Re: We Will Never Run Out of Resources
Written by Olivia Nater | Published: August 4, 2023
The Wall Street Journal recently published an opinion piece that made some rather astonishing, unsubstantiated claims. We sent a letter to the editor but did not receive a response, so we are featuring our reply below.
We encourage all our members and supporters who come across misleading media stories like this one to make their voices heard! See our media guide for advice on how to do that.
You can also see other common population myths busted on our Myths and Misconceptions page.
In “We Will Never Run Out of Resources” (July 20, 2023), Marian L. Tupy and David Deutsch argue that technological innovation has made planetary boundaries obsolete without citing a single reliable source and conveniently ignoring all the scientific evidence against this fantasy.
First of all, if their core argument that ever more people leads to ever more problem-solving ability were true, our current population of 8 billion and counting would not be facing the worst environmental crises in history. We are collectively using up renewable resources 1.7 times faster than the planet can regenerate them, so by definition, we are running out of resources.
Regarding non-renewables, the authors state “we will go deeper, faster, cheaper and cleaner to reach hitherto untouched minerals.” Deeper and faster are correct, but cheaper and cleaner aren’t. Depletion of easily-accessible fossil fuels and minerals means we have to go to ever greater lengths and increasingly rely on expensive, risky technologies to meet our energy demands. Tupy and Deutsch cheerily raise the prospect of a resource-rich ocean floor ripe for plundering, without acknowledging the dire environmental consequences of deep-sea mining.
There have certainly been great improvements in product dematerialization, but a major MIT study found that progress in efficiency and resource intensity are being outstripped by increasing demand (fueled by growing consumption and population). It’s disheartening that this still needs to be pointed out, but growing our way out of overshoot is a rather ridiculous reverie.