10 August 2009

Economic growth is all about production and consumption. Economists and politicians love a growing population of consumers because it adds to economic growth. A greying population would slow our growth and so the current 4.6 million on this island is not enough, we need 6.5 million in the coming decades. Now this cycle of growth is vicious and self-perpetuating. In 2030, the government will say 6.5 million of us is not enough, we need 9 million on this island to keep the economy growing. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Spend, spend, spend. Consume, consume, consume. Grow, grow, grow. I remember reading in ChannelNewsAsia last year where SM Goh Chok Tong was encouraging Singaporeans to spend to starve off a recession:

"If all of us go into a power save mode, then the economy will really go into a recession! This is what economists called the Paradox of Thrift. If you have sufficient savings and can afford to spend, you should continue to spend on life's little pleasures.

"Take your family to the movies, shop, dine out at restaurants and hawker centres, go for your regular foot massage, indulge yourself at a spa, take a taxi, donate to charity and so on."
Here's the twist: what are the limits, if any, as to how much we can spend and grow before we turn into an incurable cancerous tumour on this planet? The New Scientist article below addresses this question and our leaders and policymakers would do well to pay attention to this for a truly sustainable Singapore - not the pseudo-sustainable-growth-economy that Mah Bow Tan keeps talking about.

New Scientist
07 August 2009

...According to leading ecologists...few of us realise that the main cause of the current environmental crisis is human nature.

...All we're doing is what all other creatures have ever done to survive, expanding into whatever territory is available and using up whatever resources are available, just like a bacterial culture growing in a Petri dish till all the nutrients are used up. What happens then, of course, is that the bugs then die in a sea of their own waste.

...Epidemiologist Warren Hern of the University of Colorado at Boulder, even likened the expansion of human cities to the growth and spread of cancer, predicting "death" of the Earth in about 2025. He points out that like the accelerated growth of a cancer, the human population has quadrupled in the past 100 years, and at this rate will reach a size in 2025 that leads to global collapse and catastrophe...

...The problem..is that it fails to recognise that the physical resources to fuel this growth are finite. "We're still driven by growing and expanding, so we will use up all the oil, we will use up all the coal, and we will keep going till we fill the Petri dish and pollute ourselves out of existence,"

Full Article: Consumerism is 'eating the future'

08 August 2009

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) published in Nov 2007 (p.13):

For oil and gas, proven reserves are estimated to be sufficient for only around 40 and 63 years of 2006 levels of consumption respectively. Nevertheless, oil and gas production is not expected to peak within the next two to three decades. With more exploration and improvements in extraction technologies, substantial new reserves will be added. Since 1980, globally proven oil reserves have expanded by 81 per cent, while proven gas reserves have more than doubled.
I had previously criticized this report for being too optimistic in its oil projections and economic growth outlook because they had taken as face value data published from British Petroleum (BP ) and the International Energy Agency (IEA).

In recent months, the IEA has changed its tune and its chief economist, Dr Fatih Birol, now believes that global peak oil production is likely in the next 10 years. See:

The Independent: Warning: Oil Supplies Are Running Out Fast

TimesOnline: World needs four new Saudi Arabias, warns IEA

The "early peakers" (ASPO and TheOilDrum.com) estimate peak oil to occur between 2005 and 2012. Whichever the date, it's probably too late to make a smooth transition to a post-peak oil world. Alternative energy did not save us during the runup of oil prices from $20/barrel in 1999 to $147 in 2008, and neither will it at $200 or $300 per barrel because the economy would have cratered at those levels hampering the development of these energy projects. Kurt Cobb has a wonderful explanation here: Receding Horizons for Alternative Energy Supplies

It'll be interesting to see what MTI has to say in their next energy report in view of the recent IEA changes. Any attempts to sidestep this issue as the IMCSD did in the Sustainable Development Blueprint and further promote unsustainable growth will only spell disaster in the long term.