June 24, 2009
Peak Oil on a Starship

Today's "since I know physics I know everything" demonstration comes to us courtesy of Pennsylvania State University:

A new take on the Fermi Paradox, though, changes the equation a bit. At Pennsylvania State University, two scientists suggest that the key to the paradox is the assumption that civilizations would colonize the universe at an exponential rate. Jacob Haqq-Misra and Seth Baum point out that finite resources preclude exponential expansion. Technology Review offers a look at the problem of exponential growth:

"The problem is that this kind of growth may not be possible, and they look at Earth as an example. For any expansion to be sustainable, the growth in resource consumption cannot exceed the growth in resource production. And since Earth's resources are finite, and it has a finite mass and receives solar radiation at a constant rate, human civilization cannot sustain an indefinite, exponential growth."

Which is all well and good, except like, well, all such predictions, the unspoken assumption is resources are consumed at an ever-unchanging rate. As anyone with the economic sense of a flat rock knows, when resources get scarce prices go up, and when prices go up efficiency goes up, which causes prices to go down.

Put it another way. People have been predicting the end of oil for what, the past hundred years? Take it from a different direction. People have been saying Moore's law has to be at an end this year. Ok. Well, definitely this year. Damn. This year for sure. Bah. You knock on my door, I'm not coming out.

I'm not saying there's no upper limit out there somewhere. I'm just saying we don't know enough about basic physics to really understand where it might be. Several of the physics models they're knocking around right now (*cough* string theory *cough*) could place the upper bound in a very high place indeed.

Via Instapundit.

Posted by scott at June 24, 2009 03:39 PM

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Worth noting is that computing power, in terms of energy consumed, keeps getting more efficient. Additionally, fusion and fission present opportunities for very large amounts of energy in relatively small packages (not to mention what might happen if someone figured out how to make quantum particles provide energy).

Nor do we have the end all-be all definition of how life works. What's to say that other lifeforms don't have entirely different lifespans or use resources significantly differently than we do? They may not need to worry about longer timeframes like we do.

Posted by: Ron ap Rhys on June 24, 2009 04:19 PM
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