-13 14:25:40


We have enjoyed exploiting the cheap energy - but realistically - unless we change our behavior (massive consumerism, excessive travel, food from around the world etc.) then we will all become very poor very quickly or worse.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news - and as the father of two little ones, it pains me to say it but I don't hold out a lot of hope.

I think WE as a race are all too selfish to recognise our part in this - and just don't want to change our behavior - and will back any excuse to avoid action.

Bottom line is - do you feel lucky or are you prepared to act?

This doomsaying is nonsense. I know it's very fashionable nowadays, but it really isn't the case that we have to 'change our behaviour' to save the world.

Innovation and our capacity to develop is what is keeping us going. New sources of power are becoming available all the time. Yesterday Japan reported that it had extracted natural gas from frozen methane hydrate.

Last month the British Geological survey reported that it had uncovered enough shale gas to power the UK (at current usage levels) for 1,500 years.

There's the shale oil revolution in the US, which will supply them for decades and make them independent of the Middle East.

That's not to mention the huge advances in nuclear fission research, such as the thorium reactors being tested in a number of countries around the world, including the US and China.

niceguy2 Thu 14-Mar-13 14:50:11

And don't forget that hopefully in the future some clever boffin will solve the issue of nuclear f*u*sion which will solve mankind's energy needs forever.

mikey9 Thu 14-Mar-13 16:16:32

Hey - I have never been called fashionable before! Result ;-)

stating that nothing has ever run out does not take away the fact that we are well past the cheap days of boundless energy easily extracted - and we are now competing with a much larger pool of demand.......

Loads of evidence of "peak energy" out there - most of it from the oil analysts and companies themselves and even the US Military. Not difficult to find detailed info out there.

- I love your confidence in the unproven extraction of commercial quantities of gas in the UK. If it works - (bearing in mind the risks, quite diifferent geology over here etc. - prove it - safely and I am sure it will happen)

Shale oil - our savior? Don't fogret that the typical Energy Return on Investment for shale oil is around 1-5 to 1 you invest 1 unit of energy (typically oil/fuel) to get 1-5 units out of the shale. Compare this with 100:1 for early oil and 20:1 for more recent oil. This all adds to the shortage as more and more of the limited remainder is deverted into extraction.

Quoting things like methane hydrate (when it is commercially feasible - great - perhaps - although does nowt for global warming) and nuclear fission (great too - when/if we can harness it).

I genuinely hope we can find the replacement fuel source - I have a vested interest. The evidence (not industry sponsored news releases that don't tell the big picture) unfortunately doesn't give the big picture.

Based on my assessment of the evidence - I am not feeling lucky - so will act appropriatley - reducing our demand/consumption - which has the added benefit of letting us pay off the mortgage quicker too.........

In the end - whatever happens we will end up paying and paying a lot for the remaining energy - learning to reduce YOUR consumption of most things has only a bunch of benefits - so what is to lose........unless you believe that energy in the future will be "Too Cheap to Meter" (Nuclear industry slogan from the 60's.)

claig Thu 14-Mar-13 21:02:36

'Loads of evidence of "peak energy" out there - most of it from the oil analysts and companies themselves'

Mikey, that keeps the price high for them

'whatever happens we will end up paying and paying a lot for the remaining energy'

yes that is the plan

claig Thu 14-Mar-13 21:04:51

There are also plans to make us pay more for booze, but that is not running out.
The name of the game is to squeeze the middle - always has been, always will be.

niceguy2 Thu 14-Mar-13 21:19:12

This is interesting. If someone can turn this into a reality then something like this could solve our energy issues forever.

Waste Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor

Still doesn't solve our need for raw materials but then we're now looking at mining the oceans and even deep space. All may not be lost.

Doesn't help if a flipping asteroid hits us tho.

MrJudgeyPants Fri 15-Mar-13 00:31:22

Food security isn't much of an issue as far as I can see. In Europe and North America we create surplusses of food which are often dumped on the third world (thus distorting their markets) whilst we are in the middle of an obesity epidemic. There can be no doubt about the fact that our food supply is safe for the immediate future and that, in purely calorific terms, the developed worlds system of farming and agriculture works. Despite this, the useful idiots at Oxfam seem intent on forcing a feudal agricultural system of farming on much of Africa under the "Give a man a fish..." philosophy. Now, despite the fact that we in Western Europe abandoned this form of peasant" open field" farming at various points between the black death and the industrial revolution, and since then began our ascent into being the wealthiest societies who have ever walked the earth, various do-gooders would seek to peg parts of the third world back to Britain circa 1340.

If we really had their best interests at heart we'd be trying to find the cheapest way of turning sub-saharan africa into the US's Corn Belt or somewhere like France.

claig Fri 15-Mar-13 01:16:43

Fascinating, MrJP. It wouldn't surprise me at all. Have you got any links about this topic?

RichManPoorManBeggarmanThief Fri 15-Mar-13 02:08:26

more beta To be fair, we haven't really been around very long, and human populations were very low for much of that/ our lifestyles were not very fuel intensive.

It may be that we will sort it out, but I dont think we can afford to be casual about it

DolomitesDonkey Fri 15-Mar-13 06:04:02

OP, not in Western Europe we're not.

As for the rest of the world - same as it ever was - all available for a price ... Whether some will be able to pay that price is debatable.

MoreBeta Fri 15-Mar-13 08:14:38

flatpack - that report Tullet Prebon is really interesting. I have been doing a bit of research on measuring inflation and I so strongly agree that we should have a UK Essentials Index which measures the inflation faced by the poorest people in society - not people buying iPads.

Indeed in the early 20th century when inflation measures really began nobody thought we should measure the cost of goods and services that were considered discretionary luxuries bought by middle and upper class people. The concenpt of a Cost of Living Index for the working class man with a family was very much the driving force and that led to the inflation indexing of working class wages and the concept of a Living Wage.

I do truely believe that we would control inflation much better if we targeted an Essential Index but it would of course expose the big lie about wages and the true economic growth rate of the country. Living standard for people in blue collar jobs have been stagnant and falling for over a decade both here and in the USA in real terms. We made up the difference with private and public borrowing.

One note of caution on electricity price inflation. It so happens by chance that 2002 was the absolute bottom in wholesale electric prices and it was so low that power staions were shutting down and firms in the electricty generation sector were going bankrupt.

amicissimma Tue 02-Apr-13 17:38:07

If you think the planet is running out of 'resources', where do you think they are going?

BTW graphene is looking like a very useful way to reduce our energy needs.

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