Tuesday 20 February 2007

Forgetting why I started blogging.

A few weeks ago, someone asked me why I started blogging. The answer is that my comments on other people's blogs were getting so big it was embarassing, so I thought I'd start putting them in my own territory. Despite that, I keep commenting on other people's blogs, arguably far too much, while, increasingly, forgetting to post anything here. Oops.

So, anyway, here's a comment that I really should have put — and am now putting — here, because it's terribly important. See, someone by the name of Billg (which, in my head, I can't help but pronounce "Bilge") came out with this:

Resources — of all kinds — are always limited. Everything we have means someone else doesn't have it, regardless of how altruistic we might be.

It is exasperating that so many people believe this. Those who do believe it don't even realise that there's a discussion to be had about it; they see it as self-evidently true that resources are limited.

But they aren't. The belief that they are stems from a misunderstanding of what "resources" means. People think it means "stuff". It doesn't.

Matter is limited. Energy is limited. (Though both are so huge that no mere human is ever going to get near those limits.) But resources are something else. To get resources, you take all the available matter and all the available energy, add them together, and then multiply the result by ingenuity. And ingenuity is infinite.

Here's a simple example of what I'm on about. We can extract more energy today from one cubic metre of air than our recent ancestors could get out of a ton of coal.

Because coal isn't a resource per se; it's just stuff. It only becomes a resource when it is combined with the human ability to control fire — or, perhaps, the human whim to build houses out of coal, should the fancy take you. A hundred years ago, air was only a resource when combined with the human need to breathe or when making fire. Now, it is also a resource when conducting nuclear fission.

It is highly unlikely that anyone, right now, has the faintest clue what will be our most important resource in another couple of centuries.

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