Letter in The Times

Chris Miller of this parish brought my attention to the piece itself which led to this:

COLONISING MARS
Sir, Brian Cox says that rapid depletion of resources will make the Earth uninhabitable and thus we must colonise Mars (“Our future is as Martians, says Cox”, May 21). As the author of “The No Breakfast Fallacy: why the Club of Rome was wrong about us running out of resources”, I must point out that there is no shortage of mineral resources. The usual mistake is to measure mineral reserves as what is available for us to use.

They are not: mineral reserves are what we have prepared for us to use. Given the way that capitalism works we spend only the money to prepare for the next few decades. Thus mineral reserves of everything always run out a few decades after any one observation. Our actual supply is what we can prepare to be mineral reserves, this being somewhere between several million and several billion years’ supply, dependent upon the element. Colonising Mars is an excellent idea, as there’s an asteroid out there with Earth’s name on it, just as there was for the dinosaurs. But running out of resources isn’t a reason for going there.
Tim Worstall
Senior fellow, Adam Smith Institute

53 comments on “Letter in The Times

  1. Not entirely sure I understand that. There was no danger of horses eating up all the earths hay ( or oats ?), there is an obvious post industrial energy consumption eating all the fossils fuels isn`t there ?
    Btw I watched some bod form the Adam Smith Institute on about Brexit blighted British Steel.
    He said it should be allowed to die ..I agree . The interviewer pointed out that as many jobs have been lost in the high Street lately and no-one suggests we save Toys are Us- Good point ,

    Then…( and this is where Adam Smithy people are full of manure) he claimed that with their redundmnacies they could all set up businesses and provide new employment

    Bollocks , have a look around post industrial Britain , it is not a hive of artisan potteries and on line consultancies , it is a dead beat welfare fuelled drug fest.

    In real life markets are so far form perfect they do not operate at all in many circumstances and listening to some waffle blandly talking about what will be a disaster for real people in this way is really really annoying ..even if it cannot be avoided

    The State has to be active here , real retraining , real; support between jobs , exactly what the welfare state was supposed to do

    Anyway just noticed the Adam Smith thing

  2. Sorry went a bit off piste there ..it was the Senior Fellow of Adam Smith thing …I was shouting at the telly last night

  3. The entrepreneurial spirit is rare anyway, and most of those that have it get it beaten out of them at school.

    After a childhood of just doing what you’re told, and then a working life of just doing what you’re told, it’s a big ask to suddenly “innovate your career”.

  4. The actual argument is a bit more subtle than can be got over in a TV soundbite. Resources are scarce. If there’s more labour around that can be used then entrepreneurs can – and will – find that it’s a less scarce resource and cook up ways to try to exploit that non-shortage. Otherwise known as setting up in business and offering people jobs.

    The major effect isn’t the unemployed miner going it alone. It’s the weirdo pondering how can I make money out of employing all these ex-miners?

  5. Why would anyone listen to Cox about resources? Why is he considered an expert? Because he’s on the telly and famous?

  6. Colonising Mars is a terrible idea, at least for several centuries. The cost of getting there and back, people and resources, is colossal. The distance varies between about 50m km and over 400m km.

    The odds on humans surviving in such a hostile environment are far longer than the Earth being hit by an asteroid.

  7. Pfff. All Cox is good for is standing on a sand dune in the Namib desert at night wittering about the yooooooniverse.

    Cox was one of No.1 son’s lecturers at uni. He once went to ask Cox a question who was somewhat surprised that he wasn’t being asked to sign anything. Apparently his lectures are full of female students queuing up after to get his autograph.

  8. If there’s more labour around that can be used then entrepreneurs can – and will – find that it’s a less scarce resource and cook up ways to try to exploit that non-shortage. Otherwise known as setting up in business and offering people jobs.

    I understand the theory but it manifestly fails to happen. Its not that the model is wrong ,its actually almost tautological but the reality is so much more complicated
    My feeling is that the government needs to help the market operate for Labour rather than throw money at failing industries
    I have to say that exactly as I expected Post Brexit Britain is starting to look like pre EU Britain, with political distribution of resources dragging us all down.

  9. Brian Cox is a telegenic leftist idiot with a very narrow range of knowledge, as would be apparent to anyone who has seen him being interviewed sans script. Global warming, Brexit morons, immigrants good, the whole nine yards.

    Mars is an freezing, airless rock subject to lethal cosmic radiation, assuming you can actually get there in the first place without your crew-mates being overcome by cabin fever.

    If you want to play sci fi games, terraform Australia. It already has a breathable atmosphere and liquid water. Green it from edge to edge and you have enough food for centuries to come.

  10. Newmania, if the UK is such a wasteland, can you explain the high employment/low unemployment we are enjoying now despite business closures and high immigration? Do you belong to the AOC school of thought “unemployment is low because everyone has two jobs”?

  11. If I might offer an analogy. Zebra and lions evolve together, each responding to improvements in the other. If something were to happen to the zebra, some disease that messed up their stripes or slowed them down but left the otherwise unharmed, the lions would quickly finish them off.

    Similarly big economies and big states evolve together. If something happens to the economy to reduce it, the burden of tax and regulation becomes unsupportable and the economy dies.

    What’s required is not more government, but a great deal less.

  12. Has anyone asked the Mysterons what they think about us colonising Mars ?

  13. “Why is he considered an expert? Because he’s on the telly and famous?”

    See also: D. Attenborough.

  14. We need to save animal species and save the environment. We need animal diversity on this planet.
    I love to give donations to animal charities to help animal species survive.

  15. The Mysterons have already replaced the shell of that fuckwit Facepainter with one of their own. They ran out of colours so whatever he once was has been replaced by Mysteron agent Captain Thick instead.

    What a surprise that you love corporate socialism Facepaint. Not as much of a surprise as that “the post Brexit landscape has formed” before we are actually post Brexit but still.

    There are no negatives to Brexit. And if we can arrange treason trials not only for Treason May and her gang but large numbers of remainiac traitors like you– you Acrylic-faced tin-plated EUturd –then the country will both be enlightened and entertained.

    We will need a hangman. A job working with supposed “people” in the open air at a decent rate of pay per work item sounds just the antidote needed to all the middle class marxist HR jobs now proliferating like poison mushrooms.

  16. If you want to play sci fi games, terraform Australia. It already has a breathable atmosphere and liquid water. Green it from edge to edge and you have enough food for centuries to come.

    Well played, sir! But, of course, there’s bound to be some endangered beetle whose environment would be threatened, so any such idea is ridiculous.

  17. Cox is a particle physicist who feels that gives him the authority to pontificate and anything and everything. If you’ve ever had the misfortune to listen to ‘The Infinite Monkey Cage’ you’ll know what a insufferable smug cunt he is.

    I wonder how he would feel being lectured on particle physics by an economist?

  18. I love to give donations to animal charities to help animal species survive.

    I love to give donations to animal charities to help animal charities survive.

    FIFY

  19. Dear Editor,
    Because i masturbate while supine, i find it hard to enjoy the prospect of being buggered to pay for mars colonisation. Can you help?

  20. The State has to be active here , real retraining , real; support between jobs , exactly what the welfare state was supposed to do
    *snip*
    My feeling is that the government needs to help the market operate for Labour rather than throw money at failing industries

    Why does the government have to do this?

    Can the training not be done by the new employer? Or *gasp* the person themselves?

    Support between jobs – how about support from friends/family/church? or maybe even they take responsibility for themselves and have a rainy day fund…

    How is the government meant to help the market operate for labour? (I assume you meant labour and not Labour)
    I have a couple of ideas…
    – reduce/remove minimum wage
    – make hiring/firing easier
    – less regulation of business

    What would you have government do? (Genuinely curious)

  21. What are the benefits to living on Mars over a space station? It’s not like you can grow food in its soil, or breathe its air, so how is that any better? Anyone?

  22. BoM4…

    I would offer available building resources for larger habitats… Maybe taking that material upto an orbital space station would give the best of both?

  23. Chernyy_Drakon,

    To be fair a skilled population is a good thing and better the government spends money on that than people sitting on their arse forever.

    Making benefits conditional on retraining wouldn’t be a bad idea imo.

  24. Bloke in Cornwall,

    I suppose if the natural resources are there to make it, that might make sense. Although maybe we could just mine asteroids?

  25. It’s a good bet that any endangered Australian beetle is poisonous and probably fatal to humans, so I don’t think that removing them along with funnel webs, redbacks and huntsmen would be a great loss.

    The cockroaches would survive, unfortunately, along with their vile cricket team, but I guess that’s just the price we have to pay.

  26. BoM4: gravity has some advantages.

    But I’m inclined to agree that Mars has little going for it as a destination in the Earthling migration stakes.

    Best regards

  27. “The State has to be active here , real retraining , real; support between jobs , exactly what the welfare state was supposed to do”

    The state? Retraining? The problem with the state is that the people working in it have no idea what is required. They aren’t involved in industry. They see things from a consumer perspective. Sajiv Javid’s school careers advisor suggested he went into TV repair in the mid-80s, which was about as much of a growth industry as coal mining. Colleges didn’t run courses in game development until the industry was totally saturated with games.

  28. RLJ

    Any time anyone suggests “terraforming” Mars I’ve always said let’s do the Sahara first. For the same reasons as you.

    Not sure it would be easy to do much about Siberia or colonising the ocean floor but those both sound easier and cheaper and more bang for your buck than Mars is. Ocean floor might even be asteroid-proof….

  29. The cockroaches would survive, unfortunately, along with their vile cricket team, but I guess that’s just the price we have to pay.

    Cockroaches have a cricket team?

  30. “Not entirely sure I understand that. There was no danger of horses eating up all the earths hay ( or oats ?), there is an obvious post industrial energy consumption eating all the fossils fuels isn`t there?”

    No. As any resource gets scarcer, the price increases making it worthwhile to find a substitute. Once we do so, technological problem solving usually goes on to make it cheaper than the original. Resources are like stepping stones – temporary islands from which point we can reach the thext step. We’ve got enough fossil fuel for about the next 5000 years at current rates of use, but long before we run out we will have moved on to nuclear or solar energy, for which we have either millions or billions of years supply. But we can only access them economically from a more advanced technological and economic base – we use fossil fuels first, because they are more easily accessible – as stepping stones to get to nuclear and solar power.

    “Then…( and this is where Adam Smithy people are full of manure) he claimed that with their redundmnacies they could all set up businesses and provide new employment”

    So said Ned Ludd and the Luddites. But that’s the story of the industrial revolution.

    “Sorry went a bit off piste there ..it was the Senior Fellow of Adam Smith thing …I was shouting at the telly last night”

    Seems to be a common afliction around here.

    “Colonising Mars is a terrible idea, at least for several centuries. The cost of getting there and back, people and resources, is colossal.”

    You could have said the same about explorers like Magellan and Vespucci and Drake going off to explore the world. Thousands of miles, trips that take years, massive danger of death, scurvy and biscuits full of weevils and drinking your own piss, and all you get back is one crummy boatload of tourist junk.

    You have to go there first before you can figure out how to colonise it.

    “Has anyone asked the Mysterons what they think about us colonising Mars?”

    I think they said: “Bloody immigrants!”

    “I wonder how he would feel being lectured on particle physics by an economist?”

    “So, are these incredibly expensive colliders you’re building really producing anything worth the taxpayers’ money, Professor Cox?”

    “Support between jobs – how about support from friends/family/church? or maybe even they take responsibility for themselves and have a rainy day fund…”

    Don’t forget insurance.

    “What are the benefits to living on Mars over a space station? It’s not like you can grow food in its soil, or breathe its air, so how is that any better? Anyone?”

    Access to raw materials for building and making stuff.

    “Cockroaches have a cricket team?”

    The crickets do, I think.

  31. Has Brian Cox ever heard of the phrase “Opportunity Cost”? Do you think he would understand it if it was explained to him ten times?

  32. “Support between jobs – how about support from friends/family/church? or maybe even they take responsibility for themselves and have a rainy day fund…”

    Don’t forget insurance.

    Indeed.
    Although if I felt like being difficult, I could point out that insurance could be considered to be a form of rainy day fund – just one that is paid into by many people for mutual benefit.
    But I don’t feel like being difficult, so I won’t. 😉

  33. “So, are these incredibly expensive colliders you’re building really producing anything worth the taxpayers’ money, Professor Cox?”

    No, I had more in mind “Your theory on quarks (or whatever) is incorrect because ”

    I thought that was clear… Evidently not.

  34. “No, I had more in mind “Your theory on quarks (or whatever) is incorrect because ””

    All physicists get that all the time, anyway. Although it’s usually someone arguing about Einstein’s relativity, or quantum mechanical cats in boxes, or perpetual motion, or warp drive, or the healing power of meditation on crystals, or some such.

    It’s where they get the idea that non-physicists are idiots from.

  35. I thought colonisation was supposed to be neo-evil.

    I’ll stick my head up and agree that one of the functions of the state should be to provide a soft landing from collapsing industries. Especially in this case where it’s mainly state policies that have killed it off, mainly artificially high fuel prices.

  36. I’ve worked as a contractor at British Steel. The reason if it goes under all the staff will be unemployed is that they are unemployable, because although quite a lot of them are skilled (and often with desirable skills at that), they are unbelievably lazy – there is just no work in them. In my experience, years of working for a big unionized place does that.

    This is also a major reason why it’s going under – they employ 10 men to do 1 mans work, and then end up getting a contractor in to do it half the time anyway.

    At work we can’t get skilled engineering staff for love or money, but I don’t think I ever encountered a bloke up there I’d be willing to employ…

  37. theProle

    as jgh says
    What sort of engineering? Where?

    And how much love or money are we talking about?

    asking for a friend…

  38. Contracting outfit that does pipework, fabrication, and associated – we do a lot of cooling tower installations including work for a lot of decent sized fairly hi spec outfits (we’ve done everything from swimming pool plant rooms to a cooling system for a 17,000bhp water brake dynometer used for testing gas turbine engines). Based near Derby, but attend sites all over the country.
    Only a small outfit (about 15 of us all in), but clients seem to love us.

    We’ve a secondary business (which is mainly what I do) working on historic steam stuff – I know all about the design calculations for riveted steam boilers, and how to hot forge lumps of 3/4″ plate into interesting shapes – which isn’t as lucrative as cooling tower installations, but is much more fun.

    We’re always after practical hands on engineering tradesman, but (and this is where it gets hard), they have to be capable of both doing the work, and also got enough initiative to get stuff done without being constantly micro managed. There are a lot of lads we’ve tried who can stand at a bench and fab stuff up from drawings well enough, but can’t be sent to go and look at a hole in the ground, sketch what needs to go in it, come back to the workshop and make it, then go and install it (neatly!).

    In all truth the money isn’t amazing – I could earn far more sat in a Cad farm somewhere (I’m really good at 3d modelling), but it wouldn’t be nearly as fulfilling. Most of our boys are on between £12 and £20 an hour, depending on what they bring to the party, but that’s comfortable enough to live on in our part of the world – we’ve tried offering more loot, but it doesn’t seem to produce any discernable improvement in the applicants.

    If you really want to know more, ask Tim to email you my email address!

  39. You should have also told them that anyone who, thinking that we’re running out of resources *here*, suggests that we need to make up that shortfall by colonizing *Mars* can immediately and utterly be dismissed and ignored.

    1. Colonization will never be a viable means of dealing with resource shortages. You simply can’t ship enough people from here to there fast enough to counter the birth rate, let alone reduce the population.

    2. There are more resources available – and more readily available – in the asteroid belt and the Oort cloud than anywhere else. Mine the stuff there and ship it back.

    3. Once you’re in orbit you halfway to ANYWHERE. Anywhere in the universe. Takes a ton of deltaV to get up there. Once up there why in the hell would you then dive back down another deep gravity well like a burrowing animal?

    4. If you insist on living ‘under the ground’ (in interstellar terms) then Saturn is a better place than Mars – close enough for solar power to still be viable, doesn’t have the radiation belts of Jupiter. Lots of real-estate – the 1g level of Saturn corresponds pretty closely to the 1 Bar level in the atmosphere so you can float cities in there if you wanted to. Or live on the moons. And you have enough hydrogen to fuel your civilization for a billion years. Hell, you can stick a fusion candle in it and TURN THE WHOLE THING INTO A SPACESHIP, moons and all.

  40. “Newmania
    May 22, 2019 at 8:26 am

    I understand the theory but it manifestly fails to happen. Its not that the model is wrong ,its actually almost tautological but the reality is so much more complicated
    My feeling is that the government needs to help the market operate for Labour rather than throw money at failing industries”

    Sure, I mean, if you completely and deliberately ignore the history of Western civilization -especially over the last 300 years, I guess you could say that that never happens and it requires government intervention and guidance to, for example, for from employing 90%+ of the population in food production to employing less than 2% – without massive, enduring, long-term unemployment.

    Because we can look right at France – the place that does believe that jobs are only created through the careful management of the economy by experts in the government and see their 20%+ chronic unemployment rate as definitive proof that that system works so much better than just letting things ride.

  41. @ Newmania
    I may be repeating bits of some other comments, but firstly:
    you can only get rid of elements by radioactive decay, sometimes accelerated by A-bombs or nuclear power plants (for avoidance of dount an H-bomb is a special example of an A-bomb). So until some nuclear reactors burn them all up and the energy leaks into space we cannot eat up all the fossil fuels.
    Maybe you mean convert them into H2O, CO2 and energy?
    A few years ago I visited Yakutsk and learned that they just stopped counting coal reserves in Sakha after they got to one million tonnes per head of the population.
    Sometimes you talk sense but to say that we might run out of fossil fuel energy suggests that you do not know what you are talking about. Some of the “climate change” activists are saying that we cannot use all of Shell’s oil reserves because that would push “global warming” past the tipping point (ignoring China’s contribution). State-owned companies generate the vast majority of greenhouse gases but *Shell* is a threat – completely the opposite of what you suggest (that we don’t have enough fossil fuel reserves)

  42. “Roué le Jour
    May 22, 2019 at 8:32 am

    If you want to play sci fi games, terraform Australia. It already has a breathable atmosphere and liquid water. Green it from edge to edge and you have enough food for centuries to come.”

    The hardest places to terraform would be places with an existing biosphere – you’ll have to destroy all life in Australia before you can change it enough to be human habitable;)

    What with the fire-using birds and all, that’s going to be difficult.

    https://www.sciencealert.com/birds-intentionally-set-prey-ablaze-rewriting-history-fire-use-firehawk-raptors

  43. @ Newmania
    Secondly: five thousand jobs – my local factory employed twenty thousand after a lot of automation: when my father started they had thirty thousand inside the factory fence. Killed by Harold **** Wilson (aided by Paul **** Chambers).
    Under Margaret Thatcher unemployment rose – BY LESS than the redundancies in the privatised industries: National Power made one-third of their employees redundant because they publically stated that they had three employees for every two jobs while part of the CEGB, British Telecom eliminated FIVE layers of management etc etc
    So YES, people did create new jobs and will again if they get the chance.

  44. My feeling is that the government needs to help the market operate for Labour…

    …with political distribution of resources dragging us all down.

    You want the government to “help the market” to favour one section of the market whilst acknowledging that political distribution of resources drags us all down. Brilliant as ever.

  45. It’s where they get the idea that non-physicists are idiots from.

    Right, and Cox thinks he has the authority to pontificate on all sorts of matters outside of his narrow expertise… which is from where we get the idea that he is an idiot.

  46. There used to be a good video of the Profesor on Youtube totally fucking up the explanation of there were solar eclipses.

    The man is a fool and a smug cunt.

  47. Newmania said:
    “Bollocks , have a look around post industrial Britain , it is … a dead beat welfare fuelled drug fest”

    Depends where you are.

    The Ford plant at Dagenham used to employ 40,000 people – getting on for half the local workforce. Now it’s less than 2,000.

    Is it therefore now full of unemployed, being pretty much “post-industrial”? No; male employment is higher than average. Different jobs are created.

    And as for the State getting involved in retraining to help get people back to work, half the problem with the country is the dire State education system; the last thing we want is more of that.

  48. “Right, and Cox thinks he has the authority to pontificate on all sorts of matters outside of his narrow expertise… which is from where we get the idea that he is an idiot.”

    Of course. But then, if people stuck to only talking about stuff they were an actual expert in, the world would be a much quieter place!

    Plenty of people here pontificate on subjects about which they know nothing. You could say all humans are idiots, at least most of the time.

    The only reason we comment on it for prof Cox is that unusually he’s built up enough of a reputation for this to actually surprise people when he does. Which is more than most of us can say.

  49. “The only reason we comment on it for prof Cox is that unusually he’s built up enough of a reputation for this to actually surprise people when he does.”

    No, disagree with that.

    It’s in large part because it’s way more annoying when he does. Not because it surprises that he has blind spots in areas outside his expertise.

    Partly it’s infuriating for reasons put forward by “A” above, partly because (a) this guy has a much bigger and better platform to spout nonsense from, and (b) that nonsense being used as a basis for publicly lecturing us on how to live our lives and what our social priorities should be. If this was an undercover report of “daft things professor said at a private dinner party” there might be amusement but less annoyance.

Leave a Reply

Name and email are required. Your email address will not be published.