"Malthus argued a century and a half ago that man, by using up all his available resources, would forever press on the limits of subsistence, thus condemning humanity to an indefinite future of misery and poverty. We can now begin to hope and, I believe, know that Malthus was expressing not a law of nature, but merely the limitation then of scientific and social wisdom. The truth or falsity of his prediction will depend now, with the tools we have, on our own actions, now and in the years to come." - President John F. Kennedy, Address to the National Academy of Sciences, Oct 22, 1963.
The Earth, our mother, is a benevolent caretaker and we hope that she continues to shower us with her benevolence for generations to come. Centuries of scientific conquests have enabled us to use her resources with great diligence and, in doing so, to bury Malthus' predictions many times over. The preceding few centuries have been a testimony to human ingenuity as we have wrestled with and overcome many a challenge imposed by nature's vicissitudes. The Industrial Revolution of the late 18th Century, the Market Revolution of the 19th, the Green Revolution of the 20th, and the Information Revolution of the 21st Century have all led to great increases in prosperity and of global population. However, we must be vigilant lest we fall prey to the folly of fate, for the Earth is abundant, but not infinite.
The United States has been at the center of the scientific advances of the last century. A great many Americans have contributed to discovering nature's secrets and increasing global prosperity. And American values of individual liberty, egalitarianism, and free enterprise have inspired many brilliant minds from the world over to come here and make great contributions to science and technology. These advancements have, more often than not, worked in the benefit of all humanity. As a result, commerce has flourished, agricultural output has soared, the specter of global conflict that had haunted the world has been tamed by Pax Americana, and many of the world's people have been emancipated from abject poverty. But a long journey still lies ahead in this human pursuit of increasing median standards of living and guaranteeing self sufficiency. While the impact of technological advancements have been mostly positive, there have also been unforeseen ramifications. Like the air pollution caused by the smog and soot of the Industrial Revolution, and the environmental impacts from fertilizers and pesticides of the Green Revolution, recent technological expansions have had their unintended consequences. As currency has transcended the physical realm and become digital, capital has become even more unrestrained from geopolitical boundaries. As a result, the industrial jobs that formed the strong middle class of Western economies have moved to low-wage Asian and African nations (most importantly China). In the last few decades, median wage growth in the U.S. has stagnated. Thanks to American and European corporations, developing nations have rapidly moved up the ladder of economic progress and more than a billion people have been raised out of poverty. However, in doing so, these nations have put global resources under strain once again. The curtailed environmental regulations in countries like China and India serve to reduce product costs and greatly increase output and profits, but nobody denies that in due time such practices will inevitably lead to irreparable harm to the environment. And just like the digital currency that enabled this globalization, the effects of air and water pollution, changes in the climate, and diminishing natural resources and biodiversity are not constrained by geopolitical boundaries.
Some argue that we should completely divest from hydrocarbon fuels. However, the economic expansion of the last two centuries is thanks in large part to the availability of cheap hydrocarbon energy. Oil has created affordable transportation allowing for the free movement of people across the globe, movement of goods across oceans, and trans-continental highways that bring food and drugs to towns and cities everywhere. Coal-powered electricity has allowed for temperature control and let populations thrive in harsher climates. Electricity has brought light to dark evenings and allowed a billion children to read books and make art. It has provided for sanitation and clean water and thus increased lifespans. Dishwashers and washing machines freed up women from mundane tasks and increased female participation in income-generating activities and thus led to women's empowerment. Hydrocarbons are also used to make plastics, fibers, fertilizers, and various pharmaceuticals. However, these hydrocarbon resources are limited and they need to be preserved for future generations. Furthermore, it is hard to deny that their extraction leads to environmental damage and their combustion emits carbon-dioxide, sulfur, nitrous oxide, and various other pollutants. Air pollution is a major cause of cancer and fertilizers/pesticides have been shown to be carcinogenic in animal testing. So, the one resource that has enabled so much prosperity also causes health problems and environmental degradation. However, it is unfair to characterize hydrocarbons as a great evil, since they have undeniably led to more good than harm. Similarly, it is immoral for the Western countries to arbitrarily limit hydrocarbon use in developing nations, since per capita increase in energy use is strongly correlated to increased standards of living.
Neo-Malthusians argue that overpopulation is the root cause of our problems. Such arguments invariably result in harrowing discussions of population control. But the purveyors of such ideologies do their lobbying from million-dollar office suites in London, Frankfurt, San Francisco, or New York. They have never faced a day of hunger or grappled with drought. They don't know what it is like to not have a toilet with running water. They don't realize that while vaccines help save lives, most of those lives are condemned to a constant struggle against poverty. And they fail to take into account that increases in per capita GDP and standards of living are strongly correlated with reduced fertility rates. Therefore, the most humane way of "controlling" population growth is to increase standards of living which generally means higher energy use.
Some argue, more validly, that the problems of our time are a result of the linear economic model of take, make, consume, and discard. While such arguments make an honest attempt at diagnosing the condition, they generally fail to provide adequate prescriptions. For example, they do not recognize that good-faith actions such as recycling, while appealing on paper, are quite contrary to basic science. The very nature of plastic, glass, and metal alloys that make up much of our modern-day products are such that they are in a chemically inert state and thus unreactive to oxygen, water, and other elements. These qualities are what make such substances appealing for use in manufacturing. Thus, recycling requires an input of energy that in most circumstances is greater than that required to produce these substances from virgin materials. In cases where there are energy savings from recycling, complications exist since such materials are generally mixed (in the product), require collection, transportation, storage etc., which are economically unfavorable without government subsidies. Similarly, electrification of transportation may have many desirable attributes, but as long as the electricity comes from hydrocarbons, there is little impact on preventing pollution or resource conservation. Furthermore, vital components like large Li-ion batteries require rare mineral resources and lack any recycling potential without expending large amounts of energy. Many groups, regardless of their political stripe, seem to favor energy sources such as sunlight, wind, biofuels, hydro etc., to replace hydrocarbons. Nevertheless, the inconvenient reality is that such energy sources are diffuse and land intensive and thus lead to habitat loss - the thing that their promoters want to avoid. Moreover, these energy sources are intermittent by their very nature and their construction uses non-renewable resources.
There is no panacea to our problems and anyone claiming a simple solution is either ignorant, or worse yet, they are lying. We can utilize the Earth's abundance as long as we exercise caution. We can continue to grow our economies as long as we apply skill and are wise in our dealings with her. We must allow her time to heal, and we must be patient so she replenishes her stocks. We are inheritors of her wealth, and we must respect her authority. Arguably, we are neither being patient nor are we fair in our dealings with Mother Earth. But the downside to being patient with our use of resources is a loss of prosperity for those who are prosperous and more suffering for the downtrodden masses of the developing world. Perhaps a rethinking of what it means to be prosperous is required, but while some may be okay with curtailing their lifestyles, for at least 2 billion people, there is no lifestyle to curtail. These people use little to no resources and live in dire circumstances. And these are the people who are currently climbing up the ladder of development and they cannot be sacrificed for the sake of satisfying the green energy goals of those in the West. This sets up a moral dilemma that is quite unlike anything else that humanity has faced before. On the one hand, it is increasingly recognized, and rightfully so, that energy production needs to move away from hydrocarbons - both for resource preservation, and pollution and climate concerns. Environmentalists, as well-intentioned as they may be, either inadvertently or foolishly advocate for great reductions in energy use to achieve their clean energy goals. They chalk up these reductions to increases in nebulously defined "efficiency." But a conscientious analysis would indicate that such programs are woefully inadequate, have a Western slant, and would unjustly relegate the poor people of the world to a subsistence living. Especially when considering that in the case of the U.S., increased population and energy use has not correlated with loss of forest habitat, indicating that sustainability is indeed possible with increased standards of living.
This is where St. Thomas Aquinas argued that man's providence has limits, for we are of nature and not its author, but the Creator's providence knows no such bounds. Imagine for a moment that the Creator of the Universe did indeed provide for a material that when properly utilized would grant a long-term solution to our energy problems with minimal downsides relative to other energy sources. Imagine if the Creator also provided for a material that is the source of a unique therapy that can rid cancer. Such materials would certainly be invaluable and their acquisition revolutionary. Now, the truth of the matter is that not only do such materials exist but in fact they are one and the same. And as manifest destiny would have it, this material was discovered and made in the United States during the Manhattan Project era. A special isotope of Uranium, called U-233, is this intriguing material. It has the potential to convert dirt into energy and, when left alone, it radioactively transforms into isotopes that have been shown to be effective in fighting cancer. The bad news is that the U.S. government - exemplifying the current state of our politics - is actively in the process of destroying this rare, valuable, and one-of-a-kind material.
This introductory blog post is meant to announce Curio Solutions and the purpose of our existence. The Oxford dictionary defines curio as a rare, unusual, or intriguing object. Indeed, antique lamps, Viking spears, WWII name tags, Mughal ornaments, and a wide variety of such rare objects are curios. To us, the unique American inventory of U-233 is a curio. This material was once the subject of intense research, concurrent with such great developments as the microchip, the laser, and of course, manned spaceflight. But U-233 suffered a different fate. It was forgotten and set aside. However, this relic still holds the promise that captivated the imagination of its long-forgotten pioneers. This curio is a result of the hard work and ingenuity of our grandfathers. It promises a revolution in energy and medicine. We sincerely believe that this curio will one day be regarded as humanity's answer to the Malthusian trap. Our purpose is to rescue it and steward it so we may unlock its full potential for the service of America and the people of the world.