05 December 2008

Irish Times
By John Gibbons

Growth and the pursuit of growth is the secular religion of the western world, and its dogma is infecting every society.

BRIAN COWEN and Enda Kenny suffer from this. So does Gordon Brown and at least nine in 10 other world leaders. All are labouring under the same crippling psychosis. This is their shared conviction that, whatever the problem, the solution lies in economic growth.

So deeply ingrained has the notion of relentless, limitless growth become that to suggest that it may be the cause of, rather than the solution to, our greatest challenges borders on heresy.

Growth and the pursuit of growth is the secular religion of the western world, and its dogma is gradually infecting every society on Earth via globalisation. Every cult needs its clergy, and the high priests of growth are our economists. Purporting to understand such magic as the "hidden hand of the marketplace", economists have been feted by presidents and parliaments as the new alchemists, with their dazzling theories suffused with the promise of technological transubstantiation that will somehow lift us beyond the mortal limits of our fragile blue planet.

These sorcerers have led politicians and populations alike to believe that they alone understood and could tame the raging marketplace, while extracting from it an infinity of goods to sate our ever-expanding appetites.

Perhaps their greatest sleight of hand has been in selling the notion of infinite growth within a finite - and sharply declining - ecosystem. Take Robert Solow, a Nobel Prize-winning US economist. "The world can, in effect, get along without natural resources," was his breathtakingly myopic analysis.

Ask an economist to value a forest, and he'll tell you how much timber sells by the tonne. The Amazon releases 20 billion tonnes of water into the atmosphere every day, free of charge. Forests control floods, purify water, protect biodiversity and keep the planet habitable, but what does this matter to a hedge fund manager? Another trick, called temporal discounting, allows economists to sell our children's future down the heavily polluted river in favour of short-term profit.

Yet this analytical vacuity is the norm, not the exception, among the economic elite. Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, dressed up political ideology and passed it off as rational economics, while cheerfully choreographing the world's greatest financial crisis since the 1930s. None of this has dented the collective self-confidence of the ruling cabal of economists, nor cooled the media's love affair with them.

Tune in to RTÉ or Today FM any day of the week to hear the very economists who sold us the poison during the boom years; now they are peddling their repackaged "cures" in the form of the latest economic elixirs of growth. Heavy drinkers will be familiar with this logic: it's called the hair of the dog.

In nature, growth is a phase, leading to the equilibrium of maturity. An adult that continues growing can only do so by becoming obese. Within the body, cells that multiply exponentially in an otherwise stable organism are more commonly known as a cancerous growth or tumour. The World Wildlife Fund's Living Planet Index has tracked the ecological health of the world since 1970. Its 2008 report found that total planetary resources have been permanently depleted by 30 per cent in well under four decades.

"The possibility of financial recession pales in comparison to the looming ecological crunch," said the fund. The report found that three in four people live in countries that have exceeded their own ecological limits. Ireland is well up the debtor list. We consume resources requiring three times the amount of land actually available globally per person. We are ecologically as well as economically in hock. You really wouldn't want to be around when this debt is called in.

For now, we continue propping up our house of cards by rapidly running down the ecological capital of other countries to maintain our astonishing bubble of affluence. In famine times, this was called eating the seed corn. When our political elite, guided by their hierarchy of economics believe they can cure the recession by "jump-starting" the consumption-driven economy and so plunge us deeper into ecological debt, you see just how the cancer cult of growth economics has metastasised throughout the body politic.

Capitalism, in the words of John Maynard Keynes, an economist now back in vogue having been deemed passé by the seeming triumph of right-wing political ideology, "is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the good of everybody".

Many people who live in man-made environments like cities may wonder what ecology has got to do with them. Put simply, our environment is to human survival and wellbeing what water is to a fish. If growth is toxic, what about the alternatives? In 1972, a group called the Club of Rome published its prescient book, The Limits to Growth .

Reaching what they call equilibrium would require hard choices. We would have to trade some freedoms, such as the right to have unlimited population growth and resource consumption, "for other freedoms, such as relief from pollution and crowding and the threat of collapse of the world system".

In the 36 years since its publication, Earth now bends under the burden of an additional 3.3 billion people. As we fret about declining property prices, philosopher Henry David Thoreau's observation was never truer: "What good is a house, if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?"

19 September 2008

An excellent summary by George Mobus of just what is wrong with our financial and economic systems. Go to his blog for more details and read the discussions on TheOilDrum. Now if only those imbecilic bankers and economists who advise our politicians and run our financial institutions would pay greater attention to such writings, our world would be a better place.

1) ALL economic activity is work in the physical sense.

2) ALL work requires the flow of energy from a high potential source, through the work process, to a low potential sink.

3) The guidance of energy flow through the work process requires knowledge (of the process and its control model) and information regarding the energy potential available.

4) In the economy money acts as an information token representing the availability of energy to do work at the micro level.

5) Monetary policies have been crafted to disconnect the meaning of money as energy available to do useful work; money is now a commodity a-la Friedman. Money no longer serves as a measure of available energy. Though its flow, counter to actual energy flow, still acts to guide presumptive energy flow.

6) Fractional reserve banking, loaning some portion of an account to a borrower on the idea that the borrower will use that money as if there were energy to do useful work (unconsciously of course) and produce some additional wealth worked as long as net energy (ERoEI) was increasing over time.

7) Until at least the 1970s net energy had been increasing over time, hence the credit system worked because the debt could, in theory, be paid back in a subsequent time period due to the net increase in wealth-production potential.

8) With the advent of production of harder to obtain (lower ERoEI) oil, net energy gain started to decline (creating the top deflection in the peak curve). As net energy gain started to decline it became increasingly difficult to have an increase in wealth-production capacity -- it became harder to repay loans.

9) Since money value had been decoupled from energy available to do work the signal that loans would be harder to pay back was lost.

10) Sometime between the end of the 70' and into the 80's we found it necessary to continue what amounts to a re-financing scheme, chasing more debt to cover previous debt (note: this is also tied to incomes as evidenced in the growing need for two or more wage earners per household and a lot of corporate merger activities, etc.).

11) In order to generate caches of money to appear as if wealth was being created, market manipulations and speculation took on its own life. 'Sophisticated' schemes (slights of hand) have been invented to keep the illusion that wealth is being created -- now defined in monetary terms rather than hard assets with fixed values. But the wealth is just marks on paper (or registers in a computer memory). Real wealth has been in decline, e.g. the infrastructure decay.

12) With the peak of oil production (or plateau) the total net energy available to do work is starting its downward slide. All borrowing against a future when there would be more, not less, energy is futile. There is no PHYSICAL way that those loans can be paid back. All financial schemes that are based on debt being repaid are doomed to failure. The First Law of Thermodynamics is rather clear on this account. You cannot create energy out of nothing.

We humans are a smug bunch. We actually think that money is some social construct that has meaning beyond a physical reality. We've operated on that assumption and now the piper will be paid.

None of the financial geniuses that currently spout their theories are able to explain what is happening. They cannot predict what will come next. They talk about a "bottom" for this or that market. But there is no bottom as long as net energy is in decline. When total energy really starts to decline (post-peak oil) the s**t will really hit the fan.

01 August 2008

A succinct criticism of modern economics by Clive Ponting in A New Green History of the World, pp. 132-135. I heartily recommend this book which I borrowed from the Singapore National Library. It is a stimulating, concise overview of civilizations' impact on the environment.

There is a fundamental flaw in classical economics and all the modern systems derived from it -- Marxist, welfare, Keynesian and modern ultra-liberal economics. They all deal only with the secondary problem of the distribution of scarce resources between competing ends and how the optimal allocation of resources can be achieved. The resources of the earth are treated as capital - a set of assets to be turned into a source of profit. Trees, wildlife, minerals, water and soil are simply commodities to be sold or developed. More important, their price is simply the cost of extracting them and turning them into marketable commodities. Yet this view ignores the basic fact that the resources of the earth are not just scarce, they are finite. Economics is unable to incorporate this fact into its analysis and so the economic systems based upon it encourage both the producer and the consumer to use up resources at whatever rate current market conditions dictate. Economics assumes, in defiance of all logic, that resources, in terms of land, materials and energy, are inexhaustible and that growth in the overall level of the economy can continue for ever. It also assumes that as one material or source of energy becomes scarce its price will rise and this will encourage the development of substitutes. In the short term this is certainly possible but the process cannot be continued indefinitely into the future. There is no way in economics that current prices can take account of the problems that will have to be faced in the future. (Since there is in theory an almost infinite future ahead of human societies current prices would have to be infinite in order to conserve them for that future.) Instead, economics argues that since the most rational action for individuals and hence societies is to pursue immediate self-interest then there is no need to take account of posterity.

Another problem for economics is that markets and therefore prices do not reflect true costs. Some commodities such as air never enter a market mechanism and are therefore treated as free goods available to all. However, as early industrial societies found out, if commodities such as air and water are treated as free then levels of pollution will rise rapidly because firms do not have to pay a price for the smoke and gases they put into the air or for the waste products and effluent that they tip into rivers. The rest of society does, however, bear the cost of such activities - water not fit for drinking, air not fit to breathe or even simple problems such as people's washing becoming dirty through air pollution. These 'externalities' can only be controlled through government regulation.

Many of these problems are also reflected in the failure of GDP to measure the real state of society and the economy. GDP does not measure some sorts of activity and economic contributions, for example housework if it is done without wages being involved, subsistence agriculture and voluntary community work. The 'black economy' (which is very large in some countries) is by definition not measured. There are also problems with what GDP does measure. It includes many items that are not benefits to society as a whole. For example, the shorter the life of cars and the more frequently they break down, the greater will be the amount of activity in an economy and the level of GDP will rise. This ignores the fact that individuals (unless employed in a car factory of a garage) would be better off if they had more reliable, longer-lasting cars. GDP also takes no account of some of the effects of using cars - higher levels of pollution and greater traffic congestion and delays. Other social problems such as poor housing and health care are also not included. On the other hand some social problems actually lead to a rise in GDP. In the United States as levels of crime continue to rise one of the major growth industries has been in crime prevention and security. This is not worth $65 billion a year and makes its contribution to GDP but its doubtful whether this measures and overall benefit to society. Similarly over-eating, obesity and an obsession with weight have created a diet industry worth $32 billion a year and the stresses of modern life have resulted in sales of Prozac worth $1.2 billion a year, both of which increase GDP. The growing doubts about the failure of GDP to reflect social costs and problems have led in the last couple of decades to attempts to create better measures of the real increase in the standard of living, taking account of factors such as pollution, traffic congestion, crime, health care and access to education. One of these measures is the Genuine Progress Indicator or GPI and it reflects a very different picture from the GDP. In the second half of the twentieth century the GDP per head in the United States rose from $12,000 to $35,000, suggesting a near tripling in the standard of living. However, the GPI would suggest that the standard of living taking account of wider social problems increased by only 8 per cent.

Only a small minority of economists have tried to deal with these deeper questions and raised doubts about the ability of conventional economics to deal with environmental questions. E. F. Schumacher in his book Small is Beautiful, published in the early 1970s, argued for an approach to economics 'as if people mattered'. He never created a coherent economic theory but argued that efforts should be concentrated on questions about the appropriate size and scale for activities and technology and identifying the real needs of people rather than assuming they would be met by ever increasing levels of production and consumption. He characterized this approach as "Buddhist Economics" and although his writings became international bestsellers his ideas have had little impact on policy makers or mainstream economics. Another trenchant analysis of the shortcomings of traditional economics was made by Hazel Henderson in her book Creating Alternative Futures published in 1978. Like Schumacher she criticized the fragmentation of economic thought, its failure to take into account humanity's dependence on the natural world and its even greater failure to recognize the values and unspoken assumptions that lie deeply embedded within it. The result, according to Henderson, is that:
Economics has enthroned some of our most unattractive predispositions: material acquisitiveness, competition, gluttony, pride, selfishness, shortsightedness, and just plain greed.

Excerpts from:


Thomas Homer-Dixon gets at this issue of resilience in his recent book, "The Upside of Down." His number one recommendation is to build more resilience into every system we rely on including food production, transportation, education, manufacturing and governance. But the momentum in the global economy is toward further specialization at the behest of the world's policymaking elites which are dominated by neoclassical economists. Their solution to the problems of modern civilization is more complexity and more specialization.

That is what one expects from complex civilizations, according to Joseph Tainter, author of "The Collapse of Complex Societies." Such societies have been successful precisely because they have adopted complex strategies for taming the natural world and repelling their human enemies. These societies are designed for complexity. More than that they believe in complexity because new layers of complexity have helped to solve problems again and again in the past.

And yet, Tainter notes, there comes a time when returns on complexity begin to diminish and then actually decline. This idea seems alien to us. But, our belief in technological progress is really a belief in the effectiveness of added layers of complexity in solving our problems. Yet, even those who trumpet a future sustainable industrial paradise rarely speak of the downside of increased complexity. Its primary downside is a lack of resilience. Severe shocks--war, plague, resource depletion, climate change--become ever more difficult to respond to effectively.

29 July 2008

The Inter-Ministerial Committee on Sustainable Development that was set up in February this year is asking for feedback on how Singapore can continue to be "lively, liveable and sustainable." I urge you to give your feedback to them here:


Here's my feedback to them:

Dear Singapore Government,

if you want a permanent long term solution to a sustainable Singapore, please consider the works of ecological economists such as Herman Daly, Brian Czech, and Robert Costanza. Please re-examine the questionable notions that relentless economic and population growth are always essential and favourable to our well-being.

According to some peak oil experts, we have probably reached the peak in global oil production. World net oil exports and production have plateaued since 2005 and according to some estimates will decline sharply from 2012. Peak oil imposes limits to growth.


I suggest the following:

1. Negative population growth. Please understand that our carrying capacity is limited by food availability. If global oil production declines from 2012 and natural gas after 2020, so will global food production. Considering that we import 90% of our food sources, what will we eat then? We can either choose to reduce our numbers in orderly fashion, or Nature will deal with it unsympathetically.


2. Intensify efforts to develop solar energy even if they are not currently economically feasible because it will be too late to mitigate the severe consequences if we wait for market price signals. The Hirsch Report states that we need a crash program at least 20 years before the peak to transition smoothly.


3. Implement sustainable organic urban farming by learning from the Cubans who successfully overcame their artificial peak oil crisis in the early 1990s after the collapse of the former Soviet Union.


4. A Steady State Economy: "An economy viewed as a subsystem in dynamic equilibrium with the parent ecosystem / biosphere that sustains it. Quantitative growth is replaced with qualitative development or improvement as the basic goal."

Herman Daly:

'Sustainable development' therefore makes sense for the economy, but only if it is understood as 'development without growth'—i.e., qualitative improvement of a physical economic base that is maintained in a steady state by a throughput of matter-energy that is within the regenerative and assimilative capacities of the ecosystem. Currently the term 'sustainable development' is used as a synonym for the oxymoronic 'sustainable growth.' It must be saved from this perdition.

5. Segregated cycle facilities or bicycle lanes on the roads. Petrol prices and car ownership will become prohibitively expensive in the coming years and getting around on a bicycle is one way to beat the transportation blues besides having to squeeze into our already packed buses and trains during rush hour. It's also a good way to keep fit and to reduce air pollution.


6. Adopt the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) as a metric of progress and well-being. The GDP as the public policy think tank, Redefining Progress, puts it:
[GDP] is merely a gross tally of products and services bought and sold, with no distinctions between transactions that add to well-being, and those that diminish it. Instead of separating costs from benefits, and productive activities from destructive ones, the GDP assumes that every monetary transaction adds to well-being, by definition
The GPI takes into account more than twenty aspects of our economic lives that the GDP ignores. It includes estimates of the economic contribution of numerous social and environmental factors which the GDP dismisses with an implicit and arbitrary value of zero. It also differentiates between economic transactions that add to well-being and those which diminish it. The GPI then integrates these factors into a composite measure so that the benefits of economic activity can be weighed against the costs.

The GPI is intended to provide citizens and policy-makers with a more accurate barometer of the overall health of the economy, and of how our national condition is changing over time.

A truly sustainable Singapore calls for a paradigm shift in our position towards growth. If we don't carry out the necessary steps as suggested above by some scientists and ecological economists, the outcome of our present policies in the years ahead will be calamitous for us as a nation. Stop thinking economically only and start thinking ecologically too.

27 July 2008

This video was created by Jay Hanson - creator of www.dieoff.org and www.warsocialism.com. He explains how and why economic growth is limited by declining energy returns (EROEI).

Under a one-for-one scenario, even if the price of oil reaches $5,000 a barrel, it won't make energy-sense to look for oil in the lower 48 because that would consume as much energy as it would recover.

Even if one paid a ton of gold per barrel, one still could not get net energy out of a well that consumes as much as it produces!
The high resolution version can be found here:


YouTube Version

The term "lower 48" in the video refers to the 48 states of the USA in the North American continent - excluding Alaska and Hawaii.

As you watch this video, ask yourself: do our political and business leaders have any inkling of our limits to growth? A casual reading of the newspapers will provide you with some insight to the current zeitgeist - the cultural and intellectual spirit of the times - that growth is imperative and it must not and cannot be stopped. These "growthists" are going to fall flat when they confront declining global oil production and exhaustion of our natural resources.


I sat down with a friend who works in Saudi Arabia last night and had a long conversation. For obvious reason I cannot revel his name. Also his job does not give him access to production numbers, and certainly not decline rates, so he can only tell me what he has observed in his many years in Saudi.

He says there have been dramatic changes in Saudi in the last few years. He says there has been a massive influx of new employees in ARAMCO. Many of them, he says, are from Venezuela, anti-Chavezites who were fired by Chavez during the strike...

...And here is my assessment, my educated guess, at what is happening in Saudi. I think Saudi is at least 60% depleted and only heroic efforts are keeping them from a steep decline. They have found that they can keep production up by greatly increasing the injection water and poking more holes in their fields. Their new wells are horizontal and therefore suck only from the very top of the reservoir. I believe that Saudi is only a year or two away from hitting a decline wall. Reviving old mothballed fields like Khurais will hold the decline off for awhile but when it hits it will hit with a thud.

I believe that Saudi reserves, as well as well as all other OPEC reserves are grossly exaggerated and that is the bombshell that will rock the world when that fact is finally realized by the mainstream media. (Full Thread)

The problem with the Singapore Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) is that they rely too heavily on figures from EIA, CERA and BP without questioning their accuracy. All these sources have proven to be overly optimistic in their oil demand and supply projections and they cite grossly exaggerated oil reserve numbers from OPEC. These dubious sources have been consistently wrong on so many occasions it is surprising they are still quoted on major news networks and regarded as authoritative by government bodies. MTI should be consulting the works and publications of ASPO and TheOilDrum.

CERA's Peak Oil Score Card

Related Link: Energy for [Unsustainable] Growth

Speech by Mr S Iswaran

October 18, 2006

What will the global energy landscape look like in the long term? For one, fossil fuels, such as oil, natural gas and coal will remain the world’s main energy source for the foreseeable future. The US Energy Information Administration, or EIA, estimated that in 2003, 87% of world energy consumption came from oil, natural gas and coal. The EIA projects that in 2030, these three fuels will retain a prominent 86% share of global energy supply. Estimated reserves of fossil fuels are expected to be adequate well beyond 2030. The EIA estimates that oil production will not peak before 2030. World reserves-to-production ratio for natural gas is 67 years, and 180 years for coal. Rising energy prices will also spur more oil and gas exploration and increasingly render unconventional oil, such as tar sands, economically viable. In essence, actual physical reserves of fossil fuels do not appear to be the limiting factor in meeting increasing energy demand in the next few decades. FULL SPEECH

26 July 2008

Dr. Larry Haverkamp writes a weekly financial column, AskDrMoney, in the Singapore tabloid The New Paper.

He seems to be aware of peak oil and our limits to growth. It's not often that one finds articles like these in the Singapore papers and even less so in a tabloid. Signs of the times?

May 27, 2008

The problem is demand from developing nations is real while the supply of resources may be more limited than we had thought. For example, there is no way to know if producing countries have all the oil reserves they claim. No Opec nation has ever permitted an independent audit of its oil fields.

Combine increasing demand with decreasing supplies and what do you get?

Disaster. Expect continuously rising prices, not just for oil but other natural resources as well.

What's worse is that higher prices are merely a reflection of resource shortages.

The world's economies need food, fuel and minerals to operate. Even the most clever technology cannot produce output without inputs.

If resources eventually decline to zero in a few generations, output will also fall to zero.

Then, we will revert to subsistence living, like sophisticated cavemen. Call us the Cro-Magnon smarties. Full Article

July 01, 2008

We saw something like this in 1973 and again in 1982. The US was hit with an oil shortfall, which resulted in both recession and inflation, called stagflation. It spread to Singapore and around the world.

In hindsight, it seems overblown, since everything turned out okay. Prices shot up, then they came down. Growth slowed, then it picked up.

Prosperity returned, as it always does. If it didn't, you would have a permanent recession. The notion is so absurd that no economist in their right mind would even consider it. So I will.

In a worse-case scenario, permanent recession hits and each generation becomes poorer than the last. Gross domestic product (GDP) declines continuously. It eventually hits zero and we return to subsistence living, like our cavemen ancestors.

We may be seeing the beginning of that now.

Demand is out-pacing the world's limited supplies, pushing prices higher. Full Article

Dr. Bartlett on "political correctness":

In their writings the scientists identify the cause of the problems (climate change and peak oil) as being growing populations. But their recommendations for solving the problems caused by population growth almost never include the recommendation that we advocate stopping population growth. Political Correctness dictates that we do not address the current problem of overpopulation in the U.S. and the world.

Let’s look at two prominent examples of this political correctness. The book, “An Inconvenient Truth” (1) was published to accompany Al Gore’s wonderful film by the same name. On page 216 Gore writes; “The fundamental relationship between our civilization and the ecological system of the Earth has been utterly and radically transformed by the powerful convergence of three factors. The first is the population explosion…

It’s clear that Gore understands the role of overpopulation in the genesis of global climate change. The last chapter in the book has the title, “So here’s what you personally can do to help solve the climate crisis.” The list of 36 things starts with “Choose energy-efficient lighting” and runs through an inventory of all of the usual suspects without ever calling for us to address overpopulation! Full Article
It's the same over here in Singapore. Except for the lone voices of Dr. Geh Min, former president of the Singapore Nature Society, and Dr. Linda Lim, professor at Michigan University, I do not recall hearing or reading anything from Singapore scientists, academics or politicians about restraining population growth from an ecological perspective. Why are they not speaking up? Are they being "politically correct"?
With our per-capita energy consumption already among the world's highest, policies such as targeting a further 50 per cent increase in our population and resource-wasting practices like the high turnover of buildings - through collective sales, for example - need to be re-thought. Full Article

23 July 2008

Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of oil extraction is reached.

Peak water? Just substitute "freshwater" for "oil" above.

The Ogallala Aquifer in the United States is one of the largest reservoirs of fossil water in the world. This is water that has been accumulated and trapped underground for thousands and perhaps even millions of years. Part of the aquifer lies beneath the Grain Belt of the United States. Unfortunately, it is being rapidly depleted. The importance of this aquifer to agriculture can hardly be exaggerated.

America is the world's largest exporter of soybeans, corn and wheat. Water shortages in the Grain Belt due to excessive water mining of aquifers can only mean disaster for global food supplies.

U.S. faces era of water scarcity

July 9, 2008

While agriculture in the Colorado Basin faces shortages, farmers to the east in the high plains — tapping the Ogallala Aquifer — have progressively seen their wells dry up. The aquifer is the largest in the United States and sees a depletion rate of some 12 billion cubic meters a year, a quantity equivalent to 18 times the annual flow of the Colorado River. Since pumping started in the 1940s, Ogallala water levels have dropped by more than 100 feet (30 meters) in some areas. Full Report

Global population growth is looming as a bigger threat to the world's food production and water supplies than climate change, a leading scientist says.

Speaking at a CSIRO public lecture in Canberra yesterday, UNESCO's chief of sustainable water resources development, Professor Shahbaz Khan, said overpopulation's impacts were potentially more economically, socially and environmentally destructive than those of climate change.

''Climate change is one of a number of stresses we're facing, but it's overshadowed by global population growth and the amount of water, land and energy needed to grow food to meet the projected increase in population. We are facing a world population crisis.'' REPORT

Encouraging to hear this. Now, if only more high-level civil servants in the Singapore government would echo his message and pay greater attention to the overpopulation problem.

Juxtapose these two statements.

Lee Kuan Yew:

Mr Lee told his 800-strong audience of industry players and economists that he was convinced that Singapore was heading into its most promising decade yet.

"We're going to move into a new plateau, new platform. You can see it visibly before your eyes. In 5 years, it will be good. In 10 years, wonderful," he said. LINK
Energy Watch Group:
The major result from this analysis is that world oil production has peaked in 2006. Production will start to decline at a rate of several percent per year. By 2020, and even more by 2030, global oil supply will be dramatically lower. This will create a supply gap which can hardly be closed by growing contributions from other fossil, nuclear or alternative energy sources in this time frame.

The world is at the beginning of a structural change of its economic system. This change will be triggered by declining fossil fuel supplies and will influence almost all aspects of our daily life.

...The now beginning transition period probably has its own rules which are valid only during this phase. Things might happen which we never experienced before and which we may never experience again once this transition period has ended. Our way of dealing with energy issues probably will have to change fundamentally. LINK
I'm laughing and crying at the same time; laughing because both statements are diametrically opposed and crying because the minister appears to be detached from the physical world that we live in.

22 July 2008

I like the way David Lamb put it:

"We were deeply concerned that there may not be enough oil to go around,'' he said.

Having a strong economy would not protect Australia from a global oil shortage.

"It's like having a pocket full of money and going into a shop with empty shelves.

"Our lifestyle is totally dependent on cheap oil.'' Report
Likewise, Singaporeans ought to ask themselves, what can the billions in our reserves do for us in a post-peak world with empty shelves? At some point in the future, well within my lifetime, delivery of oil and food are going to stop coming in. Won't it be better to now spend the money on sustainability projects like solar energy and urban farming to safeguard our future? Why spend substantial amounts of money investing in banks with toxic debt investments like Citigroup and UBS? What in the world is the government thinking? This is regrettable and deplorable.

20 July 2008

Excerpt from Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, pp. 198-200. This book is available for borrowing at the Singapre National Library.

From 1970 to 1990, the total number of hungry people fell by 16 percent, a decrease typically credited to the green revolution. However, the largest drop occurred in communist China, beyond the reach of the green revolution. The number of hungry Chinese fell by more than 50 percent, from more than 400 million to under 200 million. Excluding China, the number of hungry people increased by more than 10 percent. The effectiveness of the land redistribution of the Chinese Revolution at reducing hunger shows the importance of economic and cultural factors in fighting hunger. However we view Malthusian ideas, population growth remains critical – outside of China, increased population more than compensated for the tremendous growth in agricultural production during the green revolution.

Another key reason why the green revolution did not end world hunger is that increased crop yields depended on intensive fertilizer applications that the poorest farmers could not afford. Higher yields can be more profitable to farmers who can afford the new methods, but only if crop prices cover increased costs for fertilizers, pesticides, and machinery. In third world countries the price of outlays for fertilizers and pesticides increased faster than green revolution crop yields. If the poor can’t afford to buy food, increased harvests won’t feed them.

More ominously, the green revolution’s new seeds increased third-world dependence on fertilizers and petroleum. In India, agricultural output per ton of fertilizer fell by two-thirds while fertilizer use increased sixfold. In West Java a two-thirds jump in outlays for fertilizer and pesticides swallowed up profits from the resulting one-quarter increase in crop yields in the 1980s. Across Asia fertilizer use grew three to forty times faster than rice yields. Since the 1980s falling Asian crop yields are thought to reflect soil degradation from increasingly intensive irrigation and fertilizer use.

Without cheap fertilizers – and the cheap oil used to make them – this productivity cannot be sustained. As oil prices continue climbing this century, this cycle may stall with disastrous consequences. We burned more than a trillion barrels of oil over the past two decades. That’s eighty million barrels a day – enough to stack to the moon and back two thousand times. Making oil requires a specific series of geologic accidents over inconceivable amounts of time…It takes millions of years to produce a barrel of oil; we use millions of barrels a day. There is no question that we will run out of oil – the only question is when.

Estimates for when petroleum production will peak range from before 2020 to about 2040. Since such estimates do not include political or environmental constraints, some experts believe that the peak in world oil production is already at hand… At present, agriculture consumes 30 percent of our oil use. As supplies dwindle, oil and natural gas will become too valuable to use for fertilizer production. Petroleum-based industrial agriculture will end sometime later this century.

Mr Mah said that the AVA was encouraging imports from as many countries as possible to ensure Singapore is not too reliant on one source. Report
We can diversify our food sources as much as we want, but the question is how will the food get here? Oil accounts for more than 95% of the energy used for global transportation. How are we able to transport the food produced hundreds and thousands of miles away to our dinner plates in the face of future oil scarcity?
With oil prices now accounting for almost half of total freight costs, it should come as no surprise that soaring oil prices have translated directly into soaring transport costs (Chart 1). Over the last three years, every one dollar rise in world oil prices has fed directly into a 1% rise in transport costs.

The last thirty years have seen an unprecedented growth in world trade—a phenomenon widely credited with providing the catalyst for the rapid industrialization of economies like China and India. In turn, the reduction in tariffs and non-tariff barriers over decades of multilateral trade negotiations was facilitated by the surge in global trade volumes. But in a world of triple-digit oil prices, soaring transport costs, not tariff barriers, pose the greatest challenge to trade.
Higher energy costs translate directly into higher shipping costs. At today’s oil prices, every 10% increase in trip distance translates into a 4.5% increase in transport costs. The duration of a typical sea voyage from China to North America is four weeks. Including inland costs, shipping a standard 40-foot container from Shanghai to the US eastern seaboard now costs $8,000. In 2000, when oil prices were $20 per barrel, it cost only $3,000 to ship the same container. But at $200 per barrel, it will soon cost $15,000 in transport costs to ship from China to the US eastern seaboard.
In a world of triple-digit oil prices, distance costs money. And while trade liberalization and technology may have flattened the world, rising transport prices will once again make it rounder.
Source: Will Soaring Transport Costs Reverse Globalization? pp.4-7 (PDF File)

16 July 2008

Where is Singapore's White Paper on Peak Oil? Nonexistent.

Where is Singapore's Peak Oil Task Force? Nonexistent.


On the contrary, the Ministry of Trade and Industry seems to think that peak oil will not be around for the next two to three decades. They also wrongly assume that with "more exploration and improvements in extraction technologies, substantial new reserves will be added."

Dear Singapore policymakers, please watch this: Video Link

12 July 2008

I never cease to be amazed at the ignorance and delusional beliefs of some of our top-level public servants when it comes to the subject of Singapore's population or carrying capacity. You will find in today's Straits Times (12 July'08), Insight, p. S8, a report about Singapore's former chief statistician, Dr Paul Cheung, and his views on Singapore's population. Here's what he said:

Singapore has the potential of holding an even bigger population than 6.5 million. The Singapore economic space is far greater than the island itself. Water is less of an issue because of Newater and other technology. And the economic foundations are becoming stronger.

This new era of economic growth requires a new level of manpower supply. Especially with people coming here for lifestyle services, medical treatment, entertainment - and soon for the integrated resorts and F1 race. So I think 6.5 million is a good interim number to work with.

The Next Lap Committee in the 1990s chose to work with a 5 million target. But the carrying capacity of the island has increased and targets evolve depending on circumstances.
Dr Paul Cheung has a skewed understanding and interpretation of the term "carrying capacity". Let's look at the ecological definition:
Ecologists define 'carrying capacity' as the population of a given species that can be supported indefinitely in a defined habitat without permanently damaging the ecosystem upon which it is dependent.

Carrying capacity refers to the number of individuals who can be supported in a given area within natural resource limits, and without degrading the natural social, cultural and economic environment for present and future generations.

With those definitions in mind, how can Dr Paul Cheung say that Singapore's carrying capacity has increased? Have we reduced our foreign food reliance? Have we increased our farm acreage substantially? Since the answer is no, Dr Paul Cheung should have qualified his notion of carrying capacity with the word "phantom" - that is, "phantom carrying capacity":
Phantom Carrying Capacity means either the illusory or the extremely precarious capacity of an environment to support a given life form or a given way of living. It can be quantitatively expressed as that portion of a population that cannot be permanently supported when temporarily available resources become unavailable. LINK
As long as the temporarily available resources, fossil fuels, are readily obtainable and cheap, our population can continue to grow. But it won't be many years before this illusion of perpetual growth and prosperity is shattered as oil production declines.

If our ministers and top civil servants continue to entertain the idea of unrestrained population and economic growth, then Singapore is doomed - not for lack of "manpower supply", but an overabundance of it.

11 July 2008

The economic benefits of living in a very stable world - meaning we're not at war with China - that means that we can enjoy a lot of benefits of having them manufacture all our stuff. We're used to getting all of our household goods now from 12,000 miles away. They're "Made in China". You know everything from frying pans to underpants. What's going to happen if those supply lines to China are interrupted?...We're going to have to downsize and downscale everything we do...The age of the 3,000-mile Caesar salad is coming to an end. We're gonna have to grow more food closer to where we live....
Video Link

10 July 2008

If Singapore thinks it can secure its energy and food supplies through foreign ownership of food and energy resources or businesses, then we had better rethink our policies in light of the news below. Nations rich in natural resources will impose strict restrictions on foreign ownership of their resources out of security concerns. In a world with dwindling natural resources and a burgeoning population, these restrictions will become more extensive and intense. The goal for self-sufficiency is imperative.

The United Arab Emirates is seeking to buy farmland in Vietnam, Cambodia, Africa and South America to secure food supplies for the desert country, the economy minister said in comments published on Wednesday. LINK
Russia laid down official limits on the sale to foreigners of shares in strategic and raw materials companies on Wednesday, giving new regulatory force to the government's grip on Russia's natural resources wealth.

The new ruling by the state markets regulator codifies what the Kremlin has long made clear: the government is loath to see more of Russia's strategic and extractive industries fall into the hands of outsiders. LINK

08 July 2008

A new report by Australia's top scientists predicts that the country will be hit by a 10-fold increase in heatwaves and that droughts will almost double in frequency and become more widespread because of climate change...

Yesterday, Australia's agriculture minister, Tony Burke, described the report as alarming and said: "Parts of these high-level projections read more like a disaster novel than a scientific report."

..."If we failed to review drought policy, if we were to continue the neglect and pretend that the climate wasn't changing, we would be leaving our farms out to dry." LINK
Singapore's Major Sources of Food Supply

Source: AVA p.69

06 July 2008

Singapore's Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) is responsible for our food supply. Their mission:

To ensure a resilient supply of safe food, safeguard the health of animals and plants and facilitate agri-trade for Singapore.
Their goals:
  • Ensure a resilient supply of safe and wholesome food.
  • Safeguard the health of animals, fish and plants.
  • Be a centre of excellence for tropical agritechnology development and services.
  • Facilitate trade in food and agricultural products.
  • Develop a cohesive, innovative and professional workforce.
  • Build a positive image and enhance community outreach.
  • Promote animal welfare.
  • Optimise the utilisation and return on resources.
  • Leverage on IT for efficient service delivery and organisational development.
Sadly, what is not included in their goals is the need to strive for self-sufficiency in food production.

According to AVA's account, we were self-sufficient in the 1970s when it came to the production of poultry, eggs and pork.
We had 14,000 hectares of farmland back then. In the 1980s, unfortunately, large areas of agricultural land were cleared to make way for housing and industry and today we are down to 764 hectares of farmland - 95% of farm area gone.

I inquired NParks about peak oil and food production recently. As they were not responsible for our food supplies, they forwarded my inquiries to AVA and I received the following response:

I thank AVA for their reply but I am troubled with the fact that they wrote "Singapore does not intend to achieve self-sufficiency through local food production".

Surely AVA must be aware of how dependent our food supplies are on crude oil and natural gas. Crude oil, which has probably peaked in production since 2005, is used to run farm machinery, to manufacture pesticides and herbicides, to package food, and to fuel trucks, ships and planes which transport food over thousands of miles to unload their cargo here.

Conventional natural gas, a major feedstock for use in fertilizer production will peak between 2018 and 2020 according to some estimates.
Modern industrial agriculture really is indirectly the eating of fossil fuels. Our current system of energy-chemical-intensive farming is unsustainable and will be short-lived.

Does AVA not realise the adverse ramifications that dwindling fossil fuels will have on global food production? How then can we not strive to be self-sufficient in food production? I am baffled. As difficult as it is, we have to try one way or another and perhaps learn from the Cubans who successfully carried out organic sustainable urban farming when they had their own artificial peak oil after the collapse of the former Soviet Union. See video below:

(One of the first steps to food self-sufficiency is to deal with the overpopulation problem here in Singapore.)

As food supply is a matter of national security, I believe the government should not dismiss the idea of food self-sufficiency just because it is "commercially unviable" or "economically unfeasible". We don't outsource our national defence to mercernaries or foreign armies, so why should we be so dependent on foreigners for 90% of our food supplies? There are five aspects to our nation's Total Defence concept:
Military, Civil, Economic, Social and Psychological Defence. What is sorely lacking is Food and Energy Defence.

Some have argued that we need not worry because Singapore is rich enough to outbid other food importing nations to secure our food supplies. This view is wrong for two reasons:

1) Money or the system of finance and banking that we have now will become highly unstable and unreliable when the world economies grind to a halt and contract due to peak oil. It is likely that paper currency and dollars will no longer be accepted as payment for international trade because buyers and sellers will realise that they do not hold any life-preserving or life-enchancing value when compared to tangible and material goods such as food and oil. Commerce and trade will be done via barter. See reports here and here.

2) Resource nationalism and the hoarding of commodities will be common in future geopolitics. No government wants to see food unrest and riots in its own country and one way to prevent it is to ban food exports to satisfy local demand. In fact, we have already witnessed it in recent months where Indonesia, Cambodia, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, and India have banned grain exports.

I think food shortages are very likely to occur here in Singapore within the next 10 years. When a nation with a population density of 6,500 per sq km (one of the highest in the world) goes hungry, social order will get very ugly. I just pray that I am wrong.

Related blog posts:




Further information:

How Peak Oil Could Lead to Starvation

Threats of Peak Oil to the Global Food Supply

Why Our Food is so Dependent on Oil

Eating Fossil Fuels


There are some great peak oil presentation slides from http://www.peakoilandhumanity.com/chapter_choice.htm

The material there are really useful for sharing the subject of peak oil with your friends and family who may be uninformed about what's to come. The slides are presented from a Canadian perspective, but they are relevant to Singaporeans for the most part.

05 July 2008

In 1998, Colin Campbell coauthored with Jean H. Laherrère an article about the end of cheap oil which was published in Scientific American. According to Laherrère, they were considered crazy when they published that article because oil was averaging about $12/barrel - dirt cheap. Who would have thought back then that oil would hover around $140 today? Certainly not The Economist. Afterall, they wrote in 1999:

The world is awash with the stuff, and it is likely to remain so...$10 might actually be too optimistic. We may beheading for $5. Link
Here is Colin Campbell in a 2005 interview. He was right about the end of cheap oil in 1998, and it is only appropriate that we pay attention to what he has to say. Video link.

03 July 2008

Many people came to think that it was money that made the world go round, but in reality it was the underlying supply of cheap energy - much of it coming from oil — Colin Campbell
Crude Awakening is an award-winning documentary film about peak oil. You can view it below from Google Video or download it using BitTorrent.

Some central quotes from Colin Campbell in the documentary:

"There isn't a company quoted on the stock exchange that doesn't tacitly assume the business-as-usual supply of cheap oil. When that isn't there anymore, that means that virtually every company is overvalued on the stock exchange. And as the financial community recognizes this - well, that might trigger some kind of overreaction and a stock market collapse. I think it's very likely.

"I won't be very surprised personally if it doesn't trigger another great depression comparable to the one of the 1930s, if not worse, because this one is imposed by nature rather than being a speculative bubble.

"We are facing some sort of unprecedented, unparalleled situation and that explains why it's so difficult for one to really accept it - one thinks there has got to be a solution. It's somehow contrary to our mindset to think about these things. We just don't like to do it....it's doubly hard because it really has never happened before. It's a strange issue of mindset and attitude and experience and behaviour that somehow leaves us so unprepared for this situation.

"We identify a species called hydrocarbon man - and lives on the strength of all of his oil - well, his days are definitely numbered. Whether mankind or Homo sapiens as a species altogether will carry on living some different, simple way - that's another question." Video Link

30 June 2008

A frightening article about what peak oil means for our societies. Do our ministers realise where we are heading? So what have they done to prepare Singapore for peak oil? Let's see: Integrated Resorts, Singapore Grand Prix, investing in UBS, Citigroup and Merill Lynch, 2010 Youth Olympics, target population of 6.5 million....er...huh, go figure...

By Nicolas van der Leek (Nick)


...Say goodbye also to the services that rely on airlines, such as courier companies. This means FedEx and UPS, Say goodbye, too, to the likes of Amazon.com.

Giant scale operations -- from air travel, to farming, to industry (think General Motors) -- will scale down drastically.

This represents an implosion in world tourism, which means world spectacles like the FIFA World Cup and the 2012 Olympics are going to be beyond reach for 90 percent of consumers. This also has an impact on all those services that survive on international tourism -- entire hotel chains, car hire companies, restaurants and the like...

...We will see a stock market crash based around the realization (in markets) that not only is economic growth no longer logical, but depleting energy means breakdowns in all the financial architecture that was designed on top of it -- from property markets, to banks, to entire industries, including (of course) the auto and food industries. Obviously, when entire banks fail, so will capitalism and what remains of the financial apparatus.

Money will have little or no value in the future, and commerce will be done via barter, and probably in a disorderly manner. Agriculture will become a big industry, along with other forms of resource management (mining, forestry, etc.).


It goes without saying really that all these transitions are likely to be associated with unpleasant levels of public disorder. It is likely that around the world authorities will struggle to maintain law and order. Governments will have a hard time staying relevant and of use to suddenly impoverished mobs. These struggles will place additional strain on those Cheap Oil Relics that survive, for example municipal services and roads. Who will maintain these in a world that can no longer afford very much?


27 June 2008

Kenneth S. Deffeyes, Professor Emeritus of Geology at Princeton University and author of the book Hubbert's Peak, on the current oil crisis (excerpts):

May 27th, 2008


In 2005, world oil production stopped growing and oil prices shot up uncontrollably. My graph of production versus price is now two weeks old and the price is already off the top of the paper. This morning, West Texas Intermediate is $130 per barrel. In Econ 101, they taught us that increasing prices would enlarge the supply. The economists may have envisioned a large inventory of oil wells, temporarily shut down because of low oil prices.

What happened? We hit "peak oil" – also called "Hubbert's peak," – a geological limitation to the oil supply in the ground. With no additional supplies, a bidding war began in 2005 over the remaining oil in the ground. This is not a news story that goes away after a month...

How big is the problem? Multiplying production (barrels per year) times the oil price (dollars per barrel) gives a total cost in dollars per year. It's an enormous number; tens of trillions of dollars per year. To put a scale on it, the three thin curves on the graph show the oil cost in contrast to the total world domestic product; the annual value the goods and services added up for all the world's countries. The three curves show the oil cost at one percent, two and a half percent, and five percent of the total world economic output. At $130 this morning, we are at six and a half percent.

Oil production obviously cannot consume 100 percent of the world's income. My intuitive, uninformed guess is that it cannot go above 15 percent. If we see oil at $300 per barrel, we will be looking out over the smoldering ruins of the world's economy...

So what about the experts and the oil companies who assure us that peak oil won't happen anytime soon? They have plenty of stories to tell:

  • The USA is now a service economy; we don't need as much oil as before.
  • Energy and food prices are too volatile to be included in the "core price index."
  • Oil prices have gone up, but we are still surviving, sort of.
  • Oil companies could find plenty of oil if they were allowed access for drilling.
  • Alternative energy sources will appear that replace conventional oil.
Despite the all the arguing, the oil problem really does matter.
  • Been to the grocery store lately? Agriculture is a heavy user of energy.
  • Ford and General Motors are having difficulty selling big SUVs.
  • By my count, seven passenger airlines have flown to that great airport in the sky.
  • After many consumers pay for gasoline and food; they don't have money left to make their mortgage payments.
What do we do? First – admit that there is a problem. Several analysts are still in the initial denial stage: Jad Mouawad, Michael Lynch, Daniel Yergin, and ExxonMobil...During the upcoming presidential campaign, let the candidates know that peak oil is the issue of overwhelming importance. A modest tax write off for wind energy is too little and too late. It's the oil supply, stupid.


26 June 2008

Excerpts from a speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the World Cities Summit, 24 June 2008:

The first element of sustainable living is to conserve resources. It is especially important to conserve energy, in the form of electricity and fuel. This is both to minimise wastage, and also because usually energy derives from fossil fuel, and saving energy also reduces carbon emissions.
The idea is there, but it does not convey the urgency and gravity of the sustainability problems that we are facing due to resource depletion. It would have been better, albeit tactless and undiplomatic, to have said bluntly: "The first element of sustainable living is to understand that any society that continues to use critical resources unsustainably will collapse. (Tainter's Axiom)"
To have the greatest effect, energy efficiency should be factored into the way the whole city is designed, including its urban layout, buildings, transport system and industrial facilities...Such cities can still improve their energy efficiency, for example by encouraging use of public transport instead of cars, and not over-cooling or over-heating buildings. But substantial improvements will take time.
Energy efficiency is, of course, desirable. What the Singapore government often overlooks is total consumption. There are, after all, finite amounts of fossil fuels and no measure of efficiency is going to stop us from exhausting what's left in the ground if the total quantity of energy we extract increases every year. Instead of focusing purely on per capita consumption, it's more important and logical to be mindful of total energy consumption.

Look at the charts below and compare how even though we have improved our energy efficiency, total electricity consumption has risen relentlessly.

Sources: EMA, Singstat and E2Singapore

One more thing about efficiency that we need to be mindful of - Jevon's Paradox
In economics, the Jevons Paradox is an observation made by William Stanley Jevons, that as technological improvements increase the efficiency with which a resource is used, total consumption of that resource tends to increase, rather than decrease. It is historically called the Jevons Paradox as it ran counter to popular intuition. However, the situation is well understood in modern economics. In addition to reducing the amount needed for a given output, improved efficiency lowers the relative cost of using a resource – which increases demand. Overall resource use increases or decreases depending on which effect predominates. --- WIKI
Ideally energy should be priced not just at today’s market levels, but also taking into account the likelihood of a future carbon-constrained world, be it due to scarcer supplies of fossil fuels or a post-Kyoto regime to restrain carbon emissions.
"Scarcer supplies of fossil fuels" - Peak oil, Peak Natural Gas.

Another strategy is to shift towards clean and renewable energy, like wind and solar power, with a smaller carbon footprint. These should be part of the solution, but realistically they lack the scale to replace more than a small proportion of fossil fuel use.
Good. He realises that alternative energies are not a direct convenient replacement for oil.

There have been breakthroughs in water technologies, more so than in clean energy. In the last two decades, advances in reverse osmosis and membrane technologies have made desalination, water reuse and other water purification techniques significantly cheaper, and enabled them to be deployed on a large scale. This has transformed the problem from an absolute resource constraint to a question of economics. More water is available, at the right price.
I disagree. The question is not entirely one of money but more importantly energy. Water treatment plants require huge energy inputs to operate. How are we going to produce affordable potable water if the price of energy continues to ascend? How can we maintain or increase our current treated water output levels if there is a shortfall of energy? Like the Minister Mentor, he is holding on to a fundamental error held by mainstream economists by believing that money will solve our resource problems:

Error: Economic activity as a function of infinite "money creation", rather than a function of finite "energy stocks" and finite "energy flows". In fact, the economy is 100% dependent on available energy -- it always has been, and it always will be. LINK
The full text of the PM's speech can be found here.

'Water is a precious resource, without it you will die,' Mr Lee said. 'YOU CAN LIVE WITHOUT ENERGY.'

Nothing new, really. As we have seen in previous posts (here and here), the Minister Mentor is out of touch with reality on energy issues.

TWO incidents drove home to Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew the need for Singapore to strive for self-sufficiency in water.

The first was when the island fell to invading Japanese troops who blew up pipes transporting water from Johor to Singapore in February 1942.

The second incident happened a few days after Singapore's separation from Malaysia in August 1965. Then-Malaysian prime minister Tengku Abdul Rahman remarked that 'if Singapore doesn't do what I want, I'll switch off the water supply'.

Since then, the 'quest for water independence' has dominated every facet of urban development here, he told an audience of 650 international officials and water experts.

What about the quest for food independence? What would it take to drive home the point that depending on foreign farmers hundreds and thousands of miles away for 90 percent of our food is a sign of poor resilience? Empty supermarket shelves? Food rationing?

The Singapore government and a majority of Singaporeans are going to be caught off-guard when the oil crisis hits home.

23 June 2008

Mr Mah Bow Tan, Singapore's Minister for National Development, in today's Straits Times:

More than 700 policymakers, governors, urban planners and environmentalists from various countries are gathering at the Suntec Convention Centre, where the concept of 'sustainable development' will be in the limelight.

It is 'one of those terms that people use without knowing the meaning', noted Mr Mah, who defined it as such: 'It's how do we continue to grow in a way that doesn't adversely affect our living environment.'

With all due respect, I have to ask him, "Minister, do you know that the phrase 'sustainable development' is an oxymoron?" It is oxymoronic because the arithmetic of steady growth becomes exponentially large over a period of time, and due to physical constraints development or growth has to stop somewhere when the limits are reached. See video.
While Singapore has done 'fairly well over the last 40, 50 years', it faces new challenges in terms of resource constraints - energy, water, and land - as it tries to maintain growth, said Mr Mah.

To grow, he added: 'I submit that we need to continue to attract talent.

'More talent, more people means more strain on resources. More strain on resources means growth may be at the expense of the environment. So how do we reconcile that? It can be a vicious circle or we make it into a virtuous circle.'

I'm glad Mr Mah sees the toll a higher population exacts on the environment, but strangely he does not see the obvious solution. How do we reconcile that? He asks. Well, the simple answer is we can't. We can't reconcile environmental protection with ever-increasing human numbers and consumption. Logic dictates that conclusion as we live in a finite world with finite resources. The only (unpopular and politically incorrect) solution is to replace the doctrine of population and economic growth with a Steady State Economy.

How in the world does Mr Mah intend to make "more people" a "virtuous circle"? It's impossible. Is the minister familiar with Garrett Hardin's Three Laws of Human Ecology? I don't think so, and even if he is, he is not taking them seriously.
First Law of Human Ecology: "We can never do merely one thing." This is a profound and eloquent observation of the interconnectedness of nature.

Second Law of Human Ecology: "There's no away to throw to." This is a compact statement of one of the major problems of the effluent society.

Third Law of Human Ecology: The impact (I) of any group or nation on the environment is represented qualitatively by the relation

I = P A T

where P is the size of the population,A is the per capita affluence, measured by per capita rate of consumption, and T is a measure of the damage done by the technologies that are used in supplying the consumption. Hardin attributes this law to Ehrlich and Holdren (Ehrlich and Holdren, 1971).

Said Mr Mah: 'Now we've got to look at energy. How do we save energy? How do we make better use of energy? How can we, can we recycle energy?'
Does the minister even understand what he himself is saying? You can't "recycle" energy because the Second Law of Thermodynamics dictates that. Energy once used is transformed from a state of low entropy to high entropy. Entropy measures the unavailability of a system’s energy to do work. When you burn gasoline, chemical energy is transformed into heat energy to power the car. How do you "recycle" the dispersed heat that has been used to do work? Is it possible to assemble the used energy for "recycling"? The answer is you can't. The entropy law dictates that this transformation process is one-way only and is therefore irreversible.

One cannot help but despair of the future when the minister who is responsible for a sustainable living environment makes such ludicrous statements.

The Straits Times, June 23, 2008


Next target: Cut energy use

Minister Mah suggests reduction of 20%-30%; people will need to rethink how they use electricity By Li Xueying

SINGAPORE has to work harder at cutting down energy usage - perhaps by 20 per cent to 30 per cent, as countries around the world increasingly emphasise sustainable development.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan, who said this, noted that Singapore has scored relatively well on the water and land usage fronts.

'But I think (on) energy, we've not done enough. I think we need to do more,' he said in an interview with The Straits Times.

There would have to be a multifaceted approach taken, he noted.

On the Government's part, it can examine policies such as using new materials to construct HDB blocks, examining new ways of designing and maintaining lifts which currently 'use up a lot of energy', and installing energy-saving lights in public carparks.

Singaporeans, as consumers, also have to play their part in understanding the amount of energy that their various appliances use up, and going for energy-saving versions, he added.

'So I think we need to go into the details of each and every one of these items, and see how we can cut down energy usage 20 per cent, 30 per cent,' said Mr Mah.

His remarks come as the inaugural three-day World Cities Summit - co-organised by his ministry - kicks off today.

More than 700 policymakers, governors, urban planners and environmentalists from various countries are gathering at the Suntec Convention Centre, where the concept of 'sustainable development' will be in the limelight.

It is 'one of those terms that people use without knowing the meaning', noted Mr Mah, who defined it as such: 'It's how do we continue to grow in a way that doesn't adversely affect our living environment.'

Certainly, there are challenges as Singapore seeks to cut down on its energy usage, he conceded.

'Upfront costs may be a bit higher, but we have to (do it), if it makes practical sense. And (whether) the payback period is two, three, five, seven years, whatever, if this makes sense, then we have to do it,' he said.

'How many taxes, how many incentives are there, what are the things we need? I think these are things that we need to sit down and discuss.'

These are details that an inter-ministerial committee - co-chaired by Mr Mah and Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim - is thrashing out.

It will be rolling out a 10-year roadmap next year on how Singapore can adopt green solutions in transport, housing and industry.

While Singapore has done 'fairly well over the last 40, 50 years', it faces new challenges in terms of resource constraints - energy, water, and land - as it tries to maintain growth, said Mr Mah.

To grow, he added: 'I submit that we need to continue to attract talent.

'More talent, more people means more strain on resources. More strain on resources means growth may be at the expense of the environment. So how do we reconcile that? It can be a vicious circle or we make it into a virtuous circle.'

This comes in tandem with record energy prices.

In an assessment of Singapore's efforts to date, the minister said: '(With respect to) water we have done very well: How do we save water? How do we make sure that water is reused and recycled?

'On land, I think we've been very conscious about how we make use of land: Better utilisation of land; we've already done intensification, higher plot ratios and so on.'

So what is lacking are efforts on the energy front.

Said Mr Mah: 'Now we've got to look at energy. How do we save energy? How do we make better use of energy? How can we, can we recycle energy?'