Scarcity? What's That?

Aretae: On Scarcity

The engineers say that it's an engineering problem.  If there's only 1000 tons of helium available, then when we run out of those 1000 tons, we're out of helium.

The historians say that it may seem like an engineering problem, but somehow we never run out of anything...
But there has to be some sort of hard limit, right?

And the engineers reply...But surely there is some limit on rate? 
Sure...there are two real limits on what we can support.  Mass and energy... 
Once I hear people proclaiming the end of available mass or energy...and using sane values like 10^25 g or 10^17 watts...then we have something to talk about in terms of scarcity. Until's basically all artificial limits and technical problems (some of which aren't solved yet).

So, yeah.  The mass of the solar system and the total energy output of the sun.  As in a big old box labeled "sphere, Dyson, one of".

Brings new meaning to the phrase "the sky's the limit", doesn't it?

1 comment:

lelnet said...

Yeah. If there's 1000 tons and we need 1001 tons, we have a problem. But somehow we manage to get by without having 1001 tons, so "need" is obviously the wrong word.

Folks often seem to forget about conservation of matter. Just because we use something, doesn't mean it's _gone_. It's still there in the system somewhere...we just need to recover it and use it again. And again. And again.

"Recycling" is way older than hippies. We don't have a choice about it. And I don't mean that in the sense of "we'd better do it, OR ELSE!". There is no "or else". We _literally_ don't have a choice. We couldn't destroy matter if we wanted to.

And when some particular arrangement of matter becomes too expensive to use as freely as we'd been accustomed to, we find substitutes.