“We are a civilization built on energy.” So says Bjorn Lomborg in his book, The Skeptical Environmentalist. Happily, according to Lomborg, there is ample evidence that we will not run out of oil in the foreseeable future and thus should not experience dramatic price increases for oil. Moreover he feels that we will be able to handle our future energy needs (The Skeptical … ,p. 118). The rationale behind this optimism is stated well by Sheik Yamani, Saudi Arabia’s former oil minister and a founding architect of OPEC. He pointed out that “…the Stone Age came to an end not for a lack of stones and the oil age will end, but not for a lack of oil.” Lomborg elaborates: “We stopped using stone because bronze and iron were superior materials, and likewise we will stop using oil when other energy technologies provide superior benefits (The Skeptical …, p. 120).”
As with other issues, such a common sense perspective never seems to cause much of a stir in the media. Instead books like Limits to Growth (from the 1970’s)take the headlines and fuel our fears—without a solid basis! This book said we would run out of oil by 1992—that didn’t happen. Paul Ehrlich, mentioned previously in the non-energy resources page, predicted the crisis as experienced in the 1970’s would return in the 90’s…again, that didn’t happen. In 1992, a revised edition of Limits to Growth, Beyond the Limits was published making claims again of future dates when we will “run out” of oil. Such predictions are nothing new! In 1939 the Department of the Interior projected that oil would last only 13 more years. In 1951 it was again projected there was only 13 more years worth of oil left.
Oddly enough, Lomborg shows in his book, we have more and more energy resources, specifically oil, left—not less and less as would seem obvious (The Skeptical …, p. 125). How can this be? Again, as with other resources, we do not know where all the oil is, at this point…new searches cost money, and thus are not initiated too far in advance of production. However, US Geological Surveys have regularly been making assessments of the undiscovered resources of oil and gas, and as of March 2000 they state:” Since 1981, each of the last four of these assessments has shown a slight increase in the combined volume of identified reserves and undiscovered resources (The Skeptical …, p. 125).” In addition, we have gotten better and better at exploiting resources, getting more oil from known fields, and better at finding new fields etc…still, up to 63% of the original oil will remain in the ten largest US oil fields when production is shut down simply awaiting new ways of extraction. Add to this the more efficient use of our oil-based energy resources with better gas mileage etc…and you have another factor behind our growing reserves. Lastly, we can substitute other energy sources for oil in some situations just as coal came into use in place of wood in England in the 1600’s.
It is clear, then that we are not headed for a major energy crisis—there is plenty of energy! Our current energy costs make up less than 2% of the global GDP (gross domestic product)…so even large increases in prices would not have significant welfare impact. Additionally there are many options using renewable energy resources that will, in all likelihood, increase in use in the future (The Skeptical …, p. 135). As before with the non-energy resources discussion, it is not being argued that fossil fuels are inexhaustible. The point being made is that technology is currently outpacing our increased consumption. And eventually we will make the switch to renewable resources as needed. To repeat a salient point “…just as the Stone Age did not end for lack of stone, the oil age will eventually end but not for lack of oil. Rather, it will end because of the eventual availability of superior alternatives (The Skeptical …, p. 136).”
God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but on trees and flowers and clouds and stars. ~Martin Luther