A contrarian rant, to be taken with a grain of salt:
History tells us that when a civilization runs out of some critical resource, the result is usually the collapse of that civilization. Only the most adept and flexible civilizations can avoid this fate.
Our civilization’s critical resource is petroleum, and it is going to run out some day. Not all at once – rather, what will happen is that oil will become increasingly scarce as the years go by, with the price per barrel rising higher and higher each year. Many experts have said that if we have not already reached “peak oil” – the historical moment of maximum oil production, followed by a downward slope – that we are very close to it. The nations of the world – many of which have an increasing demand for oil – will find themselves squabbling over slices of an ever-decreasing pie.
This will no doubt lead to increasing international tensions, and probably war. Whether or not you think that the current US involvement in the Middle East is motivated by oil, the fact is that as the price of oil increases, the possibility of war becomes ever more likely. Especially given the relationship between oil and food prices, you can well imagine that a world leader, faced with a crashing economy and a hungry populace, might choose a military solution.
Everyone alive today has been blessed with the fact that they are living in a golden age – an age of unprecedented peace and prosperity. Although we have a tendency to focus on the miseries of current events, the fact is that world has been getting steadily better (with occasional fits and starts) for the last 700 years or so.
But all of that could come crashing down if we run out of oil.
But what about alternatives – Nuclear, solar, wind, geothermal, and so on? The question is how quickly we can make the transition. National infrastructures aren’t built in a day, and if recent history is any guide, they aren’t built in a decade either.
Take for example the auto companies response to higher gasoline prices: They knew that it was coming, yet they continued to maintain production lines for gas-guzzling SUVs until the very last possible moment, when it became clear that they simply could not sell them any more. And now they are frantically trying to retool to build hybrids, but they can’t switch over quickly enough.
There’s no reason to believe that we as a society would be any less short-sighted. We would continue to ignore the problem until we absolutely had to do something about it – and by then it would be too late.
But suppose – what if there were another factor in the equation – something that would create a powerful incentive to reduce our use of oil before became scarce? Something that would motivate us to stay ahead of the increasing price curve, so that instead of reducing supply, it would reduce demand? It would need to be a strong motivation, on the order of a threat to our survival and prosperity, otherwise we would (again) dismiss and ignore it.
I think by now you can see what I am (ahem) driving at.