Whether you are convinced of the dangers of global warming or not, there is one aspect of this “story/reality” that is increasingly undeniable. We are ultimately going to run out of oil – and when we do, the problems will get big in a hurry if we have not made some rather major changes before that moment arrives.
This is the message of the Thomas Friedman book Hot, Flat and Crowded. He writes:
The broad scientific understanding today is that our planet is experiencing a warming trend – over and above natural and normal variations – that is almost certainly due to human activities associated with large-scale manufacturing. The process began in the late 1700’s with the Industrial Revolution… The Industrial Revolution was at heart a revolution in the use of energy and power.
All the coal, oil and natural gas inputs for this new economic model seemed relatively cheap, relatively inexhaustible, and relatively harmless – or at least relatively easy to clean up afterward. So there wasn’t much to stop the juggernaut of more people and more development and more concrete and more buildings and more cars and more coal, oil, and gas needed to build and power them. Summing it all up, Andy Karsner, the Department of Energy’s assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, once said to me: “We built a really inefficient environment with the greatest efficiency ever known to man.”
In the book, he refers to the fact that that there are massive cities springing up practically overnight throughout previously undeveloped parts of the world. These cities will use massive amounts of energy. In fact, there will arise another “America,” in terms of energy use, in the blink of an eye. He labels the problem this way (as only Thomas Friedman can): “There are too many Americans. If all the world’s people lived like us, it would herald a climate and biodiversity disaster…”
There is no shortage of information reinforcing this view. Steve Connor, science editor for The Independent (UK), writes in his article Warning: Oil supplies are running out fast (Catastrophic shortfalls threaten economic recovery, says world’s top energy economist), of the latest alarm from a leading energy economist, Dr Fatih Birol: “most of the major oil fields in the world have passed their peak production.”
And a new book is creating quite a bit of buzz: 20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline will Change Our Lives for the Better. Kris Boyd interviewed the author, Christopher Steiner, on Think on KERA on Aug. 3. (Download the podcast here). Steiner argues that we need gasoline to become much more expensive to motivate us to attain the breakthroughs that we need, that we want, and which ultimately are inevitable. He labels these future breakthroughs good news because they will make our lives better.
So, maybe Freidman is right. Maybe we are getting more and more Hot, Flat, and Crowded. But maybe, just maybe, the problem will lead to great innovation. And maybe our innovation will save us for the long haul.