Exploring Hydrocarbon Depletion
ralfy wrote:If there is no "reduction in the complexity of societies," then there's no "simplification of world systems." In which case, machines only make it appear that things look simpler because all of the work is done in the background, and more efficiently. Thus, there is no "complexity paradox."
Thus, we have an economic system coupled with technology that wants an abundance of resources and a biosphere that won't allow it.
The complexity paradox is based on the concept of entropy. To maintain a higher level of order within a thing there must be a corresponding increase in disorder around that thing. So whilst maintaining a high level of technology increases the entropy (pollution) in the surrounding landscape it also helps to improve the conversion efficiency of inputs -> outputs and hence helps to reduce the level of pollution. Technology thus requires high entropy, but it also reduces entropy.
I don't see that reduction in pollution.
onlooker wrote:Yes, I agree. What I see technology doing is above all increasing the efficiency by which we convert natural capital to goods, services and their representation money. So, in that context rather than reducing pollution it is increasing the speed and volume of that pollution. And in the meantime, we continue to draw down natural capital and resources which are NOT renewable in a time frame of concern to humanity. I do not think we can deviate too far ever from the central notion that Earth is a closed system and we have limits to sources of resources and the sinks where our waste goes. Too continue anywhere near this rate of resource extraction and throughput requires that we have some miraculous way to eliminate or absorb our wastes, too come up with a almost unlimited source of clean energy, or to have some mechanism to creates prime resources like air, water and soil out of thin air.
onlooker wrote:Sorry to say but all this technological prowess and efficiency is just translating into humans becoming ever more redundant.
That is such a limited perspective. I am aware of all of this. The concept I don't believe you're factoring into your estimations is the concept that technology can also increase efficiency and reduce waste. We can take the same resources with greater technology and stretch them significantly further. There are major systems within our own economic ecology that can stand to gain significant efficiency boosts in the coming decades through the application of rapidly advancing technology. When modern buildings can use 80% less energy than older buildings for instance you have to acknowledge there is significant scope to improve the current status quo. The reason why a modern building can use such a small amount of power is how we can invest our skills into technology to make it portable and leverage it amongst a far greater scope. When you pick up a science textbook for instance you gain access to hundreds of thousands of hours worth of skilled labour amongst a wide range of fields. Computers not only increase our own intellectual leverage, but they also let us access the skills of others.
But technology is used in a global capitalist system and not an "economic ecology." That means the purpose of efficiency is not to conserve but the complete opposite: increase production and sales to ensure more profits. In fact, decisions on investing in more efficiency are gauged on returns, which in turn are paid for through increased profits. The same goes for reducing waste.
Similarly, if it is cheaper to outsource production to countries which do not regulate as much concerning pollution, then businesses will opt to do that (which is actually what many of them have been doing for decades).
That's why pollution has been going up together with economic output, which in turn is driven by more technology. That increase in output cannot be maintained, however, due to limits to growth:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfr ... g-collapse
Thus, there is no "complexity paradox of technology." Rather than make processes simpler, technology actually does them more efficiently.
And because the use of technology involves one which dominates the rest (i.e., the ability to create "wealth" using numbers in hard drives), then there is no decrease in pollution or conservation of resources as well. Instead, there is a drive for increasing output (thanks to greater efficiency) and consumption (to pay for investments in efficiency) to guarantee more profits (the reason for investing in efficiency), and based ironically on the technology of credit: more virtual wealth created to drive economic output, in turn to create even more virtual wealth to churn back into the system.
Squilliam wrote:These aren't opposites. The movement of production from the west to the east wasn't hunting higher efficiency. Infact the higher efficiency producers are all in the west (hence the story of our relative wealth). If you consider the ultimate inputs, outputs and conversion efficiency of those with respect to the negative externalities produced like pollution we do it better, and are improving all the time. Hence the economic ecology of the west being better than many other countries such as China. If you are willing to work 10 hours and produce slightly more than what another person does in 6 it doesn't mean you're a 'more efficient' person. Comparatively speaking you may get the job, but it doesn't mean you're better at it. The fact that China's growth is coming at the expense of the environment is policy issue rather than a pollution/economic issue.
If we look at the way the economy is set out there are significant numbers of 'low productivity' workers working in the 'service' sector. This is because a significant part of the economy is so damn efficient that it wouldn't matter if 70% of people don't show up to work because economic output would not fall by much at all. Again it is an issue of policy at a political level rather than an issue of the economy. A lot of workers simply replicate in the monetary economy what was once done in the non-monetary economy. Furthermore inequality in incomes means that it is relatively cheap for high income workers to essentially employ a bunch of servants at low cost to do things they could easily do themselves (or wouldn't consider important enough to bother with). High incomes force efficiency from people/businesses, and low incomes the reverse.
Virtual wealth is still tied to actual wealth. There can be no disconnect between the two because there is a constant conversion between them. If debt rises and the economy doesn't grow, then the debt won't get repaid. There is no real 'crisis' of debt, there just is a need to rationalise the divergence between the two.
Sure technology is no panacea. The world is having problems, but those problems are a question of 'how' we run the economy more so than 'what' we run the economy on. Capitalism isn't the problem. It's crony capitalism whereby large businesses are capable of distorting the market and the political system for their own ends. Large corporations in the west are not significantly different compared to large state owned enterprises in China for instance except in terms of how they are owned. Technology keeps making the equations tighter in terms of those inputs/outputs tighter, but like a kid with a trust fund and a coke habit we keep blowing it. The paradox still stands because we are moving from a complex globalised system back towards a less complex and yet higher development model. Knowledge and technology are more portable than people, so we will likely see a movement back towards local production of goods/services because robotics/computers are leading a third industrial revolution that makes the comparative advantage of low wage economies much in the same way that subsistence farming cannot compete with industrial agriculture on an open market due to the sheer productivity differences.
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