Wall Street Journal: The World's Resources Aren't Running Out
As I listen to conversations about our economic future, I hear two visions of the future being articulated and I think both are inaccurate. First, there are what I call the Malthusians. They see a world of imminent collapse, limits to growth, exhausted resources, and such. We are warned that if we keep going the way we are, X will run out, or Y will be destroyed. And they are right ... if there "if" stays true. And that is just the point. We don't keep going they way we are presently going when challenges emerge. We innovate. We substitute better models of doing things for the old ones. We substitute more plentiful materials for ones becoming more costly or scarce. The Malthusians have been singing their chorus of collapse for 200 years and they have always been wrong. And we still at the beginning, not the end, of learning how to address a multitude of problems that have continually plagued us.
I call the second group the Cornucopians. They see a world of unprecedented technological breakthroughs that will effortlessly make the world of 2100s like a utopia compared to our day. Now I will confess that I lean toward the Cornucopian side of this continuum and I believe the world will be a much better place. But I also look back over the last 200 years since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and while I see unquestionable improvement in the world's standard of living that is in accelerated upward movement, I also see great wars, injustices, and waste that happened along the way. The future is likely to hold more of the same.
As someone who works continuously at integerating faith and economics, I am deeply persuaded that growth is going to happen, that innovation and substitution is going to trip up the Malthusians once again. But that doesn't mean the process change is always going to painless and without injustice. And if the church is to have a meaningful impact on shaping our coming world, it has to live in this reality. Regretably, most of my Mainline Protestant tribe has succombed to Malthusian visions, and rather than working as a force to shape the new world, equates working against its emergence as a prophetic witness. Meanwhile, more conservative Christians seem to carry on as if just implementing free markets and making America strong is all we need. Unless this changes, the church, in America at least, will find itself swept along by these economic and technological changes, not shaping them.
Matt Ridely recently wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal called The World's Resources Aren't Running Out. A very much resonate with what has written in this piece.
"Ecologists worry that the world's resources come in fixed amounts that will run out, but we have broken through such limits again and again.
"... But here's a peculiar feature of human history: We burst through such limits again and again. After all, as a Saudi oil minister once said, the Stone Age didn't end for lack of stone. Ecologists call this "niche construction"—that people (and indeed some other animals) can create new opportunities for themselves by making their habitats more productive in some way. Agriculture is the classic example of niche construction: We stopped relying on nature's bounty and substituted an artificial and much larger bounty.
Economists call the same phenomenon innovation. What frustrates them about ecologists is the latter's tendency to think in terms of static limits. Ecologists can't seem to see that when whale oil starts to run out, petroleum is discovered, or that when farm yields flatten, fertilizer comes along, or that when glass fiber is invented, demand for copper falls.
That frustration is heartily reciprocated. Ecologists think that economists espouse a sort of superstitious magic called "markets" or "prices" to avoid confronting the reality of limits to growth. The easiest way to raise a cheer in a conference of ecologists is to make a rude joke about economists. ..."