Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Supply Options

If the current sources of fuel, materials (such as petroleum-based plastics), and service-providing elements of the biosphere are all we can ever have, the prices for everything we produce, as we approach the limits of supply, will rise rapidly. This prospect leaves us with the options of reducing consumption or finding alternative sources. We are in fact exercising both options: Consumption is slowing, and the research and development of alternative fuels, materials, and life is accelerating.

The decrease in consumption is due to several reasons. More women are becoming empowered, and this tends to result in lower birth rates. The growing worldwide conservation movement is gaining traction. And death rates are increasing due resource-driven wars, disease-causing compounds in what we consume, and pollution (what we deposit and then indirectly re-consume in the environment, as well as “external effects” like climate change and species loss).

Research and development of alternative energy sources includes renewable ones such as solar energy collection, wind turbines, and bio-fuels; and higher yield ones such as nuclear fission and fusion. The search for new life is dominated by bioengineering (literally, creating new forms of life or modifying existing ones to be more resilient and productive), but also includes the exploration of other worlds such as Mars, where we may be able to jump-start a whole new ecosystem. There is also some hope that new technologies such as nanotechnology might allow us to radically increase our efficiency and range of resource use and manufacturing, literally manipulating the essence of matter itself.

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