Jeremy Grantham's Elevator Speech

Imagine you crossed Jared Diamond and Lester Brown with a former Royal Dutch Shell economist turned-brilliant hedge fund manager.

That’s the author of this stunning quarterly newsletter for GMO Capital, an investment firm that manages over $100 billion in assets.

Over at Climate Central, I barely scratch the surface of Jeremy Grantham’s essay, which begins with this “summary of the summary”:

The world is using up its natural resources at an alarming rate, and this has caused a permanent shift in their value. We all need to adjust our behavior to this new environment.  It would help if we did it quickly.

That right there is the ten-second elevator speech for the planet. Best damn one I’ve heard yet.

62 Responses to “Jeremy Grantham's Elevator Speech”

  1. Tom Gray says:

    Using up commodities like copper, aluminum, iron, wheat, water …?
     
    Does he mean commodities like this?

  2. Tom Gray says:

    I was taught in my economics lectures about the process of substitution. If a commodity gets expensive then it can be substituted with something else. So if copper gets very expensive, we cna substitute aluminum or iron depending on the application. We can also use technology to make better use of the commodities that we do use, so electronics can be sued to allow copper cable to carry more bandwidth or electronics can be used to replace copper cables absolutely with fiber optics (sand) or wireless interconnections. So it would seem to me that to ” We all need to adjust our behavior to this new environment” is standard practice.
     
    Cars are much more fuel efficient now. If fuel  becomes more expensive, people move to smaller cars. Why is any of this surprising? We are lways adjusting our behavior.

  3. Tom Gray says:

    Given the author’s comment s about compound growth from the time of Egypt, I would like to ask him about the value of technology such as  semiconductors and their relation to intangibles such as software. eh creation of wealth from these items is enormous and yet they use only a very small amount of physical resources. In my quick reading of the essay, there seems to be no acknowledgement of this

  4. Tom Gray says:

    from the essay
     
    ===========
    ” Climate change is associated with weather instability, but the last year was exceptionally bad.  Near term it will surely get less bad”
    ==============
     
     
    Climate change and weather instability — well here we go again.

  5. +1 Jeremy Grantham

  6. Tom Fuller says:

    Hmm. Somebody’s self interest is showing. He won’t be managing any of my money.

  7. kdk33 says:

    Oh brother.

  8. Tom Gray says:

    It would be interesting to take one of the commodities mentioned in the essay and do a supply and demand analysis.  Why is the price going up? Is it:
     
    a) there is a shortage of the commodity and some less competitive demand is going without so the price moves up the demand curve to rgw point at which the quantity demanded matches the available supply
     
    or
     
    b) is there no shortage but the supply itself is not more expensive to extract and so the supply curve is moving up
     
    It seems to me that oil would be more in b).  Cheaply extractable oil has been exploited and now oil must be supplied from more costly sources such as the deep ocean. There does not seem to be evidence of a). The issue with b) is that just because a source is more costly does not mean that it is rarer. There may be very large quantities of the commodity available at this higher price. So for oil these are reserves like the tar sands. If oil stays  these levels then tar sands become commercially extractable. There are vast supplies of them. The price may move to a level at which these are competitive and remain there for extended period so time.
     
    So high prices do not necessarily imply any form of overall shortage or even a major effect on the overall economy.  The higher rents for oil may be matched and exceeded by a declining price for other goods. So a consumer may pay more to power their automobile but buy  a $400 HD television se that previously costs $4,000
     
    This of course assumes that there has not been a change in the type of market that is setting the price. The movement of large amounts of money into these markets is a fact. Hedge funds are extracting large amounts of money from these commodities in the form of profits. The essay uses the conventional argument that these hedge funds do not take delivery and so do not change either supply or demand. However this analysis does not account for the profits that these funds extract from the market. This money must come from somewhere and the only place it can come from is the end consumer. The conventional analysis, as described in the essay, does not account for the change in market psychology and for the rents extracted by the new players.

  9. Paul in Sweden says:

    Nothing seems out of the ordinary for Jeremy in the newsletter. I would however expect Jeremy’s PR front aka Grantham Research Institute and Bob Ward flooding the TV/Cable/Print media circuit over the next week or so to prop up GMO and his boss Jeremy, so that investors can be lead to believe that GMO investments are firmly supported by all the “Climate Science” consensus that Jeremy can buy.

  10. Paul in Sweden says:

    Keith, As a fellow New Yorker I wanted to tell you that I liken the interaction between Jeremy Grantham and Bob Ward(Grantham Research Institute) to a typical 47th Street diamond purchase experience. “Certainly, this is a high quality diamond, but you don’t have to take my word for it, come with me & we will go down the street and my uncle will look at the diamond and tell you this is a very good diamond, I won’t tell him a thing, you will see.”

  11. Keith Kloor says:

    Well, Grantham’s track record regarding irrational bubbles makes him somebody worth listening to, seems to me.

  12. Lazar says:

    “just because a source is more costly does not mean that it is rarer. There may be very large quantities of the commodity available at this higher price.”


    I think when most people talk of scarcity, they mean relative to demand, which is measured by price.
    The potential production rate matters.

  13. kdk33 says:

    Population cannot grow forever; that’s tautology.  I think this underlies much of these kinds of stories.  In the end (unless we leave earth), birth rate will equal replacement rate – whether brithing declines or mortality increases is yet to be determined – but managing this is for future generations, not ours.  Before getting too excited, one should remember that, sooner or later, an extinction sized asteroid will hit the planet – not maybe, not possibley, WILL.

    There’s lots of stuff to worry about.  There’s a lot less stuff worth worrying about.

  14. Matt says:

    Tom Gray,
    You say
    “eh creation of wealth from these items is enormous and yet they use only a very small amount of physical resources. In my quick reading of the essay, there seems to be no acknowledgement of this”
    Well, he talks about shifting from quantitative to qualitative growth”” your examples of low volume semiconductors and ‘non physical’ products like computer software suggest a move in this direction, no?
    Matt Ridley recently published an opposing view:
    http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/wrong-about-running-out
    Both pieces are convincingly argued, cite lots of numbers, and purport to predict the future. Both authors have a background in finance (though Matt Ridley’s record as a chairman of the failed Northern Rock arguably counts against him here). Both have pre-established positions on resource use and climate change.
    So I wonder- a genuine question- how much credence to we (non specialists) assign to such people, and how do we evaluate their arguments effectively? The science seems relatively easy in comparison.

  15. Pascvaks says:

    The referenced quote is one that has been used many times in many ages, and will be used many times in ages to come. Strange how it always seems to get the same reaction. 

    Scotty, we won’t be able to recharge our Warp Drives on this planet. No dilithium chrystals here. Beam me up!

  16. Tom Fuller says:

    The problem with what Grantham writes, in my opinion, is quite simply that he does not appear to be measuring markets to attract new investors, but rather to be trying to move markets to benefit current ones.

  17. kdk33 says:

    What is a little bit frightening is the notion that we can’t let the market – the rabble – make choices; rather, we need wise leaders to design a new lifestyle.  

    Into this temptation fell the climate sciences.  Control the worlds energy and you pretty much control a lot. It just feeds too many agendas. 

    So on board came all the advocacy groups that want to control the way we live in the name of: population, scarcity, social justice, environmentalism, biodiversity, and bad weather.  And once energy choices are made politically – not by markets (and the energy sector is huge) – rent seeking exploded.  The whole thing exascerbated by the government funding feedback loop.

    In retrospect, the movement acquired tremendous momentum and almost succeeded – or at least almost succeeded in getting a meaningful foothold on real power.  Fortunately cooler heads (and probably cooler weather) prevailed.  At least for now.

    With the carnival winding down, we find we’re left with climate science weirding: the notion that CO2 causes all manner of (perhaps even all) badness in a way that threatens the planet but can’t actually be measured.  Yet.

    Sadly, we are most probably responsible for increasing atmospheric CO2 and that will continue for osme time.  This raises questions, the answers to which it would be nice to know.  Oh Well.

    How often a collection of few come to the conclusion that they know what’s best for the rest.  Ever was it thus.

  18. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    Keith:  What are your thoughts about the contrast between Grantham’s elevator speech about running out of resources and Monbiot’s “the planet’s real nightmare: not too little fossil fuel ““ but too much“?

  19. Keith Kloor says:

    I do have some thoughts on that, but I need to think them out more.

    Meanwhile, I’m actually not seeing much of a contrast–the difference is maybe one of timeframe. Also, Monbiot has made some assumptions that I’m not sure are warranted–that demand will not outstrip supply in the near future.

    But both men point to the same outcome, eventually.

    The squishy part of Grantham’s essay–the part that needs developing is this bullet point:

    “We must substitute qualitative growth for quantitative growth.”

    This is where Monbiot comes in again, when he says no one has developed a compelling narrative. I interpret that to mean, in part, a steady state economy, if that’s what people think it will take to get us on a sustainable path.

    What are your thoughts?

     

  20. Tom Gray says:

    re 12
     
    lazar writes
     
    In reference to more costly supplies
     
    ===================
    I think when most people talk of scarcity, they mean relative to demand, which is measured by price.
    The potential production rate matters.
    ==================

    Teh issue is not demand. There is adequate suppy to meet the demand. it is a supply issue. Grantham wrote

    “The world is using up its natural resources at an alarming rate”

    and used as evidence a rise in price. There may be vast quantities of a commodity like oil. It is not being used up with the quantity of tar sands in Canada and Venezuela This may not be good fro any program of de-carbonization but there is enough oil available to sustain growth.

  21. Lazar says:

    But surely the point is not the quantity of oil but the price and rate at which it can be extracted. Sustaining growth depends on a *cheap* source of energy.

  22. Eli Rabett says:

    We are conducting an uncontrolled experiment that is altering the land, the air and the oceans. Everything we know says it will end badly, the  uncertainty is when. You can do something about it.

  23. Eli Rabett says:

    There were long discussions about this on sci.environment years ago, principally driven by John “LISP” McCarthy.  When he was finally cornered it turned out that it is perfectly true that you can substitute everything, but only by using an increased amount of energy.
     
    There is on thing that can run out tho even if energy has no cost.  Take a guess.

  24. Tom Gray says:

    re 22 and 23
     

    When I read comments like this I really do find it difficult to be optimistic. This post is about a specific issue which can be analyzed and discussed rationally. The discussion up to 22 and 23 was on that rational level. However like all things in AGW it quickly deteriorates into irrational rhetoric.
     
    The issue is whether ” When I read comments like this I really do find it difficult to be optimistic. This post is about a specific issue which can be analyzed and discussed rationally. The discussion up to 22 and 23 was on that rational level with useful contributions from differign viewpoints. However with 22 and 23, we moved away from rational discourse and into the unfortunate but unexpected irrational bickering that makes up the AGW debate
     
    The issue is: ” The world is using up its natural resources at an alarming rate, and this has caused a permanent shift in their value.”. That  is whether the world running out of  physical resources and is that indicated by a change in price level. This is a specific issue that can be discussed  and dissected rationally. We can create an understanding that will illuminate the issue and possibly, just possibly, create a useful contribution, however slight,  to the resolution of the AGW issue The discussion up to 22 and 23 was on that rational level with useful contributions from differing viewpoints. However with 22 and 23, we moved away from rational discourse and into the unfortunate but not unexpected irrational bickering that makes up the AGW debate
     
     
    In 22 ands 23, we moved to the level of the irrational cliche and the irrelevancy.  22 is a cliche that has no relevance or utility here. 23 is another form of that cliche that is masked as a scientific statement but in reality says nothing. It is an agreement with one point of view disguised to look as if it supports the opposite.  It says nothing in a great many words. 2 + 2 = 4 except when it doesn’t.
     
    AGW is potentially a grave issue that needs a rational discourse to address. What it does not need are cheap irrational cliches and juvenile debating tactics.

  25. Tom Gray says:

    Sorry about the editing mistake in 24.

    ================

    When I read comments like this I really do find it difficult to be optimistic. This post is about a specific issue which can be analyzed and discussed rationally. The discussion up to 22 and 23 was on that rational level. However like all things in AGW it quickly deteriorates into irrational rhetoric.
    The issue is: ” The world is using up its natural resources at an alarming rate, and this has caused a permanent shift in their value.” That  is whether the world running out of  physical resources and is that indicated by a change in price level. This is a specific issue that can be discussed  and dissected rationally. We can create an understanding that will illuminate the issue and possibly, just possibly, create a useful contribution, however slight,  to the resolution of the AGW issue The discussion up to 22 and 23 was on that rational level with useful contributions from differing viewpoints. However with 22 and 23, we moved away from rational discourse and into the unfortunate but not unexpected irrational bickering that makes up the AGW debate

    In 22 and 23, we moved to the level of the irrational cliche and the irrelevancy.  22 is a cliche that has no relevance or utility here. 23 is another form of that cliche that is masked as a scientific statement but in reality says nothing. It is an agreement with one point of view disguised to look as if it supports the opposite.  It says nothing in a great many words. 2 + 2 = 4 except when it doesn’t.

    AGW is potentially a grave issue that needs a rational discourse to address. What it does not need are cheap irrational cliches and juvenile debating tactics.

  26. stereo says:

    <i>I was taught in my economics lectures about the process of substitution. If a commodity gets expensive then it can be substituted with something else. So if copper gets very expensive, we cna substitute aluminum or iron depending on the application</i>

    Did they teach you that copper is a better conductor and a better material for cabling than iron or aluminium?  You can’t magically make a different element do the job of another one just as well, it’s going to cost, and make the transfer of electrical currents much more difficult.  You can’t send power along fibre, either.

    The price of copper is going up, as is the price of aluminum, as is the price of iron as well.

  27. Keith Kloor says:

    Tom,

    Out of 20-plus comments, why would you give undue weight to one, especially, the rabbet? He has little interest in actual dialogue. His preference is for either grand statements or flaming.

  28. Tom Gray says:

    re 26
     
     
     
    ==============
     
    Did they teach you that copper is a better conductor and a better material for cabling than iron or aluminium?  You can’t magically make a different element do the job of another one just as well, it’s going to cost, and make the transfer of electrical currents much more difficult.  You can’t send power along fibre, either.
     
    =================
     
     
     
    I had a house that had then and has now aluminum wiring. It was common in the 1970s to build houses that way and the building code supported it.
     
     
     
    In some of my structures lectures, we  were taught about strength of materials including steel. One of the improtnat aspects was that the knowledge of the properties of steel and iron had risen to a great level. Structural engineers could design steel structures confidently that went into domains that they could not before.  Knowledge can substitute for steel and iron and aluminum can subsitute for steel in appropriate applications
     
     
     
    Optical interconnect forf communication systems are come. The communications literature is full of acronyms such as FTTH, FTTC, *fiber to the home, fiber to the curb) etc, Local powering of equipment is common and expected.  The power to the home can be generated locally or transmitted from distant generating stations over high tension cables that are made of aluminum.

  29. Tom Gray says:

    re 26
     

    ===============
     
    The price of copper is going up, as is the price of aluminum, as is the price of iron as well.
     
    ====================
     
     
     
    That is not germane to teh question of whether the rise in price is indicative that “The world is using up its natural resources at an alarming rate,”
     
     
     
    It could just as well be indicative that the cost of knowledge is collapsing and will collapse to zero. I can buy a DVD player for less that $20. My father had to pay for his television set with several months pay on an installment plan. My television sets are throw away items. Knowledge is becoming cheap. And the price of commodities is not really rising but only appears to do so because of the fall in prices of everything else. So a pound of iron can by a lot more television sets than previously because the  cost of the knowledge to build television sets is now approaching zero.

  30. Tom Gray says:

    to continue 29
     
    An hypothesis can be put forward to wit that the rising price of commodities is only apparent. In reality, it is the cost of knowledge that is falling to zero and the resulting effect on the price of the items that knowledge produces. So kilogram of iron will buy more television sets than previously because the  cost of the knowledge in the television set, which was once costly, is now zero. That could explain why we ahve low inflation despite rising commodity prices. Teh lack of inflation is difficult to explain under the hypothesis “The world is using up its natural resources at an alarming rate,”
     
     
    The knowledge price collapse hypothesis has just as much plausibility as the hypothesis espoused in the essay. It may be politically  attractive to one side in the AGW debate. That does not make it correct. The fact that the essay’s hypothesis is politically attractive to another side on the AGW debate does not make it right or  wrong either.

  31. Lazar says:

    Tom,
    “So kilogram of iron will buy more television sets than previously because the  cost of the knowledge in the television set, which was once costly, is now zero”
    An increase in productivity is a deflationary pressure (average price levels decrease). Producers of television sets compete to sell at lower prices. $500 buys the same amount of iron and more TV sets… productivity increases GDP right?
    “That could explain why we ahve low inflation despite rising commodity prices. Teh lack of inflation is difficult to explain under the hypothesis “The world is using up its natural resources at an alarming rate,””
    Inflation is caused by changes in GDP relative to changes in the money supply (the velocity of money stays approximately constant).

  32. Eli Rabett says:

    Yes Tom Gray, there were aluminum conductors in houses and many of them burned down because when you use aluminum for wiring you have to take great care to use special connectors and install them properly because Al oxidizes rapiclly on the surface.  Many workmen/owners did not do this properly and many houses burned down.  AFAEK Al ain’t used anymore and if you own a house that has Al wiring you should get it inspected often or rip the stuff out.
     
    As to the discussions with John McCarthy, again, you should go read them.  They are available in sci.environment at google groups.  McCarthy’s point, and it is true, but not very useful, is that you can recapture any element if you have no cost energy.  His source of choice was solar satellites.  If you don’t have no cost energy you are faced with the problem that the cost of recovery from mining depends on how rich the ore is.  Because of this the cost of recovery increases with time as the richest lodes are exploited.  This has reached the point that it pays to mine garbage dumps and auto graveyards (for the stuff in the catalytic converters alone)
     
    There is also an energy issue.  The energy cost of refining Al is very high, esp compared to copper, but the richest copper mines have already been emptied.
     
    In short, you are making a fool of yourself.  Enjoy.

  33. Lazar says:

    If the price of a product changes due to a shift in demand, then there will be a corresponding shift of prices in the opposite direction among other products, but inflation (average price level) will not change.
    If the price of a product changes due to changes in productivity, there is no shift to balance the change, inflation changes.
    Productivity increase; constant money supply exchanged for more products (assuming same velocity of money) necessitates lower prices.

  34. Tom Fuller says:

    Tom Gray, you should challenge the rabett to a Julian Simon style bet.
     
    Two resources not really discussed on this thread–sand is pretty cheap these days. Energy really is too cheap to meter. We’re just not doing very well at capturing it at the moment.
     
    Mineral resources are mostly substitutable or augmentable (a lamentable neologism) when price signals are sent.
     
    Again, this discussion should be bound by two conflicting but true statements:
     
    This planet is finite, as are the resources it contains.
     
    We haven’t even scratched the surface in terms of depleting those resources.

  35. Lazar says:

    … and of course cost energy applies to the mining of energy as well. Conventional oil is cheap because the energy cost is ridiculously low. Growth was fueled by oil because it is cheap. You can have all the oil you would ever need buried under the sea or on the moon, but if you can’t extract it at a fast rate and reasonable energy and financial costs then it is effectively scarce. 3 trillion barrels of shale oil does not directly compare to 1 trillion barrels of conventional reserves, because a) shale oil production is less efficient, so more reserves are used in production, and b) shale oil has a lower EROEI, so more external energy is used in production.

  36. Lazar says:

    and c) environmental costs.

  37. willard says:

    There should be a bet bot, but meanwhile:
     
    longbets.org

  38. harrywr2 says:

    <i>The world is using up its natural resources at an alarming rate</i>
    If we add a slight modification then we are getting closer to fact.
    The world is using up its inexpensively extractable natural resources at an alarming rate
     
    Of course this has been true since the days of whale oil.
    Inexpensively extractable copper may be running out…substitution in non-electrical applications such as plumbing and roofing has been underway for decades.
    Inexpensive aluminum may be running out..aluminum siding on homes is largely a thing of the past…substitution with composites is well underway in the aerospace industry.
    Inexpensively extractable oil may be running out, substitution in electrical generation and space heating has been underway for decades.
     

  39. Eli Rabett says:

    Julian Simon lost a bet Tom.  He was 1-1 on these things.  The bet with Erlich was an energy bet at the bottom, just the sort of thing Eli was talking about.  BTW, Eli won a bet with John McCarthy.  You could look it up.
     
    Harry has it mostly right that “the world is using up  inexpensively extractable natural resources at an alarming rate”, but he is wrong on Aluminium, it’s not that cheap bauxite is running out, it’s that cheap hydro is running out.  Why do you think that US Al industry is on the left coast and why do you think CA Al is where it is.  Why do you think NO is a big Al producer?
     
    Same thing goes for silicon.  Sand is cheap, but, of course refining it to Si releases CO2 via SiO2 + C –> Si + CO2, converting it into SiHCl3 using that to grow PV grade Si by CVD is pretty expensive in energy terms (although the price has fallen by a factor of 2 in the last couple of years)

  40. Eli Rabett says:

    Oh yeah, the big issue today in electronics is indium for solders

  41. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    @Keith (#19) My thoughts are that we have multiple problems and it doesn’t work well to try to condense them all into a single point of view.
     
    Economics has traditionally been about allocating scarce goods and negative externalities have been treated as small perturbations. Around 1990, Ulrich Beck and some others started pushing the point of view that industrial capitalism had made great strides in addressing the scarce goods, but at a cost of producing abundant bads. To Beck, economics needs to change its focus because the negative externalities are now wagging the dog.
     
    I think there’s a lot to this idea. Grantham is stuck in the Malthusian scarce goods way of thinking. Monbiot is looking at things more from Beck’s point of view. There is no contradiction, but the difference in emphasis is important to me at reminding us not to take too narrow a view in our analysis.
     
    Further, Eli brings up a crucial point. Substitutions are possible but they often come at a cost. There’s usually a good reason why we didn’t make the substitution until scarcity pushed us to it.
     
    On another tangent, scarcity of raw materials becomes very important for clean energy. Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi point out that if the world transitions to 100% wind, water, and sun energy, this transition will use up a very large fraction of the known world supply of many elements including lithium, silver, indium, tellurium, and neodymium. Similarly, if the world were to transition to 100% nuclear power, uranium scarcity would become a real issue.
     
    Thus, we need to learn new ways to think about the many dimensions of these environmental problems, considering the interactions between scarce inputs and excessive negative outputs.
     
    There are also very interesting connections between the Malthusian vs. Cornucopian view of limits to growth and the implications of these two points of view for globalism in trade, but that’s a topic for another thread. The teaser is that Malthusianism is compatible with Ricardian comparative advantage and thus goes with support for globalization, whereas Cornucopian thinking implies that globalization is not win-win and tends to support protectionist trade policies. Details can be found in Ralph Gomory and William Baumol, Global Trade and Conflicting National Interest (MIT 2001)

  42. JD Ohio says:

    KK the next time you do a column on the inability of people to absorb science or well-known facts, you need to consider this column.  Grantham is simply repeating well-known Malthusian fallacies, which have been effectively disproved by Julian Simon.
    The earth is not finite in any meaningful sense that will affect humans for the foreseeable future. Hundreds of millions of additional Chinese and Indian educated minds as well as the Internet serve to strengthen and supercharge Simon’s principles.  The newly found ability to extract gas from Shale, and the huge supplies of gas that can now be extracted confirm the validity of Simon’s work.  Many extremely bright people believe we are on the cusp of being able to produce oil from bacteria, and if that happens oil will become more abundant in the future.  If not it is virtually inevitable that cheaper substitutes will be found as scientific knowledge increases exponentially.
    JD

  43. Tom Gray says:

    re 32
    I’ve been insulted by Eli Rabbett. I guess that means that I have been around.
     
    eli – everything that you said in 32. I said in my comments above
     
    The issue that came from the essay is
     
    There is a rise in price in commodities. The essay proposes that this came from:
     
    a)The world is using up its natural resources at an alarming rate,

    or as I said, this could be a result of b)  a switch to resources which are more costly to extract. Read it Eli, it is right there as one of the first comments

    Or it could be something else entirely such as the collapse of the cost of knowledge.

    This is the question posed by the essay. Is the world running out of resources or it is not? It would be useful to discuss this.

    However an old debating trick is to shout very loudly that your “opponent” is incorrect and produce “evidence” about another question. So Eli, if you have something to add about the interesting question raised by the original essay then I would be interested in reading it. However if you are going to shout very loudly to end a fruitful discussion then I won’t be paying much attention

  44. Stu says:

    We could use a tonne of thorium to produce energy, or we could use 3.5 million tonnes of coal in producing the same amount of energy. Thorium ain’t exactly scarce, either.

  45. Keith Kloor says:

    Jonathan (42),
    I agree that Grantham’s essay is too reductionistic–at least for my taste. (I am no Malthusian, either.) I also don’t think there is a one-size-fits all solution to the issues he lays out, such as resource depletion, environmental degradation, etc.
     

  46. harrywr2 says:

    Eli Rabett Says:

    <i>but he is wrong on Aluminium, it’s not that cheap bauxite is running out, it’s that cheap hydro is running out</i>
     
    Actually our cheap hydro is doing quite well. If Eli will jog his memory back to the Washington Woops issue…ordered 5 nuclear plants but only 1 was ever completed. We didn’t replace those non-completed nuke plants with anything else. The projected demand for Aluminum never materialized.
    Aluminum Siding went out of style and Beverage Can recycling went into style.
    I do take Eli’s point that it wasn’t a shortage of Bauxite that caused demand for Aluminum to slump…it was the energy intensity difference between ‘new aluminum’ and ‘recycled aluminum’. The US Steel industry suffered a similar fate.
    In any case…it won’t be aluminum sucking up the Pacific Northwests hydropower…it’ll be carbon fiber production.
    BMW Just completed it’s first carbon fiber factory in Washington State with another 5 planned.  http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/blog/2011/04/grant-county-sglbmw-carbon-fiber.html
     
     

  47. Tom Gray says:

    Yet another theory. It was referred to in the essay
     
    The cheap money policies of today are causing inflation, This inflation is showing up ion the cost of commodities. However i the inflation is masked by the cpntinuing cost reditions on manufactured goods due to teh collapse of the price of knowledge and communication
     
     

  48. Regarding “too cheap to meter” energy. I filled the tank on my little Scion XD today; $38. If you live on the coast it would be closer to $50. As I was doing so, a cab pulled out of the gas station. On its trunk it had an ad for new laptop computers at $279. You can get a laptop computer for six tanks of gas. Ten years ago it was 50 tanks of gas for something that kept failing. Twenty years ago it was 300 tanks of gas for something which you could manage to lug through an airport (I remember that actual luggable Compaq fondly) that only an engineer would want. Thirty years ago the idea of a genuinely portable computer was unimaginable.
     
    Yet energy prices have been increasingly volatile and slowly climbing.
     
    There is a fundamental difference here, and expecting the same pattern to apply to energy as applies to information technology misses something important. Computers can be scaled. Energy cannot. You can’t make a watt out of a smaller amount of inputs in the same way that you can make a memory bit or a byte register ever smaller, and you never will be able to. The only breakthrough to be had is to miniaturize ourselves; if we each weighed an ounce we might fend off resource limitations for a long time. Failing that, we are faced with hard limits.
     
    Information technology was a special kind of breakthrough. Science is not magic. It’s a very bad mistake to anticipate that kind of improvement in other fields.
     
    This is surprisingly not too far from what Tom Gray says in #48.
     

  49. Stu says:

     
    reminds me of the quote
     
    ‘if the cost of travel had kept pace with the cost of computing, then we could all go to the moon and back for a dollar’
     
    (not sure who said it)
     
     
     

     

  50. Matt B says:

    I don’t always agree with Michael Tobis, but when I do, I prefer Comment 49…..

    If you are ever pitched a business plan (not involving semiconductors/info technology/etc), and they invoke a cost of goods sold projection that mimics Moore’s Law, then run, don’t walk, away from that “opportunity” as fast as possible……

  51. stereo says:

    Information technology was a special kind of breakthrough. Science is not magic. It’s a very bad mistake to anticipate that kind of improvement in other fields.
     
    That’s right.  Scientists are now actively engaged in a conspiracy to enslave us all to communism, at the same time they are going to be magically creating a free enterprise solution to any problems we will encounter in the future using those impressive powers of intellect they posses.

  52. harrywr2 says:

    In related news –
    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-05-09/south-african-coal-up-0-3-percent-to-123-93-a-ton-correct-.html
    “Coal prices at South Africa’s Richards Bay Coal Terminal, the continent’s biggest export facility for the fuel…Prices gained 0.3 percent to $123.93 a metric ton May 3 to 6… They’ve risen 33 percent in the past 12 months.”
     
     

  53. I’m getting old.
     
    My argument stands but the timing is off. The first luggable computer came out thirty years ago.
     
    http://twentytwowords.com/2011/05/10/magazine-ads-for-the-first-commercially-successful-laptop-1981/
     
    The link calls it a “laptop” but you could not use one of these suitcase computers in your lap. It was an exciting development, though.
     

  54. Eli Rabett says:

    The lab had one of those.

  55. Paul in Sweden says:

    Keith, If Jeremy Grantham was in the Coal or Oil biz and not in his current position as Carbon-EcoFund-Rent-Seeker would your post differ?

  56. Paul in Sweden says:

    “May 10th, 2011 at 11:10 am

    I’m getting old.

    My argument stands but the timing is off. The first luggable computer came out thirty years ago.”

    “I’m getting old.” Me too… I remember that Osboborne and my own TRS-80 4P with 2 floppies, C+,assembler compilers which cost me $999.00 back in ’83 and the 500 bucks I paid for my 500baud modem so I could be on the Internet.

    However, I don’t believe a real portable computer came along until I got my first SunMicrosystems Sparc portable and the horror of TSA making me boot the thing in front of them at Logan Airport.

  57. Paul in Sweden says:

    Wait, I think that was 500 bucks for a 300baud modem. The faster modems came out a few years later.

  58. stereo says:

    Let them eat computer chips.

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