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New resources and increased efficiency

Our technological advancements have made us more efficient and effective in meeting our needs.
Innovation brings about new technologies, which alleviate the strain on resources. Our technological advancements have empowered us in searching for new resource deposits and identifying new methods to harvest more resources that were once inconceivable.

Deep sea drilling, for example, has expanded our capacity to harvest oil deposits from the oceans’ depths. Hydraulic fracking, a process using high pressure water with a low concentration of chemicals to fissure rocks to release oil and natural gas, has spawned new industries eager to attain fossil fuels from previously unyielding shale rock. Today, no drop of crude oil is wasted in refineries due to fractional distillation which isolates different components of crude oil based on their boiling points. Besides refining crude oil into diesel and petrol for vehicles, refineries produce cooking gas and lubricating oils and even tar for roads from the residue of the distillation process.

We have also utilised our resources more efficiently through technological innovations. Thanks to fertilisers, genetically modified seeds, irrigation systems, etc., our scarce fertile agricultural lands have produced higher and more nutritious yields. Between 1866 and 2012, the corn production of American farmers skyrocketed from 24 bushels to 122 bushels of corn per acre. Concomitantly, the price of corn declined from $5.55 in 1866 (1982 dollars) to $3.15 in 2012.

Technology helps us conserve resources. One of the commodities in the Simon–Ehrlich wager was copper, which faced shortages for its extensive use in wiring electronics. Though we have overcome copper shortages through means such as recycling (in the United States, nearly as much copper is recycled and reused as is harvested from ores), copper reserves have been conserved by substituting copper wires with fiber optic cables made from sand.

© Adam Smith Center, Singapore
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Overpopulation: Resource Depletion and Human Innovation

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