Thursday, December 16, 2004

The best laid plans...

Optimism ran high at oil's nadir in 1999 when prices hit $10 a barrel as is evidenced by this Discover Magazine piece. Many of the predictions made then haven't exactly panned out. Of course, today's comparative pessimism may also be coloring our view of the future.

But there is a difference between the two outlooks. One is based on the notion that human ingenuity will help us find whatever resources we need or find suitable substitutes, and we'll succeed at doing this in a timely manner for as many people as we can cram on the planet. Often referred to as "cornucopian" economics, I call it "faith-based" economics and I've critiqued it in three pieces found under "Favorite Posts" on my sidebar.

The other view is based on the idea that resources are, in fact, limited, especially fossil fuel energy resources which once burned are gone forever. It's important to remember that energy is the master resource. Without ample supplies of cheap energy our transport system will grind to a halt, our farms will cease to be as productive, our factories won't work, our mines will shut down, our water will cease to be pumped or purified, and on and on. Our modern technical way of life depends on the lavish use of inexpensive energy.

Whether we can build a modern technical society that depends on renewable, non-polluting energy is an open question. Whether we will do it soon enough is in danger of becoming a closed one.

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