The universe is made up of atoms. This is not obvious because atoms are so small.
The first person to suggest the world is atomic in nature was the Greek philosopher Demokritus. His argument was simple. If you take a piece of gold and keep cutting it in half, the pieces get smaller and smaller. Eventually, when you cut it, you no longer have gold.
Unfortunately, Demokritus’ writings were destroyed and his philosophy was ousted in favour of the view that the universe is infinite. That you can keep cutting and cutting and you will never reach an end.
This is not a science column. It is about worldviews. As a chemist, I understand everything is made up of atoms and there are only so many to go around. The world is a finite place governed by the laws of thermodynamics and kinetics.
But it is not obvious to me that business and political leaders really recognize the world is limited and finite.
This has been made evident during the BC Natural Resources Forum where continual and perpetual growth in the extractive resource sector is simply accepted dogma. Let’s keep mining and harvesting forever with no end in sight.
For example, when it comes to natural gas, panelists opined that there is plenty of natural gas in the ground. We have a 100-year supply based on present production methodologies. With advances, that will be extended to an even longer time frame. And we haven’t hit our peak.
We can keep supplying the world with natural gas well into the future without ever having to worry about running out.
At the same time, we have a forest industry that has discovered it is running out of useable fibre. MLA Mike Morris was speaking earlier this week about the short-sightedness of 75 years of forest policy. I would be willing to bet that none of the political and business leaders 75 years ago thought we would run out. We will always have trees and a forest industry they would have said.
Resources, be they trees or natural gas, are not infinite. Pretending they will never run out is short-sighted and we need to recognize that. More to the point, we need to think about our future now.
Todd Whitcombe is a chemistry professor at UNBC.