Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper

Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper (2014) by Robert Bryce looks at how the world has continuously developed better energy sources that have enabled humanity to get richer, live longer and be far more comfortable.

Bryce looks at how Malthusian collapse theories have become more entrenched despite failing dramatically and repeatedly over the past 200 years. Bryce puts this down to the drive for making things as described by his headline.

A similar story has also been described by Matt Ridley’s excellent ‘The Rational Optimist”. Bryce focuses on how energy use and creation and has changed and how people also travel faster and trade more.

In the book Bryce looks at ‘Degrowth’. This is the theory that many mainstream environmentalists hold, namely that there needs to be dramatically fewer people and that they must be poorer or there will be a catastrophe for humanity and the planet. It’s remarkable how this isn’t a fringe movement but something that senior, influential, fairly mainstream environmentalists like John Holdren and William McKibben clearly state.

The books study of history is fascinating. The importance of the roller cone drill to dramatically expanding oil extraction is something few people know about. The importance of the Diesel and the Turbine is something more people are aware of but is nonetheless well outlined in the book. The way that commodities have declined in price is remarkable.

Bryce’s picture of the future isn’t quite as well done. He extrapolates the trends of the past 200 years which isn’t unreasonable but does overlook places where there has been little improvement such as the cost of putting a kilogram in orbit. Perhaps the improvements to technology are not exponential but instead sigmoidal. Surprisingly in his assessment of nuclear technology Bryce omits a discussion of the myriad of potential new fusion possibilities.

The book is really interesting in the way it looks at the past few hundred years and considers the future. For anyone who thinks the future will be better it’s going to be music to the choir and for those who believe that the future will be worse than the present and that collapse is coming it’s a good description why people believe the opposite is true.


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