A Long Way from Reaching Our Peak

Inspired, among others, by the typically apocalyptic, ecological maunderings of Jeremy Grantham (the renowned investor here providing us with classic evidence of the general non-transferability of specific expertise from one metier to another), the recent overwrought oil market has brought the Exhaustionists out in full force, each plaintively wailing of the dangers of Peak Oil (as well as Peak Copper, Peak Corn, etc.—though never, thankfully, Peek Freans).

As is always the case at such times, the name of M. King Hubbert has been given a great deal of air, as if the old rhetorical trick of argumentum ad verecundiam should be decisive in this matter.

Yes, to give this particular devil his due, he did accurately predict that US onshore oil production would top out in the late 60s/early70s, so assuring his prophethood for ever, especially since the validity of the estimate became recognised amid the traumas caused by the first Oil Shock.

His other glances in the crystal ball have, alas, not borne out quite so well, however.

World oil production was to reach its apex in 1995, he foretold in 1974: so far he is 16 years and 30% out. Nuclear energy would provide most of America’s need by around the turn of the new century, he assured us: as of 2009 the proportion was under 9%. Solar power was next seen to be the answer: 1970s technology was already deemed to be good enough to serve the entire world’s industrial needs within ‘a couple of decades’ – Oops! US production of natgas would also peak in 1970 at 14 Tcf a year: four decades on and we are rising through almost double that and with no apparent end in sight.

Even more startling, this worthy was indeed a leading light of the crank-ridden Technocratic School which, with an almost Marxian degree of stubborn denial, has been predicting the demise of the Price System—i.e., the repudiation of the process of market exchange—since the mid-1930s and pushing for an unit of energy effort expended to replace money in our reckoning, plainly not realizing that this breakthrough concept is not much more than the long-discredited labour theory of value, albeit at one remove.

At the height of their brief sway, the grey-and-scarlet clad acolytes of this Utopian movement were heard clamouring that they would sweep away ‘production for profit’ in favour of ‘production for use’ (a slogan that also has a certain familiar ring to it) and to cast out the moneylenders and politicians in favour of a rational government conducted by a Platonic elite of scientists and technicians, naturally trusting that one of these latter could never turn out to be either Pol-Pots or peculators and confident that the world and all its people’s needs and aspirations are no more than a big, juicy simultaneous equation just begging to be solved by an inner sanctum of assiduous eggheads.

No wonder that other twisted genius, H.G. Wells took to Hubbert so avidly.

By now you may be thinking that the US Peak  thing was a stopped-clock-right-twice-a-day fluke committed by a man who seems to have personified what Hayek called the ‘Fatal Conceit’ of the planners, namely that they—and they alone—can truly know how best to order production and distribution, replacing grubby commercialism with an exact calculus of abstract mass utility as carried out by a hushed order of white-coated Olympians in complete defiance of the individual subjective ordering of wants which each iota of a teeming humanity uniquely seeks to express.

But Hubbert was not the only public figure to try to apply a false, pseudo-scientific rigour to the issue of human fulfilment, nor the only one to declare that ’soon all the oil is going to be burned and all the metals mined and scattered’ or to insist that the only way out of an putative exponential growth trap of our own making is to stop people (in the impersonal abstract, of course) from having too many babies.

But, surely, your author has been recently asked, you can’t see Peak Oil theory as contentious? Is it not a mathematical inevitability, for goodness’ sake? How can you find it within yourself to demur at such trendy millennialism?

Because – oh, let me see – the planet has not yet been fully explored, much less exploited—only those bits of it which have showed the most promise given the prospect of profit (that dirty word!) and the constraints of existing technology? Because reported ‘reserves’ are, in any case, largely an accounting identity, not a hard, geological limit?

Because there is increasing evidence that abiotic, deep oil generation may be a thermodynamic reality, implying, if so, that at least some hydrocarbons would not be just a ‘fossil’ fuel, but an ongoing planetary process, i.e., ‘renewable’ in the real sense of the word?

Because it is not physical oil we want, in any case, but the energy services it provides and the state of the art today—much less that which we can realistically expected to hold good in the future—is such that, where it becomes cost-effective to do so, oil use can be cut dramatically in providing those very same services (think what the widespread US adoption of diesel cars would achieve, or the greater application of light plastics, advanced ceramics, and special alloys in their fabrication)? Indeed, we have already proved this in living memory for the West and Japan did exactly this for nigh on two decades after the second oil shock, all without the need for Green Soviet directives on what sort of light bulb we are permitted to use.

Because, that art will itself advance, the moreso that we allow market incentives to direct resources towards doing just that, meaning we might expect similarly exciting developments to continue in the fields of exploration, production and refining, not to mention in combustion, transmissions, aerodynamics, and tyre hysteresis, etc.?

Because of the phenomenon of shale gas with its enormous potential to confine oil to a narrow, mobile fuel role and even to substitute for it there, given sufficient means and motivation? (Which of the wild-eyed Doomsayers predicted its advent, by the way?)

Because, ditto—and I know no-one will want to hear this after Fukushima (despite the as-yet unquantified nature of the damage wrought there, which may even – so it please the Gods! – turn out to be as limited as it ultimately was at Chernobyl)—we can readily build a great number of new generation, uranium-cycle nukes and, better yet, fail-safe, non-pressurised, smaller-scale, non weapons-producing, thorium ones instead?

Because (admittedly in extremis, given today’s matrix of possibilities), there exist unimaginably vast, ocean-floor deposits of bacterially-generated methane clathrates all over our continental shelves (by one guess, equivalent to twice the known conventional hydrocarbon resource): when needs must, does anyone want to bet on our not being able to find a way to use them?

But, even having made all these objections – none of them exactly exercises in hare-brained futurology – there comes next the stock response: aaah, so you may deny Peak Oil, per se, but what you are admitting at least is the end of cheap oil?

Well, only to a certain point, for the laws of economics surely do apply to oil as they do to everything else to which we attach a value.

But I have yet to have someone tell me that, because an unforeseen burst of demand may require previously unprofitable, less cost-effective productive means to be temporarily applied to satisfy it, we have reached the end of ‘cheap beer’, or ‘cheap socks’, or ’cheap toilet rolls’ and that civilisation is therefore in imminent danger of collapse!

Even were we to close our eyes and allow for a moment that this most improbable of ‘certainties’ does indeed eventuate, we must beware of carrying an engineering argument over to the realm of economics where it is of no actual relevance. The putative end of ‘cheap oil’ does not mean we will henceforth have to live for ever using ‘dear oil’, just that a new dynamic will take over which will rapidly begin to compensate for the change.

After all, we don’t still fill our cars at a mark-up to the price of whale oil, or dispel the darkness from our homes on a beeswax-linked electricity tariff, now do we?

Nor does this possibility of having to find either a complete or partial substitute for oil at some indeterminate future date imply that it is at all sensible to prepare for it by squandering our scarce, present resources on such pitiable, non-sustainable, non-renewable, sub-optimal boondoggles as wind and solar.

Contrary to the Ecostormtrooper hype, we categorise them as such because – apart from the societal blight inherent in the flagrant rent-seeking and fledgling dictatorship which their forcible imposition entails – does anyone really believe that the equipment for collection, distribution, and storage of what piffling and unreliable amounts of energy are captured from such diffuse sources does not need manufacture, maintenance, repair, and replacement, in addition to the provision of a necessarily under-utilised, conventionally-powered back-up capacity and an intrusive infrastructure of access? Are we to ignore the fact that these infernal engines come complete with a huge, environmentally-significant ‘footprint’ themselves – whether it be in the concrete foundations, the rare earth magnet components, the polysilicon, or the composite materials of which each is built?

Nor should it go unrecognised that the subsidy glut in which they wallow actually prevents genuine progress being made, rather than advancing it, by making it highly lucrative for companies to swill deep and long from the public trough in return for churning out these economically sub-marginal and energetically dubious contraptions in vast profusion here, today, instead of them spending time and money seeking ways to make these systems – or any other alternatives which human genius can meanwhile discover – truly competitive and therefore unequivocally beneficial.

If, seized by a sudden fear that the world will one day lack for sufficient bicycles, our rulers summarily decide to tax both their existing makers and their heretofore satisfied users and to funnel the resulting booty to some favoured corporate giant which promises to equip us with a modestly-rejigged shopping trolley and a bargepole to propel it, we have hardly made progress, now have we?

Nor if we cut off every man’s right leg and then set up shop to sell him a prosthetic replacement can the resulting ‘Green jobs’ be said to have advanced the common weal. No. actually, we do not want another bloody Manhattan Project or any Apollo mission phallicism: we want a few more Rockefellers, Fords, and Teslas, left alone to work out how to enrich themselves by serving us instead!

To return to our original theme, the happenstance of a higher price for some good (and actually only a higher relative price, at that) should—if the market is being allowed to work properly—set in train the iterative search for a new balance which we have previously characterised as I²E²S² – that is to say, Innovation, Economisation, and Substitution, followed by Investment guided by Entrepreneurship, funded by Savings.

In this way, if left to their own devices, those despicably venal profit grubbers whom our lofty Philosopher Kings so despise will soon be busily arbitraging away their fleeting excess returns, reducing costs and increasing satisfactions for us, their customers, as they do.

Why do we think that oil—or, more broadly, energy—should prove an exception to this rule? Only, in truth, because the market is NOT being allowed to work.

Because, rather than being a true indicator of genuinely, increased scarcity or a mark of dwindling physical reservoirs, expensive oil may be nothing other than an artefact of the policies of the many governments who routinely suppress, penalize, or clumsily monopolize its production; who simultaneously subsidize its consumption—whether directly, or through general, Provider State, soft-budget outlays, or via the over stimulus of what passes for economic ‘growth’; and who—above all—routinely debase the numeraire in which the price of the stuff is reckoned.

All of these latter are, indeed, compelling reasons to invest in oil (and in any other raw materials where similar arguments apply), but they are in no way a vindication of Hubbert or Grantham or any other latter-day Malthus, crying that poor old Mother Gaia is being despoiled in the pursuit of filthy lucre!

It is much better to forget all that Sierra Club/WWF elitist, anti-mankind, horse manure about ‘the call on the planet’ exerted by us members of the ‘plague species’ and to take a little Bjorn Lomberg, a smattering of Julian Simon, and a riffle-through of Matt Ridley, regarding the minuscule size of the impact which our tiny little ilk – unimaginably outweighed by living forms we cannot even see – can really expect to exert on the vast, negatively-feedbacked rock which we inhabit—and to glory in the sustained quality of our response to the challenges which confront us, even under the far-from-ideal conditions under which we are usually asked to make it.

For example, just as an exercise in contextualisation, consider the following:-

The population of Hong Kong: 7 million. Its surface area: 1,100 km2

The population of the World: nigh on 7 billion, i.e., HK x 1000

1000 x area of HK = 110,000 km2 = the area of Cuba or Iceland

Approximate area of the Earth’s landmass = 150 million km2

Approximate total surface area = 520 million km2

So, were we to build one, vast city of the same population density as Hong Kong to cover the entirety of Fidel’s little fiefdom (not necessarily a Blade Runner vision of hell), this would accommodate all of humanity, and take up just 0.07% of the planet’s land area and 0.02% of the Earth’s surface.

Add in another patch or two for energy generation and maybe another few for growing food – perhaps by building super-efficient, CO₂-enriched, drip-irrigated, skyscraper hydroponics factories, by exploiting the potential of the surrounding oceans more fully, or by bioengineering photosynthetic bugs to grow us pure nutrients –  and this would partition dear old Spaceship Earth thus: six or seven bits for us weakling, co-operative mutualists and 4,720 bits for all the unimaginable cornucopia of other species to wax and wane at each other’s red-in-tooth-and-claw expense, undisturbed by human hand.

Not such a bad ratio, you might think, even if you are a Marquis de Sade, equal-rights-for-plants-and-animals (plague bacilli and malarial parasites?), super-egalitarian nutcase.

So, rather than pestering the shoppers outside Oxford Street tube as you pace up and down with your ‘End is Nigh’, FSC-approved, sandwich board about your neck, you should ponder the innate ability of an unhampered, entrepreneurially-biased humanity to discover solutions to its problems.

Nor is this to indulge in some unswerving, fingers-crossed optimism: it is a realistic philosophy based on sound (Austrian) economics and one endowed with a pretty good empirical/historical track record, into the bargain

Yes, if our political institutions were better and ideally much, much less intrusive in their scope –and, yes – if the intellectual gurus who help shape them were not so (a) conceited; (b) statist; (c) given to quack economics; (d) devoted to fashionable, Bloomsbury pessimism; and (e) prone to practice Munchausen-by-proxy denialism on the masses to whom they condescend, we would be much further along this track than we are now.

Indeed, this is the crux of the matter for if there is even a scintilla of truth to the scare stories with which the sinister SPECTRE of today’s Bio-Blofelds bombard us, what we lack is not space or resources but capital, time, property rights, and the free market exchange networks within which to exercise them.

The most pressing of our problems are not climatological or ecological, certainly not geological, but political and we will find no answers to these by dreaming wet dreams of a multi-billion genocide so the blessed residuum can potter about building composting toilets, permanently at danger of seasonal starvation, death by tooth decay, and high childbirth mortality in a cod Iron Age village (as half the Greens do), or of instituting a globally-monitored, strictly-rationed, top-down, totalitarian tyranny (what the other half get off on).

By way of contrast, consider instead that every member of that seven billion strong ‘drain on the planet’ is hard-wired with the best computer in the known Universe, one which its individual possessor is both incentivised and enabled to link up in a massively parallel, distributed process of discovery and improvement as long as he or she has even the smallest vestiges of a market structure to guide them and a certain minimum of property rights to protect them.

Consider, too, that if the proportion to the whole of Mozarts, Michelangelos, and Maxwells is even roughly constant, their likely incidence is greater now than ever it was.

That means that we might even look forward to being liberated from a tedious diet of hip-hop, installation art, and string theory, as well as to paying less to travel more miles at a faster pace in the fabulously-equipped and remarkably inexpensive, new set of wheels, sold to us by the recently–empowered entrepreneurial gentleman to our right.

And some people think we Austrians can never look on the bright side of anything!

13 Comments

  • Hussein says:

    Thanks Sean for the timely and informative response to the Peak(ers). It is hard to “make out the trees from the forest” with regards to this issue, given the multitude of supposed “expert opinions.”

    Having accidentally stumbled upon the documentary “The Global Warming Swindle” http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5576670191369613647# , I was amazed at the courage and honesty of the professors and scientists in the program, like Richard Lindzen and the others featured. I’m at least glad for now that the whole carbon trading issue has been laid to rest here in North America, owing perhaps to the current recession than anything else.

    I wonder if perhaps you may please enlighten us next with an article on the long term health of the dollar and what it means. I am aware that the future is uncertain, but I do find that herein as well lie all sorts of apocalyptic scenarios much akin to the peak-oil debate highlighted in your article. Is hyperinflation or even inflation a likely result of the actions of the Fed and if so, what makes this time different from the past with regards to the US defaulting on its debt and destroying the dollar? Hugh Hendry purports that the inflationists are wrong on this and cites Japan as a precedent for more deflation of the (US stock market), but I fail to see his logic given Japan’s public debt is held domestically and has a current account surplus. How are these situations different?

    Thank you Sean. Apologies for the long-winded question.

  • corrigan says:

    Thank you for the kind words.

    FWIW, I do sometimes wince at the unqualified dollar bearishness evidenced by especially American anti-governmnet types and Austrian fellow-travellers, not least on this site.

    What they sometimes fail to remember is that there are no really good – and certainly few consistently good – alternatives. The Fed may sometimes be the worst CB, but others do frequently run it close and ditto for the US administration.

    Also, I am a believer in stop-go – in the ratchet effect of bad decisions progressively compounding the ills being suffered.

    This leads me to believe that we are not on a straight line to hyperinflation, led uniquely by the dollar, but on an increasingly violent switchback, where the brief moments of remission from the disease both frustrate and discredit the permabears and maximise the losses to the optimistic goldfish who keep buying into every bear market rally in the vain hope of recovering some of their lost prosperity.

    We live in an unanchored world, run by Keynesian Tooth-fairy cranks and the spendthrift vote-grubbers happy to spend the easy money they provide.

    Entrepreneurialism provides a partial antidote – and would even provide a complete cure if allowed to work unhindered – but it faces a tough time keeping its head above the waves.

  • Samuel Eglington says:

    Peak oil means that there is more oil than we have ever had before, and more than we will ever have again. Peak oil means a temporary abundance, not shortage. Though global oil production has temporarily peaked, what happens in the future remains to be seen. Commentators with a knowledge of finance as well as oil reserves not jumping on this bandwagon see http://theautomaticearth.blogspot.com/2010/02/february-17-2010-did-peak-oil-cause.html

    The real environmentalist challenge to your point of view is that the human economy is a subset of the wider environment, not the other way round. Environmental exploitation very often represents capital consumption, and the wealth created by it is no more real in the very long term than the wealth created by the fractional reserve banking system.

  • Chris Cook says:

    An admirable rant, Sean.

    Of course, there’s a big difference between Peak Oil as you characterise it here – the ‘oil running out’ meme – and Peak Oil as a peak level/rate of oil production.

    So in targeting poor old Hubbert on that basis, you’re shooting fish in a barrel.

    The Technocrats, as I understand it, advocated energy accounting. That is to say, that they believed that an absolute unit of energy should be used as a benchmark for exchange or numeraire.

    That is very different thing from saying they repudiated the process of market exchange. They merely repudiated the use as a pricing benchmark of some abstract fiat value unit (eg £,$ €) or other value unit (eg gold).

    The difference between a unit of currency (as an object of money’s worth) and a value unit/numeraire – as a monetary measure by reference to which money’s worth is exchanged – is little understood.

    Wherever a barter system incorporates credit or time to pay, the result is a monetary system.

    eg the Swiss WIR where billions of Swiss Francs’ worth of goods and services change hands on credit terms not in exchange for Swiss Francs, but – through the use of complementary currency – by reference to Swiss Francs as a value standard or numeraire.

    There is no reason why such credit clearing could not take place by reference to an Energy Standard, which would probably be far more comprehensible to the average man on the street than a gold standard. I suggest that people would be better able to relate the use value to them of 10 kilo watt hours or energy equivalent in their daily life, than the use value of (say) a gramme of gold.

    • mrg says:

      “That is to say, that they believed that an absolute unit of energy should be used as a benchmark for exchange or numeraire.”

      I thought Sean addressed this when he said

      “pushing for an unit of energy effort expended to replace money in our reckoning, plainly not realizing that this breakthrough concept is not much more than the long-discredited labour theory of value, albeit at one remove.”

      Or were they not actually arguing that goods should be priced according to the energy that went into producing them?

  • Corrigan says:

    HUbbert and teh Technocrats not cranks?

    Try this from the website technocrcy.org for Hubbert’s own thinking:-

    Getting Something For Nothing
    In the distribution to the public of the products of industry, the failure of the present system is the direct result of the faulty premise upon which it is based. This is: that somehow a man is able by his personal services to render to society the equivalent of what he receives, from which it follows that the distribution to each shall be in accordance with the services rendered and that those who do not work must not eat. This is what our propagandists call ‘the impossibility of getting something for nothing.’

    Aside from the fact that only by means of the sophistries of lawyers and economists can it be explained how, on this basis, those who do nothing at all frequently receive the largest shares of the national income, the simple fact is that it is impossible for any man to contribute to the social system the physical equivalent of what it costs the system to maintain him form birth till death–and the higher the physical standard of living the greater is this discrepancy. This is because man is an engine operating under the limitations of the same physical laws as any other engine. The energy that it takes to operate him is several times as much as any amount of work he can possibly perform. If, in addition to his food, he receives also the products of modern industry, this is due to the fact that material and energy resources happen to be available and, as compared with any contribution he can make, constitute a free gift from heaven.

    Stated more specifically, it costs the social system on the North American Continent the energy equivalent to nearly 10 tons of coal per year to maintain one man at the average present standard of living, and no contribution he can possibly make in terms of the energy conversion of his individual effort will ever repay the social system the cost of his social maintenance. Is it not to be wondered at, therefore, that a distributive mechanism based upon so rank a fallacy should fail to distribute; the marvel is that it has worked as well as it has.

    Since any human being, regardless of his personal contribution, is a social dependent with respect to the energy resources upon which society operates, and since every operation within a given society is effected at the cost of a degradation of an available supply of energy, this energy degradation, measured in appropriate physical units such as kilowatt-hours, constitutes the common physical cost of all social operations. Since also the energy-cost of maintaining a human being exceeds by a large amount his ability to repay, we can abandon the fiction that what one is to receive is in payment for what one has done, and recognize that what we are really doing is utilizing the bounty that nature has provided us. Under these circumstances we recognize that we all are getting something for nothing, and the simplest way of effecting distribution is on a basis of equality, especially so when it is considered that production can be set equal to the limit of our capacity to consume, commensurate with adequate conservation of our physical resources.

    Income in Units of Energy
    On this basis our distribution then becomes foolproof and incredibly simple. We keep our records of the physical costs of production in terms of the amount of extraneous energy degraded. We set industrial production arbitrarily at a rate equal to the saturation of the physical capacity of our public to consume. We distribute purchasing power in the form of energy certificates to the public, the amount issued to each being equivalent to his pro rata share of the energy-cost of the consumer goods and services to be produced during the balanced-load period for which the certificates are issued. These certificates bear the identification of the person to whom issued and are non negotiable. They resemble a bank check in that they bear no face denomination, this being entered at the time of spending. They are surrendered upon the purchase of goods or services at any center of distribution and are permanently canceled, becoming entries in a uniform accounting system. Being nonnegotiable they cannot be lost, stolen, gambled, or given away because they are invalid in the hands of any person other than the one to whom issued. If lost, like a bank checkbook, new ones may be had for the asking. Neither can they be saved because they become void at the termination of the two-year period for which they are issued. They can only be spent.

    Contrary to the Price System rules, the purchasing power of an individual is no longer based upon the fallacious premise that a man is being paid in proportion to the so-called ‘value’ of his work (since it is a physical fact that what he receives is greatly in excess of his individual effort) but upon the equal pro rata division of the net energy degraded in the production of consumer goods and services. In this manner the income of an individual is in nowise dependent upon the nature of his work, and we are then left free to reduce the working hours of our population to as low a level as technological advancement will allow, without in any manner jeopardizing the national or individual income, and without the slightest unemployment problem or poverty.”

    Hubbert goes on to state that following a transition the work required of each individual, need be no longer than about 4 hours per day, 164 days per year, from the ages of 25 to 45. Income will continue until death. “Insecurity of old age is abolished and both saving and insurance become unnecessary and impossible.”

  • Rob Potter says:

    With regard to the continuing failure of Malthusian pundits to get anything right, I read a piece the other day on why you should never believe people when they make predictions…

    http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/technology/the-more-famous-the-expert-the-worse-his-predictions

    The critical line from my point of view is this one:

    “And that, in turn, suggests that the very fact a pundit makes regular media appearances means we can ignore his or her predictions.”

  • Dan Cookson says:

    Check the maths! Order of magnitude out on the area.
    1,100 km2 x 1,000 = 1,100,000 km2 = the area of Ethiopia or just over a 10% of USA

  • Jonathlee says:

    Very good article. Unfortunately you have made a small math error that someone on Matt Ridley’s blog pointed out that I didn’t see in the comments here. 1,100 Km2 * 1,000 = 1,100,000 Km2, not 110,000 Km2. Therefore an area of about 1/9th to 1/10th of earth’s land surface would be needed, not an area as small as Cuba.

    • mrg says:

      You’re right that Sean’s calculation was off by one order of magnitude.

      However, according to Wikipedia, the Earth’s land surface is 148,940,000 km2, so 1,100,000 km2 is about 1/135 of the total.

      Dan has it right when he says it’s “just over 10% of the USA”. The US has 9,629,091 km2, so 1,100,000 km2 is 11.4% of that.

      Columbia apparently has 1,141,748 km2, so that would do.

      I’m not sure how much land, properly managed, would be required to feed those people, but I suspect Sean’s right in his basic contention that there’d be plenty of room left for wilderness.

  • Justin Bowles says:

    Jeremy Grantham’s key point is that price is signalling that we are seeing a structural break due to peak oil production. Maybe he is right, maybe he is wrong. However, the future market price of oil will give an answer to this question.

    If we revert to the mean and see multi-year weakness, then you are correct; if we trend higher, he is correct. The conjectures are easily testable in a Popperian sense. I hope both parties will accept the verdict of the market.

  • Corrigan says:

    Yes – mea culpa – I dropped a nought off that calculation in the rush to meet a publication deadline. Part of the perils of ‘knowing’ the answer before you start to calculate and so not checking your work.

    But, as a partial justification for flubbing what was obviously just an illustrative hypothetical, the Hong Kong population density implied above is also much SMALLER (being for the whole territory) than the one I originally intended to use – namely, that for the urbanised north of HK Island and neighbouring Kowloon alone, where almost 3.2 million people live happily in just 88km2 of land.

    Using the derived 36,000/km2 density, we find that the world’s ~7 billion could now fit into a Megalopolis of around 195,000 km2 – roughly the size of Iceland AND (rather than OR) Cuba and 1/764 of the land and 1/2615 of the total surface of the planet.

    Putting in NY County, Manhattan figures of 27,500/km2 instead and we expand this to around 250,000 km2, roughly the size of the UK, or some 30% larger, but still only 0.17% of total land area.

    So that still leaves plenty of room left for everything beloved of and Attenborough or a Windsor, as long as we create conditions for the maximum development of our human potential – and that without even reckoning on the marked tendency for richer and better-educated populations to shrink naturally over time, purely as a matter of individual human elective will.

    Again, apologies for the elementary and embarrassing arithmetical error, but I would nonetheless maintain the thrust of the argument against succumbing to the forces of pessimism and alarmism which I have tried to make here.

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