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Opinion

January 31, 2011

Letter: Material shortage a case of fear mongering

To the editor:

Fear mongers have always been with us, but they seem to be proliferating and causing more damage than usual.

The Bush administration launched an insane war on Iraq, justified by baseless fear.

The Secretary of Defense, with a straight face, recently warned that failure to increase his department's budget would "hollow out" our military capability, on which we are already spending more than the rest of the world combined. The tragedy is that our government spends trillions of our money in response to such preposterous notions.

A current warning by the fear mongers is that we will soon run so low on raw materials that our standard of living is in serious jeopardy. That, too, is another Chicken Little tale.

As we have exhausted the cheapest sources of raw materials and have had to spend more to acquire them (e.g., drilling offshore and much deeper for oil), our wealth has nevertheless continued to increase. When costs got too high, we found substitutes.

Some things have gotten smaller (e.g., computers). Other things last longer (e.g., cars). As communications improve, and as factories need fewer laborers, less commuting is needed. As more work can be done at home, fewer office buildings will suffice.

Author and technology savant Ray Kurzweil predicts that in two or three decades, there will be no factory workers at all. The amount of food produced per acre has skyrocketed, and agricultural productivity continues to rise.

As population growth declines (it is projected to end by mid-century), fewer new buildings, roads, and bridges are needed. E-commerce reduces the need for retail buildings.

Technology has made it possible to use more abundant sources of raw material (nitrogen from air, silicones from sand, energy from sun and wind, fresh water from the sea, etc., etc.). On many fronts, conservation is saving raw materials without hurting our standard of living.

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