To my mind, one of the main sources of collective stupidity in modern American society is our pervasive bad habit of short-term thinking. It’s embarrassingly rare for anyone in American public life to stop and say aloud, “Hold it. What’s going to happen if we keep on doing this for more than a few more years?” Now of course one of the reasons so few people do this is that those who do get shouted down as impractical dreamers, and the mere fact that the so-called dreamers are so often right, and the practical men of affairs who dismiss them are so often wrong, somehow never inspires the least willingness to rethink the matter.
This has been on my mind more than usual of late, as the price of oil ratchets slowly upwards. It’s risen over the last few years from its post-2009 lows to a point at which it’s beginning to strain the economies of third world nations. It’ll strain the economies of major industrial nations, too, because it’s repeating the same cycle that drove the drastic price spikes of 1973 and 2008.
Those of my readers who have been paying attention know this song well enough to sing all the verses in the shower. Petroleum is a finite, nonrenewable, and irreplaceable resource, and we’re burning it at a rate of some 93 million barrels every single day. (The next time the media yells about how some new oil field has been discovered with umpty-ump billion barrels of oil in it, divide that by 93 million and see how far it goes.) With each passing year, the hunt for new oil reserves to replace those that have already been exhausted turns up less and less—at this point, annual discoveries are around 11% of annual consumption.
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