Friday, November 12, 2010

Dodging The Carrying Capacity Bullet

In the early fifteenth century, the Chinese had larger, stronger boats than the Europeans did, propelled by oar and sail. They got out of the sea-going business as a cost-cutting measure about seventy years before Columbus' famous voyage. Since then -- and for the moment -- it's been a European planet.

Before the Renaissance (Columbus' time), plague had wiped out a large fraction of Europe's population. This deprived Europe of hands and minds, but also spared it mouths to feed. Colonization, beginning during the Renaissance,  enriched Europe more by giving it new new continents for excess population than as a source for gold. Europe dodged the carrying capacity bullet.

By the eighteenth century, timber was reduced enough in Europe to force a fuel conversion from charcoal to coal. In 1856, the world's first oil well began pumping near Titusville, Pennsylvania. Henry Ford began mass producing Model T automobiles in 1909, but World War II showed us what oil could really do.

The New World is settled and full. We've pumped half the oil, and it will keep getting harder and more expensive to pump what's left.

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