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November 2006

"Limits to Growth" claptrap never dies

Thomas Homer-Dixon, director of the Trudeau Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto, briefly recaps the famous Ehrlich-Simon bet on natural resource prices and then asserts ominously:

But today, it seems, Mr. Ehrlich and his colleagues may have the last (grim) laugh. The debate about limits to growth is coming back with a vengeance. The world’s supply of cheap energy is tightening, and humankind’s enormous output of greenhouse gases is disrupting the earth’s climate. Together, these two constraints could eventually hobble global economic growth and cap the size of the global economy.

After some bogus discussion about falling "energy return on investment"--why are real oil prices lower now then 25 years ago?--Mr. Homer-Dixon concludes:

As the price of energy rises and as the planet gets hotter, we need significantly higher investment in innovation throughout society, from governments and corporations to universities. Perhaps the most urgent step, if humankind is going to return to coal as its major energy source, is to figure out ways of safely disposing of coal’s harmful carbon dioxide — probably underground.

But in the larger sense, we really need to start thinking hard about how our societies — especially those that are already very rich — can maintain their social and political stability, and satisfy the aspirations of their citizens, when we can no longer count on endless economic growth.

Which, of course, utterly misses the late Julian Simon's magnificent point.

And please note, Mr. Homer-Dixon doesn't offer to bet on Simon's proposition.