More from Less: There is Hope for Planet Earth

It is impossible to comprehend the world (in my opinion) without a coherent theoretical framework.  As my readers know, I am an economic conservative and a social moderate.  I am also an eternal optimist.  I am naturally attracted to ideas which fit into this general framework.
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For example, I am impressed by a number of recent authors, see here and here, who provide convincing evidence that the world is gradually getting better in many different ways: more affluence, less poverty, less violence, better sanitation, more equality, etc.

Furthermore I have just recently become aware of the work of two authors, Jesse Ausubel and Andrew McAfee, who provide strong evidence that humanity has started to become a better steward of planet earth.  Mr Ausubel, “The Return of Nature: how technology liberates the environment” and Mr. McAfee, “More from Less” give many examples of the “dematerialization” of the American economy.  For example:

  • U.S. corn production has dramatically increased in recent years even as corn acreage has leveled off (see chart).

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  • The amount of land worldwide used for agricultural production is shrinking (see chart).
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  • The use of basic commodities in the U.S. is shrinking (see chart).

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  • Total U.S. water withdrawals have plateaued in absolute terms and are shrinking dramatically relative to GDP (see chart).

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  • U.S. carbon emissions are dropping even as GDP continues to rise (see chart and also here).  Of course, it is well understood that global warming is a huge threat to human civilization and we have to continue to shrink carbon emissions far more than we have already.

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Conclusion.  The world’s leading economy has turned the corner on the use of many raw materials and is now “post peak”.  As other countries become more affluent their economies will likely behave in a similar manner.  This trend will continue for fundamental economic reasons, mostly without onerous governmental regulation.  Why is this?  Stay tuned!

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