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On Oil

Is the world running out of oil? The prospect seems unthinkable — mostly because the consequences, if true, would be unimaginable.

Permanent fuel shortages would tip the world into a generations-long economic depression. Millions would lose jobs. Farm tractors would be idled, triggering massive famines. Energy wars would flare. And carless suburbanites would trudge to their nearest big-box stores — not to buy Chinese-made clothing, but to scavenge glass and copper wire from abandoned buildings.

— Paul Salopek, Chicago Tribune

I’m no pollyanna, but I say that this sort of thinking in a load of bollocks. Will the looming (although not imminent, I believe) end of cheap fossil fuels lead to worldwide economic depression? I say no way, because we already have the technology to live without teh petroleum. Certainly, life after oil will be more expensive, but Americans, as well as those in much of the rest of the world, have proven that they are perfectly capable of seeing prices double or triple with minimal impact on ever-increasing demand. Certainly, I spend a good amount of money on gas, but it is nowhere near my largest expense.

Take this a step further, and it seems perfectly reasonable to me that, when oil runs out (which will be a relatively slow process, considering the scale of the industry), we (the world) will be perfectly capable of absorbing another doubling in price, at which point ethanols, biodiesels, and perhaps other technologies will become extremely profitable, and will fill the energy demand. Will things become more expensive? Certainly! But most of us are so far above sustinence (as I sit here not needing to work typing on my computer thinking about a gift I am going to buy for a friend’s wedding…) that thinking things getting more expensive will somehow destory our lives is ludicrous.

For how progressive so many claim to be, why are so many so afraid of change?

4 Responses to “On Oil”

  1. Jim Says:

    Investors are gradually beginning to believe that high (conventional) oil prices are here to stay. This boosts exploration for oil that is harder to get (deeper, or smaller reservoirs) and boosts investment in alternatives.

    Consider the company Rentech, (RTK), that is working or projects that convert coal to diesel-like liquid transporation fuels. They recently started a project with Peabody Coal (one of the largest) to build a large coal-to-liquids plant.

    The United States has enough coal for hundreds of years. (But I do think we need to work on the carbon dioxide problem.)

  2. nordsieck Says:

    Hopefully, battery technology (which is much newer than say… internal combustion engine technology) will continue to improve at its current pace for some time to come. In 10 years, or so, our problems may be solved by running everything off the grid (electric cars, etc.).

    Of course, that would necessitate a much greater supply of electricity, but I’m sure that with the growing approval of nuclear tech by Greenpeace, et. al., that won’t be nearly the same problem as the rising oil prices we are facing today. That, and we won’t have to fight over oil anymore.

  3. Therapist Seattle Says:

    Funny how this has so much relevance 2 years later. As everything is in an economic meltdown and it all started with shortage of oil. When jobs are rare and families are down to no money in the kitty wonder if more expensive alternative technology would be possible. How much can governments subsidize? If tax payers have no income then government has no revenue. It’s scary to think we would all be going back to early civilisations and life would have to slow down big time!!

  4. Gavin Wright Says:

    i hope that we would be able to mass produce Biodiesel in the near future and i also hope that it would get cheaper-:~

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