I recall being told many times over my life that the world is running out of oil. I was told that we need to curtail our energy usage because fossil fuels are a limited resource. Doom and cataclysmic catastrophe were to befall our society if we didn’t change our ways.
I’d like to take a moment to reflect on some historical predictions concerning our limited fossil fuel sources. The following are very real quotes from very real scientists about our world’s oil supply. Pay attention to the dates.
“In meeting the world’s needs, however, the oil from the United States will continue to occupy a less and less dominant position, because within the next two to five years the oil fields of this country will reach their maximum production and from that on we will face an ever-increasing decline.” — Oct. 23, 1919 “Oil and Gas News”
“…oil supply of this country will last only about 15 years.” — Capt. H. A. Stuart, director of the naval petroleum reserves, 1937
“M. King Hubbert of the Shell Development Co. predicted [one year ago] that peak oil production would be reached in the next 10 to 15 years and after that would gradually decline.” — March 9, 1957 Corpus Christi Times (Corpus Christi, Texas)
“At any rate, U.S. oil supplies will last only 20 years. Foreign supplies will last 40 or 50 years, but are increasingly dependent upon world politics.” — May 1972 “Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists”
“As a nation, Americans have been reluctant to accept the prospect of physical shortages. We must recognize that world oil production will likely peak in the early 1990s, and from that point on will be on a declining curve. By the early part of the 21st century, we must face the prospect of running out of oil and natural gas.” — 1977 U.S. Department of Energy Organization Act
Stressing the need for conservation, [physicist Dr. Hans] Bethe said the world will reach its peak oil production before the year 2000. Production of oil worldwide will then drop to zero over about 20 years, he said. “Rigorous conservation could stretch the world’s oil supply to the year 2050,” he said. — Oct. 17, 1980 Syracuse Post Standard (Syracuse, New York)
“Unfortunately, oil production will likely peak by 2020 and start declining. Without a change, developing countries will ultimately be left in the dark, and developed countries will struggle to keep the lights on. Conflict is inevitable. My guess is that this won’t become a big issue unless there is a thalidomide event. We will have to see in the rear-view mirror that we are past the peak in worldwide oil production.” — Richard Smalley, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, 1996
“Global supplies of crude oil will peak as early as 2010 and then start to decline, ushering in an era of soaring energy prices and economic upheaval — or so said an international group of petroleum specialists meeting Friday.” — May 25, 2002 Index Journal (Greenwood, South Carolina)
“Most studies estimate that oil production will peak sometime between now and 2040. This range of estimates is wide because the timing of the peak depends on multiple, uncertain factors that will help determine how quickly the oil remaining in the ground is used, including the amount of oil still in the ground; how much of that oil can ultimately be produced given technological, cost, and environmental challenges as well as potentially unfavorable political and investment conditions in some countries where oil is located; and future global demand for oil.” — February 2007 GAO Report
As you can see, the “goal post” kept getting pushed back, but danger always seemed to be within the next 20 or so years. Far enough away that it’s hard to cry foul when no signs of doom are immediately present, but close enough to scare folks because harm might be seen in their lifetime.
This oil stuff isn’t the only doom and gloom reported on by a breathless media. In the last decade or so I cannot recall hearing much about the world’s proverbial gas tank running dry. Instead, it seems the discussion has turned to our planet being irrevocably harmed by our usage of fossil fuels. I hear a cacophony of voices telling me to curtail the use of fossil fuels because their use will cause tremendous harm very soon.
This warning of the coming apocalypse is a fun pastime for many in our society. Maybe it’s a secret cabal of billionaire manipulators. Maybe it’s overpopulation. Maybe it’s artificial intelligence. Maybe it’s aliens. Maybe it’s microchips in vaccines. Whatever might be ending the world, it’ll probably fill a few minutes of airtime on the nightly news. It also is probably not anything to get too worked up about.
John Judkins is a Greenfield attorney.