Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
March 21, 2005

Molybdenum and Whale Oil

What happens when there is a supply-demand imbalance in a market with very low demand inelasticity, like oil?

In other words, how high should the price of oil rise to cause a drop in demand sufficient to clear the market in a situation where supply is contrained by physical and/or political factors?

The case of molybdenum, a metal which also displays low demand inelasticity, offers an interesting insight:


Prices multiplied by 10 or more is what is required...

(Thanks to mobjectivist, via Pedro in the comments)

Whale Oil is another interesting precedent for price predictions.


Molybdenum is a metal which is used in steel production. Since 2002 supply demand balance swung to the demand side. The demand has outgrown the supply.

This deficit has had some very interesting consequences for the price. over the past three years the price of molybdenumoxide has increased from $2 to $28.50, a fourteenfold increase . Since the speculative position on this market is relatively small we can assume that these prices reflect the real supply demand fundamentals. It is staggering to see how a relatively small supply shortage can lead to these enormous price increases. It really shows how inelastic these markets are.

I think the steel market and the oil market are fairly comparable when it comes to inelasticity. If so then this is what we can expect for oil when the market runs into a deficit. The price increases we have seen so far are nothing compared to what is going to happen.

If moly is of any guidance we can expect the price to suddenly double, triple or quadruple when a real shortage occurs. That is a pretty scary thought.

As I have argued in several previous posts, we are indeed entering a situation in the oil market where we have a serious risk that there will not be enough supply to satisfy all potential demand:

- demand keeps on increasing (and shows how inelastic it is: since 1999, prices have already been multiplied by 5, and yet demand has increased in every single year, and by record volumes in the past 2 years);

- additional supplies are becoming increasingly scarce, as mature fields see their production decline and not enough investments are made to develop new fields. (Note that I do not personally think this is due to peak oil - this is in my view due to lack of investment - the oil majors would invest but have no access to most of the reserves in closed countries, and these countries seem more intent to spend their oil bonanza than invest in new capacity). OPEC has slowly put in production its existing spare capacity and has nothing left now.

The recent reaction of the markets to the recent quota increase by OPEC shows that the traders believes the same: the increased production does not bring the price down because it is taken from the last cushion of available, and will not be sufficient if demand increases a tad more or if there is a disruption to production anywhere (weather event, strike, accident, terrorist attack, political decision by any producer to withhold production...)

We are living on our last emergency batteries currently (until more investment is made to develop untapped reserves, but that will require a few years). Prices have been multiplied by 5 since 1999, to no obvious effect; if we take the example of molybdenum, if will require another tripling of prices to have any effect; but if we consider that oil prices were in the 15-20$ range in the 90s, it will require another 5-fold increase (and we have no real way to know how relevant the example of molybdenum is - after all its consumers are industrial users that are mostly rational, not citizens with a "God-given" right to drive and travel...).

For once, I won't leave you on this gloomy note but will point you to another interesting historical precedent for oil : that of whale oil, the only commodity to have gone through a full Hubbert's peak cycle:

The "bell-shaped" production curve of a non-recyclable mineral resource was described first by M. King Hubbert in 1956, and was used to correctly predict that the production of crude oil in the United States (Lower-48) would peak in 1970. It is reasonable to suppose that the worldwide production of crude oil will also follow a similar bell-curve, with much of the present debate focusing on when the peak will occur. It is anticipated that it will generate an epochal change deriving from a steep rise in prices.

The rise in prices at the peak is expected because of the switch from a market driven by production to one driven by supply. The Hubbert model, however, does not itself provide quantitative information on prices, and it is not possile to draw conclusions from individual country peaks because oil prices are set globally.

In order to obtain historical evidence for price trends, one needs to examine a case where a non-recyclable resource went through a complete Hubbert cycle worldwide. There are no previous examples of a mineral resource that has done so. In fact, crude oil may turn out to be the first, which incidentally may be one of the reasons why the concept of "peak oil" is so difficult for many people to grasp.

A resource does not need to be a mineral one to show a Hubbert curve. A biological resource which is produced (or "extracted") much faster than it is replaced may also follow a bell-curve. Historically, there have been several cases of terminally depleted biological resources. The whaling industry of the 19th Century is a good example, as already noted by Coleman (Non Renewable Resources, Oxford University Press, 4(1995) 273).



From the figure [above], it is evident that the production of whale oil followed a bell-curve according to Hubbert's theory, modelled with a simple Gaussian curve, albeit showing strong oscillations. These data are in excellent agreement with the report on Right Whale abundance by Baker and Clapham (Trends in Ecology and Evolution Vol.19 No.7 July 2004), indicating that the fall in production after the peak was caused by depletion and not by the switching to different fuels.


we can derive insight into crude oil price trends from the figure. Whale oil prices started to increase approximately at the inflection point of the curve well and before the production peak. An upward spike in prices took place a few years after the peak, being also detectable in the non-inflation corrected price data  (see Coleman, ibid.).

There are good news:

A somewhat surprising result is that the inflation corrected prices remained approximately constant after the peak despite the progressive depletion of whales.

But this may not be the most important:

If, as often claimed, we are close to the peak, and if the analogy with oil production holds, we may expect a further sharp increase in prices in the coming years, a trend that may, actually, have already started in 1999.


The concept of the terminal depletion of a mineral resource is alien to us, since there have been no worldwide precedents. In addition, we are apparently just near the midpoint on the production curve, so we still have to experience the peak, the associated price rise, and the decline.

Put simply: the uncertainty is so great, and the impact likely to be so big on our economies (if only from the wild oscillations of the price) that it is criminal not to plan for this, and not to be actively seeking alternatives.

Terri Schiavo is not the only one to be Brain-Dead.

Posted by Jérôme à Paris on March 21, 2005 at 13:22 UTC | Permalink


Does anyone know the retail price of B100 in Germany? I am just curious.

Posted by: Greco | Mar 21 2005 14:03 utc | 1

What do you mean by "B100"?

Posted by: Jérôme | Mar 21 2005 14:12 utc | 2

100% biodiesel

Posted by: Greco | Mar 21 2005 14:56 utc | 3

As I posted this morning on the open thread below, my cousin is reading "The Oil Factor" by Stephen and Diane Leeb. It talks about trends in oil and other commodities and how to hedge and invest during these times. I am going to read the book.

Posted by: jdp | Mar 21 2005 15:58 utc | 4

Biodiesel is fine as an emergency fuel. That is, something you'll use on ambulances, firefighting trucks and the like. It's totally irrealistic for individual cars. To make all the American cars drive, you'd probably need to convert all the US countryside to make the crop they'd use for biofuel.
Not to say this shouldn't be researched. In my book, pretty much any kind of non-greenhouse-gas-producing fuel is worth it, but at the same time, people should be aware that the time of insane and lazy mobility (read: the Age of Car) is over.

Posted by: Clueless Joe | Mar 21 2005 17:14 utc | 5

I think the oil price might differ from the molybden case. If there is not enough molybden for all steel-makers that means some has to go. As steel are generally hugh industries they have some financial reserves which they seem to be spending a lot of to avoid being the one that falls. When production of steel has decreased I would suspect molybden prices to land at a lower level.

If I had a car and gas became scarce I would not try to buy as much as possible at the gas-station in order to prevent my neighbour from reaching his/her job in order for me to be able to take it from him/her. But steel-companies would.

When the oil-price goes up I assume people will use less in private transportation where there are optional modes of transportation available. And I think in many places there are optional modes of transportation.

Since I am not an aconomist, feel free to rip my reasoning apart.

Btw, what did they make of all that whale oil?

Posted by: A swedish kind of death | Mar 21 2005 17:25 utc | 6


A few of the uses of sperm whale oil over the years were as follows:

illuminant (lamps) including railroad signal lamps until replaced by Galena Signal Oil from a Franklin, Pa., refinery

candles (first made from sperm head oil in 1750+ in Newport by Jacob Rodriguez Rivera)

watch oil (at $5.00 per ounce in 1957!)

additives in motor oils

automatic transmission fluid

lubricant for delicate high altitude instruments


cosmetics ("imparts a rich glossy sheen")

rust-proofing compounds

chemical fibers



glaze (on photographs)

70+ pharmaceutical compounds

Whale Oil Uses

Posted by: b | Mar 21 2005 18:21 utc | 7

Is it time to invest in whale cloning research and whale farms?

Posted by: biklett | Mar 21 2005 19:13 utc | 8

LOL biklett!

I 've also heard that Mars is full of huge, fat, oily whales!

Posted by: Greco | Mar 21 2005 19:19 utc | 9

I don't think it's quite time to melt down my bicycles to recover the moly from the chromemoly frames- USGS

Like silver, as the Hunt Bros. found out when they tried to corner that market, molybdenum is widely distributed, especially in lesser-developed countries. Increased output will follow as mines are re-opened and prices justify going after molybdenum for itself, rather than just a by-product of copper mining.

Most steel contains very little of the stuff- <1%. Specialty steels such as stainless steel can have more, but the other metals in the alloys cost a lot more than molybdenum.

The main point though is that commodities are all going to increase as the new world order becomes more rationalized. As Latin America and Africa emerge from the chaos of World Bank and commercial bank induced past debt crises, commodity producers will be less captive to former neo-colonists. Venezuela's shopping for new markets is politically charged, but the exercise can be seen as threatening beyond the oil markets.

Posted by: biklett | Mar 21 2005 19:46 utc | 10

Good post as always Jerome, and I concur with your analysis. Peak oil may be the first time that humans have had to come to terms with the finitude of our mineral resources. Considering that we cannot even grasp the consequences of liquidating/exterminating important biotic resources (so much more obviously fragile and so much more quickly decimated), I am not sanguine about our capacity to imagine and perceive -- let alone respond to in a timely fashion -- the approaching decline in oil extraction.

I have several stray thoughts on this. One is that late consumer capitalism provides us with a Disney-fantasy-porno version of our gatherer-hunter instincts. It places us in a world where we can "browse" and "gather" infinitely, a wonderland of the kinds of choices our g/h brains are hardwired to make and enjoy making -- to stroll past lots of Stuff and pick out the juiciest, the choicest, the bits we like best, and take them home with us. Mall shopping for entertainment is like gathering/hunting on crack -- none of the mess, none of the hard work, no predators or competition, 10x the stimulation, 10x the pace/speed. No wonder it is so deeply addictive, that we become lost in it.

Also, very very few of us in the first world are any more engaged in the next cultural stage after the g/h years, that is, either nomadic pastoralism or sessile agriculture. We experience neither the responsibility for moving on every year or so to allow the biotic resources (pasture, forage, watercourses) to recover from us and our herds, nor the responsibility of cultivating our little patch of land so that it will continue to support us and our children and our grandchildren's grandchildren. We are stuck in a gatherer/hunter wet dream, living as if we were bands of a few happy primates wandering across a (relativistically) infinite savannah, squatting to poop or pee whenever we felt like it, secure in the knowledge that our environment is huge and bountiful and we are free to gobble what we can get, because our impact is so small. Only, of course, our real physical situation is more like cattle in a feedlot. Our [industrial] poop and pee ain't going anywhere, we're living in it. And our impact is huge.

Posted by: DeAnander | Mar 21 2005 19:50 utc | 11

One more thought. [warning, extreme heavy-metal guitar solo coming up, I am not in a pleasant mood this morning.] By weight or by volume, I think at present the largest source of animal fat on earth is humans. There aren't many whales or seals left, compared to the insatiable human appetite for fuel.

The implications are more than disturbing. Amurkans have already shown willing to kill a million or so Iraqis essentially "for cheap oil." Of course, even if we rendered down the bodies of all those dead people for biodiesel, it would make only the merest drop in the bucket of Amurka's fuel guzzling. But the moral precedent is pretty clear: we don't really mind killing people to fuel our cars, planes, air conditioners etc. Some of us need a comforting narrative about "freedom" to assuage a tiny itch of doubt, but most are happy enough to hate those people, those sand-n*ggers who have no right to be living on top of Our Oil.

In a way I almost wish the Yanks -- and the other oil-dependent first worlders -- would go ahead and make fuel out of their victims. That at least would be honest -- truth in advertising -- and would force many Amurkans who think of themselves as "nice people" to think again before they get into their SUV, or even their cute little compact, and drive two blocks to the post office. Also -- ironically -- the exhaust might smell less vile.

This is obscenely Swiftian and I apologise to those whose gorges rise at the very thought. My point -- like Swift's -- is that in essence it is already happening, and all our gorges should be rising at the very thought, every day. Mine does, I confess. The contrails of US passenger jets crisscrossing the skies above me look more and more to me like the plumes from other smokestacks which we remember with horror and grief. I watch the Bush propaganda machine bang its drums in the ramp-up for an invasion of Iran and the conclusion seems ineluctable:

"Gasoline is people."

Posted by: DeAnander | Mar 21 2005 20:05 utc | 12

Now, if we could only get the culture-of-lifers' approval to build euthanasia centers like the one edward g. robinson visits in that movie--lay there in front of the IMAX screen and watch deer loping through the aspen to the sound of vivaldi. Awahhh. Maybe if we pitch it as a place for decrepit professors to end their tenures, the religious lunatics will stay away?

Posted by: slothrop | Mar 21 2005 20:38 utc | 13

Small digression: It is strange how the attachment/association of beauty to nature is assumed to be intrinsic in humanity. I think Mary Douglass wrote about this in her Dirt book. Why is dirt dirt? Kristeva too writes about the concept of abjection in which the self consiousness of the infant requires that it reject the mother's body as an object, and this accounts for the revulsion we share about the presence of shit. Pretty interesting philosophy/anthropology.

I bring this up, because often in MoA posts the ideal of nature and human stewardship is often assumed to be shared by everyone. If this is true, then the moment charlton heston weepingly begs for Saul not to be suicided there in front of the IMAX screen makes sense. Though Heston's character never experienced in the "beauty" Saul associates with nature, Heston immediately acknowledges this ideal, as if the ideal was hardwired.

I'm no expert on this subject, but the challenge to this (ethical?) foundationalism is equally interesting; as I recall, Douglass argues the cultural construction of such an ideal, which changes as sensibilities about natural beauty/sustainability are conditioned by experience and biological adaptation.

I don't know, exactly. I'm, no expert. I feel slightly certain the zeal to assume the ideal feels sometimes like creepy eschatology only contributing to deadend misanthropy: "I hope everyone dies in pain" (paraphrasing clueless joe).

Posted by: slothrop | Mar 21 2005 21:05 utc | 15

Says it all:

"The American way of life is not negotiable" (Dick Cheney, 2001)

Posted by: b | Mar 21 2005 21:08 utc | 16

Human’s have a hard time accepting that they are bound by the physical and chemical limitations of their planet. Let alone that earth is a tiny blob in an infinite universe. Human graves with symbols for life beyond death are only 30,000 or 40,000 years old. This implies that consciousness which has the need to explain death is a very recent human trait. It correlates with the human burials in caves on the coast of South Africa and mutation studies of “Eve” which indicate a recent migration out of Africa of modern humans.

With consciousness comes teaching and understanding. But, it is so new that most times it is controlled by the underlying instinctive feelings of fear and revulsion; snakes and shit, for example, that have resided in human ancestors for millions of years.

Today is the start of the Cultural and Resource Wars.

Will intelligence, planning and understanding of reality be able to overcome fear, tribal hatreds and a belief that an all mightily unseeing unverifiable power is controlling the destiny of man and his world?

Posted by: Jim S | Mar 21 2005 21:45 utc | 17

Will intelligence, planning and understanding of reality be able to overcome fear, tribal hatreds and a belief that an all mightily unseeing unverifiable power is controlling the destiny of man and his world?

Stay tuned! for the next thrilling installment!

Posted by: DeAnander | Mar 22 2005 1:22 utc | 18

OK, maybe a change of mindset is in the wind, but

PLANETARK - Most Americans believe it is "patriotic" to buy a fuel-efficient vehicle to help wean their country off Middle Eastern oil, according to a new poll released on Thursday. Some 66 percent of participants in the survey said they agreed that driving vehicles that require less fuel to run was patriotic, since it could help reduce the US dependency on Mideast crude. The survey, conducted for the nonpartisan Civil Society Institute think tank, also showed that 57 percent of self-described conservatives considered the purchase of a fuel-efficient vehicle an act of patriotism. Even 67 percent of NASCAR racing fans concurred that fuel-efficiency and patriotism go hand in hand, the poll said. . .
The poll also showed that an overwhelming 89 percent of Americans agreed on the importance of government action to reach a 40 mile per gallon fuel efficiency level for US vehicles, to cut greenhouse pollution as well as dependency on Mideast oil.

... 40 mpg is just a way of staving off the collapse of the fossil fuel reality a few more years. at 40 mpg or at 80 mpg, the Chinese are still buying cars. all you have to do is double the number of cars, or double the number of miles driven, to kill the advantage of a doubling of fuel efficiency.

Americans, btw, collectively drive about 2.5 trillion miles per annum, iirc. When I last checked (about 2 years ago) only 14 percent of the planet's population had ever owned or driven a car. I'm sure China has changed that statistic in the 2 years since then.

Posted by: DeAnander | Mar 22 2005 1:26 utc | 19

the most rare coveted product from whales, ambergris, is used for perfume

"Ambergris is a wax-like substance found at rare intervals, but sometimes in relatively large quantities, in the intestines of the sperm whale. With the exception of choice pearls and coral it is the highest-priced product of the fisheries, selling upward of $40 per ounce. It is now generally conceded that ambergris is generated in either sex of the sperm whale, but far more frequently in the male, and is the result of a diseased state of the animal, caused possibly by a biliary irritation, as the individuals from which it is secured are almost invariably of a sickly appearance and sometimes greatly emaciated. It occurs in rough lumps varying in weight from less than one pound to 150 pounds or more. It generally contains fragments of the beak or mandible of squid or cuttle-fish which constitutes the principle food of the sperm whale. When first removed from the animal it is comparatively soft and emits a repugnant odor, but upon exposure to the air, it grows harder, lighter in color, and assumes the appearance it presents when found floating on the ocean. Its color ranges from black to whitish gray, and is often variegated with light stripes and spots resembling marble somewhat." Although ambergris was used as an aphrodisiac, incense and medicine in ancient times it came to be used principally in perfume manufacture because it served to impart homogeneity and permanency to different ingredients employed.

Posted by: annie | Mar 22 2005 4:42 utc | 20

Well, even if Cheney thinks the American way of life is not negociable, the gas prize seems to start showing some effect.

The Chicago Tribune:
Gas cost weighs on drive to work - Long commutes still worth it for many, but some analysts fear `jolt' in home sales

Commuting is a test of survival, a daily battle on expressways full of crazy drivers and on trains crowded with cell phone addicts.

But it's a test many of us accept because we judge that lower housing costs, a piece of semi-rural tranquility or an abundance of space are worth it.

Now gasoline prices, which in the Midwest last week averaged $2.05 a gallon for regular, up more than 40 cents from a year earlier, are threatening to eat away at that benefit.

"Gas prices above $2.50 might start to kick in a slowing of the outward movement of housing in the Chicago area," said real estate analyst Tracy Cross.

People might decide to continue to rent closer in rather than buy farther out, said Cross, president of Tracy Cross and Associates in Schaumburg. He noted, though, that consumers often economize in other ways before altering their housing choices.

Posted by: Fran | Mar 22 2005 6:53 utc | 21

This is hopefully good news, from the Independent: The end for GM crops: Final British trial confirms threat to wildlife

Yet another nail was hammered into the coffin of the GM food industry in Britain yesterday when the final trial of a four-year series of experiments found, once more, that genetically modified crops can be harmful to wildlife.

The study was the fourth in a series that has, in effect, sealed the fate of GM in the UK - at least in the foreseeable future. They showed the ultra-powerful weedkillers that the crops are engineered to tolerate would bring about further damage to a countryside already devastated by intensive farming.

Only one of the four farm-scale trials, which have gone on for nearly five years, showed that growing GM crops might be less harmful to birds, flowers and insects than the non-GM equivalent - and even that was attacked as flawed, because the weedkiller the particular conventional crop required was so destructive it was about to be banned by the EU.

Posted by: Fran | Mar 22 2005 7:09 utc | 22

There is nothing that really proves, seems to indicate with some high degree of certainty, that the whale oil curve was strongly or uniquely caused by depletion. And even if it was, so what? As it was replaced by other substances.

Molybdenum is precious (inelastic demand, high price, if one wants) because it is terribly useful. But it can be replaced, and has been, in many cases (by chromium, tantalum?) I don't know enough about it - there might be some product, process or thingie which requires Mo and Mo only. Here's a fact sheet which I didn't read:>Link

I think these two examples are useful for thinking about 'peaks' / depletion of resources, but are ultimately misleading because they both reinforce the economist mantra of high prices driving more work (digging or harpooning or whatever), higher investment (returns will be stupendous - it is just more work really) leading to the invention or realisation of the brilliant technological advances that solve the problem and end up by matching supply to demand!

....Jerome supports such a pov in a note (this is where I disagree, Jerome):

Note that I do not personally think this is due to peak oil - this is in my view due to lack of investment - the oil majors would invest but have no access to most of the reserves in closed countries, and these countries seem more intent to spend their oil bonanza than invest in new capacity.. ...

Both examples, for me, fall into the category of 'replacements are possible' or, more broadly, 'things change'. The Civil War brought the whaling fleet to a halt, for example. Petroleum, then gas, and later electricity replaced whale oil for light. Synthetics did the rest.

One might go so far as to say that electricity replaced animal fat, which was used in very clever lamps (ah, those dimly lit caves, the flickering light!) during the Upper Paleolithic. March of history, Man's ingenuity, all that. Just a lot of head scratching, elbow grease, and money to be made along the way.

Primitive lamps for today, may be useful:>Link

Oil cannot be replaced - it is too late. Meaning, scarcity and high prices will partly (in some places, entirely) destroy our fragile Western economies - our social organisation, domineering advantage - many will suffer... The cascade of effects will be too rapid and devastating for us to adapt and maintain stability. Soccer moms won't be driving electric buggies, bloggers won't be proud of properly exploiting their two alloted hours on the grid powered by clean nuclear eletricity.

The world as we know it will change profoundly. Partly simply because of resource wars, which are raging around us right now. Kept to the periphery and managed through media propaganda, they seem acceptable at the moment, to the Western mainstream, I mean.

Slow process though. Very slow.

Posted by: Blackie | Mar 22 2005 18:33 utc | 23

@blackie clean nuclear electricity = oxymoron...

more later...

Posted by: DeAnander | Mar 22 2005 19:25 utc | 24

Blackie - to comment on our disagreement: I mean that I don't think we have reached physical peak oil yet: we have reached some kind of political peak oil. In the end, it may end up being the same thing. The difference is only a question of a few years (or decades at most) anyway.

Posted by: Jérôme | Mar 22 2005 23:24 utc | 25

Backing Jerome is a recent>SF Chron article suggesting that the Iraq invasion marks the start of this "political peak oil" era.

Two years ago, it seemed likely that Iraq, with the world's third-largest petroleum reserves, would become a hypercharged gusher once U.S. troops toppled Saddam Hussein. But chaos and guerrilla sabotage have slowed the flow of oil to a comparative trickle.

The price of crude on global markets hit an all-time record Friday, and oil experts say U.S. consumers are likely to keep feeling the pinch.

"Global supply hasn't kept up, and it isn't likely to in the near future, and one of the causes is Iraq," said John Lichtblau, chairman of the Petroleum Industry Research Foundation in New York.

The war coincided with the start of a sharp rise in oil imports by booming China and India, and experts say this alignment of factors may keep prices permanently high.

The article tactfully omits to mention the stupendous annual US consumption, preferring to point the finger at new-kid-on-the-teat China. (Kind of amusing in a trivial way that the author's surname should be "Collier.")

Posted by: DeAnander | Mar 22 2005 23:36 utc | 26

I want to take one more stab at the troubling rhetoric of "sustainability." To be more blunt: A calculus of sustainability is so contingent on intervening factors unmanageable by humanity. I agree some resource management is better than capitalism, of course, but the bottom line is humanity's brief ascendence is made possible by fortuitous climactic/environmental conditions over the previous 2 million years.

What bio-organisms do is exploit available resources. Humans convert resources into waste. As for the consequences of modes of production escalating this process beyond sustainability, it is obvious capitalism contributes to depletion. I want to emphasize however, the concept of sustainability must assume stability in the capacity of earth to meet the satisfactory target of "happiness." But, as we know, the vicissitudes of nature ("natural disasters") introduce variables into this calculus obviating the best of human intentions. This is obvious. When we arrogate to ourselves such mighty responsibility to "sustain" conditions for mutual survival, we forget too quickly the contingencies making our arrogance possible: in the end our responsibility of stewardship seems so obvious any failure of the biosphere to provide is assigned to human stupidity; this leads to the inevitable self-hatred and misanthropy extolled so well by clueless joe, et al.

I said some time ago Modernity's core value is "get rid of the body." Secularism and scientism has led to the uncomfortable realization the body is a deadend. The "purpose" of humanity is clearly to practically transcend somatic life. Ideally, cyber-consciousness, cyborg life-forms (lesser somatic), genetic solutions to aging (somatic but timeless), etc. are attempts to complete modernity and to escape the pressures of environmental contingencies and the fantasies of sustainable biology. The "reconciliation of humanity with nature" ultimately must occur in a form of life less, or not at all, imprisoned by mortality.

To this end capitalism, which exists only as a means of resource allocation exploiting human labor, is an enemy to this normative force in modernity. So too is religion.

I think I'm willing to defend this thesis, even if only to myself.

Posted by: slothrop | Mar 23 2005 16:42 utc | 27

@slothrop you're kinda losing me there... there are groups of humans on Earth who managed to exist, build cultures, make art, sing songs, love and quarrel and tell stories, practise traditions, and generally have fun as a cohesive culture, for thousands of consecutive years. That's sustainable enough for me. I don't ask that humankind, or my particular home-set of memes, should outlast the Sun. But for empires to rise and fall in a mere few hundred years, exhausting their biotic base as mindlessly as yeast (hat tip to Monbiot) is just -- well, stupid.

I must respectfully disagree -- completely -- that the reconciliation of humanity with nature must occur in a life "less imprisoned by mortality". Mortality is what nature is all about -- the death of one species provides food for others, there is no such thing as waste. Immortality is the opposite of Life, not the opposite of death.

The salmon feeds the bear, who proverbially s**ts in the woods which feeds the soil organisms which feed the trees, whose roots stabilise the soil and whose crowns encourage rain and trap moisture that feeds the stream in which the salmon spawn to be eaten by the bear. That is a crude cartoon sketch of a cyclical process of near-infinite subtlety and complexity, of course.

What humans consistently refuse is to accept being part of this gorgeous machinery. From the time we started trying to preserve our dead, selfishly with-holding their flesh and bones from the creatures that would have peacefully rendered them back into topsoil, we have tried desperately to tear ourselves out of the context in which all other life exists and thrives. I would say our current situation suggests that this was a primal error, and that the reconciliation we so desperately need is a reconciliation to our own mortality and our role as, well, fertiliser for trees and crops and grasses yet to come. We want to take and take and take from the biotic infrastructure and give nothing back. We in the West even want to with-hold our faeces and urine from the soil, instead wasting billions of gallons of potable water and gawdnose how many gigwatts per annum transporting our body wastes miles and miles, to be treated with highly toxic chemicals and then dumped into the oceans to poison fish and destabilise the near-shore nutrient cycle.

Talk about anal-retentive!

To me the dream of "cyber consciousness" and machine-assisted (or genetically crafted) immortality is, alas, just another flavour of Rapturism. All those Big Daddy in the Sky religions promise that we will be "rescued" from the body and from death. And yet, guess what, they are all death cults, responsible for the murder of countless millions. Funny how that works out... and funny how capitalism with its similar promise of transcendence -- transcending all limits -- also, in its own reckless liquidating way, becomes a death cult.

When I was a child I asked my Mum about life and death quite a bit. It upset me, as I think it upsets any child whose parents are not monsters, to think that my parents would one day die. My Mum of course told me some of the soothing lies we tell children -- that death is just like falling asleep, and so forth. But she also told me that what she fancied in the way of a funeral was to be cremated and to have her ashes scattered over a garden, "where I will do some good."

I have over the course of my life rebelled fiercely against this simple notion; I too have worshipped at the shrine of the cyberpunks and dreamed earnestly of translating my feeble human brain into a digital phantom haunting the nets; I have railed against the dying of my personal light as angrily as any child who refuses to go to bed when it's time. But in the end I think my Mum was right. We can either kick and scream and throw tantrums against our mortality, and drag the whole biosphere down into ruin with us in our Rapture dreams; or we can contemplate with some equanimity the idea that the molecules of which we are made have their own life -- far longer than the life of our consciousness -- and that scattered across a garden, our humble ashes may well do some good. I had rather be food for critters in the end than food for nothing, myself.

Posted by: DeAnander | Mar 23 2005 18:52 utc | 28

clean nuclear electricity = oxymoron...

De A, I get tired of putting italics or inverted commas around conventional concepts or catch phrases; all the: ..... vanish when I post, then I must futz around putting them back in and then they once more go off into limbo when I re-preview! So I overuse Caps. And neglected to do so there.

Nuclear energy is not /clean/ nor is any other /energy/. Using any of them means transforming /NRG/ relations. Some have less environmental impact than others.

Sun drying figs on the roof - that is using solar energy without any intervening apparatus except human movement seems pretty hamless and clever. That kind of /NRG/ capting doesn/t fuel industry, doesn/t fly a plane, doesn/t /boost/ agriculture, doesn/t provide a military big bang, etc.

The US hasn/t built a nuclear power plant in about 40 years, /say/. The US has always counted on a plentiful free supply of fossil fuels, first from its own underground, then from abroad through alliances (e.g. SA) coercion, control, military action, /Pax Americana/, etc. It has grabbbed /NRG/ to fuel its military to grab yet more. Now, Iraq, end of the line, the end game, the final throw of the dice.

Yes Jerome I agree. Political /peak/ - it is what people believe or want to act on, even if they don/t believe it really, or are not concerned with the material details, about which no-one can be sure. We will see.

/// grrrr /// Hard on the eye, heh? Just the once, Happy Easter all.

Posted by: Blackie | Mar 23 2005 19:20 utc | 29

clean nuclear electricity = oxymoron...

De A, I get tired of putting italics or inverted commas around conventional concepts or catch phrases; all the: ..... vanish when I post, then I must futz around putting them back in and then they once more go off into limbo when I re-preview! So I overuse Caps. And neglected to do so there.

Nuclear energy is not /clean/ nor is any other /energy/. Using any of them means transforming /NRG/ relations. Some have less environmental impact than others.

Sun drying figs on the roof - that is using solar energy without any intervening apparatus except human movement seems pretty hamless and clever. That kind of /NRG/ capting doesn/t fuel industry, doesn/t fly a plane, doesn/t /boost/ agriculture, doesn/t provide a military big bang, etc.

The US hasn/t built a nuclear power plant in about 40 years, /say/. The US has always counted on a plentiful free supply of fossil fuels, first from its own underground, then from abroad through alliances (e.g. SA) coercion, control, military action, /Pax Americana/, etc. It has grabbbed /NRG/ to fuel its military to grab yet more. Now, Iraq, end of the line, the end game, the final throw of the dice.

Yes Jerome I agree. Political /peak/ - it is what people believe or want to act on, even if they don/t believe it really, or are not concerned with the material details, about which no-one can be sure. We will see.

/// grrrr /// Hard on the eye, heh? Just the once, Happy Easter all.

Posted by: Blackie | Mar 23 2005 19:22 utc | 30

Wanted to get the actual Molybdenum-Price when I opened this homepage. 28.5 USD per what? Per Kilogramme or what?

Posted by: Mik | Apr 4 2007 17:43 utc | 31

According to the link in the beginning of the article:

By May 2005, prices had peaked at between US$40 and $50/lbMo, compared with an average price of about $4.50/lb in the ten years up to 2004.

So the unit would be pound.

Posted by: a swedish kind of death | Apr 4 2007 17:52 utc | 32

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