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The Age of Peaking Resources: A Personal Take

During my first encounter with resource depletion issues I thought re-localisation would be a strategy to defy the odds. One relocates to a resource abundant small geography and maintains it through a community driven process. But then, I never pursued it. However, the recent news of India’s looming water crisis has got me thinking again.

Mihir Mathur, Mihir’s Musings

Recent news about water crises has again got me thinking about the issue of reaching the maximum levels of extraction of natural resources and then every effort put in results into getting less and less of it.

This is not only true for water or oil, but also for renewable resources like wood. In my field experiences of visiting and staying in villages I often encountered cases of how the depletion of forest has led to increased drudgery over women. Their road miles (these roads are different) for fetching wood to be able to cook has constantly been going up. Once a women explained how the time it takes her to fetch wood is twice as much while the quality of wood is not the same.

Similar would be the case for our efforts in fetching ground water. In fact the increasing depths of borewells in cities is an example of how we are putting in more effort to fetch water which is inferior in quality (often higher TDS is recorded in deep borewell water). The more deeper we go it costs more (electricity for pumping and higher horse power motors). As the ground water crises deepens, at some point in time the costs of water could become so high that we may end up buying it from rationing shops. Hopefully water riots could still be avoided.

Crude oil is no different. My introduction to the world of sustainability or rather un-sustainability was through my research on oil as a commodity in the stock markets. My own modeling projections revealed that the rate at which we are able to extract oil would peak soon and then the supply would be unable to keep up with the demand. This means that the demand would have to adjust. Either by choice or force. The case is pretty similar to water. The demand for water could automatically get managed if we have to purchase it through open markets or if it gets rationed.

India Facing Worst Water Crisis In History, Will Get Worse: NITI Aayog

So joining the three dots that I mention above, wood, water and oil, today I again think of the issue of peaking of resources and how they are due to transform our lives. Richard Heinberg wrote a book on this called Peak Everything, 11 years ago. I had also read on the issue of peak gold where the underground extraction of gold peaks in a similar fashion like oil and water. The only difference is gold is a non consumable item and hence would still be available in the markets. But oil and wood are being burnt and converted into CO2 while ground water is extracted, evaporated and converted into waste through industrial, agricultural and household consumption.

While it can be argued that freshwater is renewable and thus if we reduce our consumption then we could have more of it. But one must remember that the ground water that we extract is a resource stock build up over centuries which we have exploited in great hurry. In order for that stock to build up again it could take a long long time. Hence, for our day to day purposes ground water is somewhat non renewable.

During my first encounters with the resource depletion issues I thought re-localisation would be a strategy to defy all odds. One relocates to a resource abundant small geography and maintains it through a community driven process. It has been close to 10 years and in reality I have only gone farther away from the idea.

But these recent news of water crises has got me thinking again.


India’s looming water wars can destroy everything, from Make in India to smart cities
Nikhil Inamdar
India has the world’s largest number of people without access to clean water. The financial burden of this has fallen on its poorest agrarian communities, but the crisis is now spilling over to industries too. In Marathwada, the tanker business is the only one booming. The rest of the economy has collapsed.

Red alert: Runaway climate change begins as glacier melt passes point of no return
Mihir Mathur
This latest news immediately brings some questions to mind: Does this mean that we should stop working toward mitigating climate change? Should we stop worrying and enjoy mindlessly by indulging ourselves in senseless consumerism? I really don’t know. But what I definitely know is that the window of opportunity to act is closing really fast.

Curbing Consumption is the Only Way Out to Avoid Climate Change
Swati Agarwal & Mihir Mathur, The Wire
To put it bluntly, those who champion the process of economic growth – essentially growth in consumption and production – often neglect that fact that this growth is heavily dependent on the exploitation of finite natural resources, many of which are in decline. In other words, even assuming the world takes to the climate change-related agenda of low carbon growth, countries would still continue to heavily rely on both renewable and non-renewable resources such as mineral, metals, fossil fuels, land, forest and water.

Video: There Is No Tomorrow: A short film on resource depletion
There’s No Tomorrow is a half-hour animated documentary about resource depletion, energy and the impossibility of infinite growth on a finite planet, a theme that rarely finds its way to the mainstream media. Inspired by the pro-capitalist cartoons of the 1940s, the film is an introduction to the critical energy dilemmas facing the world today.



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One Response “The Age of Peaking Resources: A Personal Take”

  1. 2nd July 2018 at 5:52 pm

    I would like to make four comments:

    (1) Political activists know that they have to repeat their analysis and conclusion again and again and again – because they talk to different audiences, at different times and different places. That is their work. It is also good to repeat important points in the same speech/article, in order to hammer them in.
    But why does Mathur avoid a very important point? Namely population growth? In the introduction of another article he wrote with Swati Agarwal, Mathur writes: “To put it bluntly, those who champion the process of economic growth – essentially growth in consumption and production …. “ etc. That is not blunt enough. In fact, advocates of growth welcome and even demand also population growth. Thus in India, many industrialists and economists – e.g. former PM Manmohan Singh – call India’s population growth “our demographic dividend”. In Germany, some industrialists and also ordinary consumers are welcoming mass migration of cheap laborers from the poor countries, which, incidentally, is causing a resurgence of racist and fascist forces.
    (2). In another article (Red Alert: Runaway …..), Mathur rightly rebukes us for mindlessly “indulging in senseless consumerism”. Very good. But the bad effects of consumerism also depend on how many people are consumers. In India, it is today 1.3 billion, and the number is growing at the rate of 16 million every year. Allow me here to repeat an equation that should be well known among ecologists:
    I = P x A x T
    (3). In the article written with Agarwal, Mathur concludes “Curbing consumption is the only way out …. “. For reasons stated above, he should also have recommended stopping population growth.
    4. I wonder how, just 10 years ago, that was 2008, Mathur could think of re-location “to a resource abundant small geography” and maintenance “through a community driven process” as the/a solution.
    Some 500 years ago, Akbar re-located his capital to Fatehpur Sikri, but had to give it up because of water scarcity. He returned to Lahore. In 2008, could anybody have suggested that the drought-stricken people of Marathawada should relocate to Cherapunji (Assam), where there was (is) no water scarcity? What was thinkable 500 years ago was unthinkable in 2008. Population growth made it impossible.

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