The Difference Between Copper and Cucumbers

Source: American Institute for Economic Research.

The writer makes a useful point about the nature of “renewable” resources. They can be more finite than “non-renewables.”

It matters, of course, what type of material we are categorizing. Petroleum, for example, is a finite resource in all the ways that cucumbers are. Cord wood burned in furnaces or stoves, or even lumber used to build houses (to preserve heat for human comfort) similarly would be more cucumber-like than copper-like.

But the basic observation remains valid. Even copper must eventually and irreversibly oxidize. It is just a matter of speed. In which case it is odd to call some of the fastest burning things “renewable.”

23 thoughts on “The Difference Between Copper and Cucumbers

  1. I looked for merit in this essay. I tried, but I could not find any.

    It is a mind-numbingly facile argument that even fails to illuminate an irrelevant straw man. The policy debates about renewable versus non-renewable resources are almost always about alternative energy resources. In what realm are copper and cucumbers competing in a way remotely analogous to coal or petroleum vs solar or wind? And, unlike cucumbers, solar or wind do not consume other resources in order to exist. As long as the sun is shining both will be there to be exploited to meet human needs. And, as you point out, petroleum is in no way recyclable in a way analogous to copper wire.

    It is clear this fellow wants to ding environmental activists. This essay is a swing and a miss. IMHO.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. RE: “The policy debates about renewable versus non-renewable resources are almost always about alternative energy resources.”

      That’s not the subject the writer addresses. If it is the subject you want to address, then I can understand why you see no merit in the piece. Do you similarly look for lost car keys only where a streetlight makes it easier?

      To many environmentalists, and to some shallow thinkers who wouldn’t call themselves that, the concept of “sustainable” economies based on “renewable” resources is like the holy grail. But the objective is not physically possible with current technology, and the concept itself is flawed. The article points this out by exploring the reality behind the term renewable.


      1. The author wants to mock environmentalists who talk about “sustainable” and “renewable” but ignores, as I said, that almost all of such talk is in the realm of energy production. He apparently cannot make a case in the relevant realm so he goes off on this cutesy tangent. His stand in for finite resources is copper (which is recyclable) which is very different from petroleum (which isn’t). And his stand in for renewable or sustainable resources is cucumbers (which consumes resources) which is very different than say solar (which doesn’t).

        He also fails in his choice of stand-ins by choosing resources which are not in competition for the same ends.

        If you find something of value in any of this essay, enjoy. I don’t. But one word of advice – lay off calling other people “shallow thinkers.”

        Liked by 2 people

        1. RE: “He apparently cannot make a case in the relevant realm so he goes off on this cutesy tangent.”

          The relevant realm is resources as economists understand the term, not energy, which is only one type of resource. I made this clear in my post. Maybe you missed it, or just can’t stay on topic.


          1. The actual debates about “sustainable” and “renewable” is in the realm of ENERGY resources. He avoids this relevant area and, at best, makes trivial points by picking copper and cucumbers.

            Your repeated accusations of being off topic with my response to this piece are a tell of a “shallow thinker.” IMHO.

            Liked by 2 people

          2. RE: “The actual debates about ‘sustainable’ and ‘renewable’ is in the realm of ENERGY resources.”

            Only to you, apparently.


          3. “Only to you, apparently.”

            Besides energy production, there is one major area where people are pushing ideas of “sustainability” and that is in agriculture. The agricultural methods we now rely on are ultimately not sustainable. I would add that concerns in that area are closely related to energy sustainability because nitrogen fertilizer (N) is derived from finite natural gas. And the energy cost of procuring and distributing other major nutrients (phosphates (P) and potash (K)) from mines is non-sustainable as well. In the long run.

            These are real issues and mocking environmental concerns based on his trivial points about copper vs cucumbers don’t add much to the discussion.

            Liked by 1 person

          4. RE: “The agricultural methods we now rely on are ultimately not sustainable.”

            Nothing is ultimately sustainable. That’s just basic physics. As in the article, the instant you eat the cucumber it is gone, in itself irreplaceable.

            I don’t doubt there are process improvements to be made in the cycle of production and consumption, but the concept of “sustainable agriculture” is as fundamentally absurd to an economist as is the prospect of a perpetual motion machine is to a physicist.

            That’s a fair point to make in response to magical thinking.


          5. “But the concept of “sustainable agriculture” is as fundamentally absurd to an economist as is the prospect of a perpetual motion machine is to a physicist.”

            That is utter nonsense. Spoken as if you have some idea about what you are talking about. But utter nonsense nevertheless.

            Yes, some day the universe will come to an end, but that is not an appropriate frame of reference for discussing the sustainability of human civilization.

            Liked by 1 person

          6. RE: “Yes, some day the universe will come to an end, but that is not an appropriate frame of reference for discussing the sustainability of human civilization.”

            It is, however, an appropriate frame of reference for discussing the concept of “finite” resources in economics. To an economist, all resources are finite or, technically, “scarce” in some way. But for reasons that can be deduced both logically and empirically, scarcity rarely threatens human survival or impedes human progress toward ever higher levels of well being.

            The environmentalist concept of finite resources is uniformed by the work of economists, which is the point of the article.


          7. When natural gas derived fertilizers become scarce and too costly for 3rd world use, agriculture will not be able to sustain the current population, unless of course, we put enough CO2 in the air to fertilize the crops. With 1200 to 1600ppm CO2, we don’t need much other fertilization, but we may not have enough coal to burn to raise it that high.


          8. “With 1200 to 1600ppm CO2, we don’t need much other fertilization”

            So truthy! And such nonsense. I know you thought it would be a cute segue to one of your “pollution is good for you” arguments but the “science” behind your observation is non-existent.

            None of the three main fertilizers (NPK) that are essential to the kind of non-sustainable agriculture we practice now has anything to do with CO2. Natural gas is used to produce Nitrogen fertilizers. CO2 is not a source of Nitrogen. Duh! P and K fertilizers are from mines. More CO2 in the air will make the demand for NPK even more acute because the plant growth stimulated by that CO2 would require more of those building block fertilizers.

            Liked by 1 person

          9. Nitrogen is also introduced into the soil by bacteria living in the ground and in nodules on the roots of legumes. With enough CO2, plant growth is adequate at lower Nitrogen levels.

            Farming will be different with less artificial fertilizer, but can still be productive.

            For a century, southern farmers grew corn, then after harvest, planted peas(cowpeas) around the stalks, the bacteria in the legumes replenished the nitrogen, then cattle were allowed to graze on the stalks and peas and contribute their own fertilizers as they did so,

            It was quite sustainable without artificial fertilizer and could be rotated with less sustainable crops like cotton and sugar cane,

            But even with artificial fertilizers, we could not feed the current population at pre-industrial CO2 levels. We are actually very close to CO2 starvation.


          10. Yeah, I do happen to know that SOME crops – notably soybeans – do not need Nitrogen fertilizer. But again, CO2 does not provide P or K.

            And, to put it politely, the beneficial effect of increased CO2 on food production has been greatly exaggerated by the pro pollution lobby that you speak for. Reality is far more complicated than the 10th grade biology behind these exaggerated claims.



            I certainly hope that you are correct with your look back at the good old days of farming, but you are talking now about a very different, sustainable agriculture. According to Mr. Roberts, that is “fundamentally absurd.”

            Liked by 1 person

  2. So harvesting the seeds from cucumbers does not make it a “renewable” resource?
    Interesting concept. But to say that a cucumber is NOT renewable is misdirected babble.

    Copper, once mined, does not rejuvenate itself. Whereas other naturally occurring resources like trees and other plants, including fruits and vegetables, occur naturally (or through harvesting of seeds to plant next year’s crop) or reforestation of a harvested forest, with naturally, or through human intervention, to plant seedlings. You can’t take copper waste, plant it, and wait for it to grow again.

    The comparison, as is true of most anti-climate change deniers or those who see doing nothing as the best way forward, such as AEIR, is drivel. And another attempt to avoid making difficult but necessary choices to save the planet we live on.


    1. RE: “But to say that a cucumber is NOT renewable is misdirected babble.”

      The cucumber you eat is immediately gone forever. The copper you take out of the ground takes much longer to disintegrate. These are physical realities. Do you not find the difference important in understanding basic economic processes?


      1. I can remove the seeds from ONE cucumber and plant them the following year to produce MANY more.

        Do you not understand how gardening works?

        The use of plants vs metals is useless in this sense. Plants can be harvested to produce more the following year. The copper may last longer in use, but it is still being pulled out of the earth. Once it is gone, it is gone, regardless of how long it lasts once in final use.

        Like I said, it is a terrible comparison.


      2. RE: “Like I said, it is a terrible comparison.”

        I suppose it depends on what you are trying to compare. To keep yourself in “renewable” cucumbers you have to repeat the same labor every year for every year you eat them. To keep yourself in copper, you only have to mine it once.


        1. Do you know how many seeds are in one cucumber? Even if only 50% provide a new plant the following year, each plant will produce several cukes. That is sustainable.

          What is wrong with a little labor? Seeding and harvesting cucumbers is a lot less labor intensive than mining copper or drilling for gas or oil or mining coal.

          Again, it is a terrible comparison. – IMO


  3. Bill Gates was on 60 minutes last night. He is pushing hard for a global realization and response to climate change. He compared the issue to the efforts in a world war except the enemy is environmental damage leading to climate changes.

    His biggest warning was that climate migration would be like 20 Syrias in early impact. 100’s of millions of refugees trying to survive droughts and coastal flooding will create chaos and violence on a grand scale.

    Now, is this anything new? In 2005 The same man warned of a viral pandemic that was not a question of if, but when. With some luck, our “Nero” response of marginal efforts to avoid a serious pandemic worked for a decade or so. Mainly because the scares were easily contained or fizzled on their own.

    The rest is history. Gates’ prediction was spot on.

    He is not the richest, or second or lower richest, for no reason other than he is pretty smart. Plus his global visions, philanthropy and personal efforts means he is putting forth money and action, not just words.

    I hope he is wrong, but the efforts to ignore climate change is pretty strong. Let the good times roll because we are all gonna die anyway is a mantra that seems to underlie the public ambivalence among many.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Do you think we should stop mining copper because it is a finite, non-renewable resource that affects climate change?


    2. John Oliver (TG he’s back after hiatus) covered the NEXT pandemic last night. I recommend those who doubt that this is never going to happen again watch closely. Enjoy the satirical humor of a lot, but pay attention to what is being said. “Gates’ prediction was spot on.”
      And theer are a couple of others, not named Gates who have said similar.


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