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The Great Energy Resource Debate (Part II: Neo-Malthusian Alarmism)

[Editor note: The other posts in this series are The Great Energy Resource Debate (Part I: Peak Oil was … is here!) and The Great Energy Resource Debate (Part III: Pessimists Turn Optimistic!). Part IV will look at the theoretical case for resource expansionism in light of the preceding posts.]

[Editor note: Part I

http://www.masterresource.org/2011/06/great-resource-debate-iii-new-optimists/

“All oil and gas resources should be carefully husbanded—i.e. extracted as late and as slowly as possible. Our descendents will be grateful. We, too, shall need a long bridge to the future.”

- Amory Lovins, World Energy Strategies: Facts, Issues, and Options (New York: Friends of the Earth International, 1975), p. 127.

Yesterday's post provided quotations from a variety of sources espousing a pessimistic, closed view of the mineral resource world as it pertains to oil, gas, and even coal. The names included Daniel Yergin (circa 1979), Jimmy Carter, James Schlesinger, Matt Simmons, Colin Campbell, and John Holdren.

Today's post taps into the neo-Malthusian mainstays such as Paul Ehrlich, Barry Commoner, Al Gore, Lester Brown, Amory Lovins, Christopher Flavin--all of whom forecast the coming end of the fossil fuel era.

Paul Ehrlich

“A genuine world shortage of pumpable petroleum appears certain by the turn of the century if demand continues to grow as it did in the 1960s.”

- Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich, The End of Affluence (Riverside, Mass: Rivercity Press, 1974, 1975), p. 44.

“Most of the easily accessible sources of fossil fuels and mineral resources are long gone, and the rising prices reflect the necessity to dig deeper, travel farther, and refine lower-grade ore in order to obtain them.”

- Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich, The End of Affluence (Riverside, Mass: Rivercity Press, 1974, 1975), p. 100.

“The seriousness of the raw material situation had been brought home during the Congressional Hard Resources hearing in 1971. The exposure of the cornucopian economists had been quite a spectacle—a spectacle brought into virtually every American’s home in living color. Few would forget the distinguished geologist from the University of California who suggested that economists be legally required to learn at least the elementary facts of geology. . . . The overall message was clear: America’s resource situation was bad and bound to get worse.”

- Paul Ehrlich, “Eco-Catastrophe,” Ramparts, September 1969, reprinted in Robert Crandall and Richard Eckaus, Contemporary Issues in Economics: Selected Readings (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1972), p. 527.

“Compared to what will occur if we do not start seriously conserving energy—and compared to the food, environmental, and economic crises soon to come—the 1973–74 energy shortage was truly only a mini-crisis.”

- Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich, The End of Affluence (Riverside, Mass: Rivercity Press, 1974, 1975), pp. 48–49.

“By the 1980s, the depletion of accessible reserves of many nonrenewable resources—notably, but not exclusively, petroleum—was becoming more and more evident.”

- Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich, The Population Explosion (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990), p. 57.

“We can be reasonably sure . . . that within the next quarter of a century mankind will be looking elsewhere than in oil wells for its main source of energy. . . . We can also be reasonably sure that the search for alternatives will be a frantic one.”

- Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich, The End of Affluence (Riverside, Mass: Rivercity Press, 1974, 1975), p. 49.

 

“High-grade iron, copper, and other ores are no longer easily accessible; nor does oil bubble to the surface. . . . The world is running short of vital resources, and the American economic system must adjust to this reality.”

- Paul Ehrlich, The Population Bomb (Cutchogue, New York: Buccaneer Books, 1968, 1971), pp. 48, 162.

“That we are presently living beyond our means is obvious from the simple fact that we are madly depleting nonreplenishable resources.”

- Paul Ehrlich, The Population Bomb (Cutchogue, New York: Buccaneer Books, 1968, 1971), p. 145.

“No matter how you slice it, the resources of the planet are finite, and many of them are non-renewable. Each giant molecule of petroleum is lost forever when we tear it asunder by burning to release the energy of sunlight stored in it millions of years ago. Concentrations of mineral wealth are being dispersed beyond recall, senselessly scattered far and wide to where we cannot afford the energy to reconcentrate them.”

- Paul Ehrlich and Richard Harriman, How To Be a Survivor (Rivercity, Mass: Rivercity Press, 1971, 1975), p. 4.

"There are substitutes for oil; there is no substitute for fresh water. Unfortunately, the mindless attitudes of some engineers (and economists and politicians) are found worldwide: 'We can always decide to build some more water projects.'"

- Paul Ehrlich, The Population Explosion (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990), p. 30.

"We can point to new discoveries but must also note the declining rate of discovery as [M. K.] Hubbert has done especially for petroleum. While we can shrug off the distinction between ‘proved reserve’ and ‘resource,’ we can get wide agreement that we have probably found most of the concentrated ores of these materials. A few more spectacular discoveries will turn up, but less and less frequently. It is becoming a tougher ball game by the decade.”

- Daniel Luten, “Energy and Material Resources,” in Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren, eds., The Cassandra Conference: Resources and the Human Predicament (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1988), p. 105.

“We believe that there are compelling reasons to expect natural resources to become more expensive, reasons that are geochemical, geophysical, and energetic. Rising cost is the other face of the warning stage of the depletion history of an earth resource, including mined soil, after technology and the economies of scale start to lose the battle against greater depth and decreasing natural concentrations of useful materials.”

- Violetta Burke Cook and Earl Cook, “Romance and Resources,” in Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren, eds., The Cassandra Conference: Resources and the Human Predicament (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1988), p. 308.

“Faced with evidence of possible severe future shortages of resources and of environmental degradation, together with uncontrolled population increases, we would like to believe that John Wayne and his technological cavalry will come riding over the hill in time. Others may prefer to rely on the ‘magic’ of the marketplace. Both views are romantic, which means in conflict with reason. But, then, when did we allow reason to stand in the way of what we want to believe.”

- Violetta Burke Cook and Earl Cook, “Romance and Resources,” in Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren, eds., The Cassandra Conference: Resources and the Human Predicament (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1988), p. 315.

Lester Brown

“Global land and water resources are not sufficient to satisfy the growing grain needs in China if it continues along the current development path. Nor will the oil resources be available, simply because world oil production is not projected to rise much above current levels in the years ahead as some of the older fields are depleted, largely offsetting output from newly discovered fields.”

- Lester Brown, “The Future of Growth,” State of the World 1998 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998), p. 16.

 

Christopher Flavin (Worldwatch Institute)

“One of the most ominous trends in recent years is the accelerated depletion of some of the world’s most limited oil reserves, all outside the Middle East. The high price of oil has made it economical to greatly increase oil drilling in dozens of non-OPEC countries, many of which will soon reach a point of diminishing returns.”

- Christopher Flavin, “World Oil: Coping With the Dangers of Success,” Worldwatch Paper 66, Worldwatch Institute, July 1985, p. 8.

“Since the mid-seventies, global proven reserves have increased only 5 percent, even as higher oil prices have encouraged exploration and annual oil extraction has declined. The bottom of the oil barrel is now visible, marking a major milestone in the petroleum age.”

- Christopher Flavin, “World Oil: Coping With the Dangers of Success,” Worldwatch Paper 66, Worldwatch Institute, July 1985, p. 23.

 

 

“At the 1985 rate of consumption, the ultimate depletion of world oil resources is between 50 and 88 years away. Little of the world’s petroleum is likely to remain by the bicentennial of the world’s first oil well in the year 2059.”

- Christopher Flavin, “World Oil: Coping With the Dangers of Success,” Worldwatch Paper 66, Worldwatch Institute, July 1985, p. 25.

“Geologists have found that the occurrence of exploitable oil deposits is rare, confined to areas where a coincidence of geological events caused oil to be formed, trapped, and preserved for millions of years.”

- Christopher Flavin, “World Oil: Coping With the Dangers of Success,” Worldwatch Paper 66, Worldwatch Institute, July 1985, p. 25.

“Without reinvigorated efforts, recent improvements in the world energy situation will run out of steam by the early nineties.”

- Christopher Flavin, “World Oil: Coping With the Dangers of Success,” Worldwatch Paper 66, Worldwatch Institute, July 1985, p. 51.

 

Al Gore

“As we strip-mine the earth at a completely unsustainable rate, we are making it impossible for our children’s children to have a standard of living even remotely similar to ours.”

- Al Gore, Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit (New York: Plume/Penguin, 1992, 1993), p. 235.

 

 

 

Amory Lovins

“The conditions necessary for the occurrence of oil, and the location of the earth’s main sedimentary basins, are now sufficiently well-known for total recoverable resources to be estimated with some confidence. The substantial deposits which remain to be proven will not greatly shift the time of ultimate physical depletion (viz. in the first third of the next century assuming that consumption continues to grow fairly rapidly for the next 15-20 years as projected by virtually all governments).”

- Amory Lovins, World Energy Strategies: Facts, Issues, and Options (New York: Friends of the Earth International, 1975), p. 25.

“Prominent exploration experts have recently predicted that total world production of liquid oil will peak by about the end of this decade—or a few years later if production does not rise much—and will decline thereafter.”

- Amory Lovins, World Energy Strategies: Facts, Issues, and Options (New York: Friends of the Earth International, 1975), p. 26.

“It now seems most unlikely that sufficient sustained increments of production will actually occur to meet 1973 forecasts of world oil demand over the next few decades—a fact belatedly admitted in private late-1974 forecasts by some international organizations.”

- Amory Lovins, World Energy Strategies: Facts, Issues, and Options (New York: Friends of the Earth International, 1975), p. 29.

“The general structure of the world oil problem [is that] cheap oil, for long far too cheap, has now become so highly localized that it will not remain cheap—nor, on a time-scale of a few decades, plentiful.”

- Amory Lovins, World Energy Strategies: Facts, Issues, and Options (New York: Friends of the Earth International, 1975), p. 34.

“Cheap reserves of gas may be slightly closer to depletion than those of oil, however, because growth in demand, despite a somewhat later start, has been more rapid.”

- Amory Lovins, World Energy Strategies: Facts, Issues, and Options (New York: Friends of the Earth International, 1975), p. 37.

“The rapid energy growth rates that most industrial countries have long maintained cannot continue for much longer. . . . Even our ability to maintain current levels of per-capita energy conversion in many rich countries over the next few decades is in doubt.”

- Amory Lovins, World Energy Strategies: Facts, Issues, and Options (New York: Friends of the Earth International, 1975), p. 125.

“All oil and gas resources should be carefully husbanded—i.e. extracted as late and as slowly as possible. Our descendents will be grateful. We, too, shall need a long bridge to the future.”

- Amory Lovins, World Energy Strategies: Facts, Issues, and Options (New York: Friends of the Earth International, 1975), p. 127.

“On a plant that is round and therefore finite, energy conversion must eventually encounter some geophysical outer limit; and even sooner, it may be constrained by lack of resources, by biological side-effects, by technical problems, or by social, political, and economic pressures.”

- Amory Lovins, World Energy Strategies: Facts, Issues, and Options (New York: Friends of the Earth International, 1975), p. 3.

Barry Commoner

“Because the present energy sources are non-renewable and technologically complex, they demand progressively more capital; because the demand for capital grows faster than energy production itself, this vital sector of the production system has lost its capability to regenerate, through its sales, sufficient capital to sustain itself. Whether this difficult is met by raising prices, increased borrowing, or both, it will result in worsened inflation.”

- Barry Commoner, The Poverty of Power (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976), pp. 216-17.

“The supplies of oil, natural gas, and uranium are limited and rapidly becoming more demanding of capital and higher in price as the readily exploited deposits are depleted.”

- Barry Commoner, The Poverty of Power (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976), p. 121.

“Because the global ecosystem is a connected whole, in which nothing can be gained or lost and which is not subject to over-all improvement, anything extracted from it by human effort must be replaced. Payment of this price cannot be avoided; it can only be delayed.”

- Barry Commoner, The Closing Circle (New York: Knopf, 1971), p. 46.

Allen Hammond

“Natural gas is an ideal fuel, but one that is in short supply. . . . If consumption of natural gas continues at the present rate and exploration does not pick up, the United States may burn its last molecule of domestic natural gas within 20 years.”

- Allen Hammond, et al., Energy and the Future (Washington: American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1973), p. vi.

“It may take 50 years, 100 years, or longer, but the time is approaching when gas, oil, and coal will no longer be available for use as fuels. Possibly, reserves of these fuels will be depleted by then. Probably, production will not be able to keep pace with demand.”

- Allen Hammond, et al., Energy and the Future (Washington: American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1973), p. 117.

Wilson Clark

“Energy conservation policies will be necessary on a massive scale to forestall shortages of both energy and material goods in the economy in future years.”

- Wilson Clark, Energy for Survival: The Alternative to Extinction (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1974), p. xiv.

“The energy required to bring more oil, natural gas, and coal from the earth into use may be more than the value of the energy in the fossil fuel reserves themselves.”

- Wilson Clark, Energy for Survival: The Alternative to Extinction (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1974), p. xv.

“As the costs of all the fossil fuel energy sources increase due to lessening availability and the necessity to use more energy to extract dilute deposits, it is becoming clear that the fossil fuel era is almost over for the United States. As the fossil fuels dwindle, the cost of developing alternative energy sources constantly increases, since the newer energy sources must be developed with the remaining stocks of expensive fossil fuels.”

- Wilson Clark, Energy for Survival: The Alternative to Extinction (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1974), p. 68.

“The statistical message of the analysis of the trend in energy use and the rise in Gross National Product can be summarized in one sentence: The party is over. Neither nuclear nor any other source of power can do much to re-create the era of cheap, readily available energy resources to which the nation’s consumers have become accustomed over the past century. The golden age of mineral resource discovery and use is largely behind us.”

- Wilson Clark, Energy for Survival: The Alternative to Extinction (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1974), pp. 77-78.

“There are a number of ways in which energy growth may find itself being limited. One of them will be increasingly experienced by the many companies involved in energy extraction and utilization who may find it difficult to finance future energy schemes—from constructing power plants to building oil tankers.”

- Wilson Clark, Energy for Survival: The Alternative to Extinction (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1974), p. 83.

“Dr. Malcolm Peterson of the National Committee for Environmental Information has pointed out that assuming the country’s power needs were presently being met by 300 electric plants of 1,000-megawatt capacity taking up 1,000 feet on a side, that at continuing growth rates ‘all the available land space in the U.S.’ would be taken up within two centuries (less than 20 doubling periods) by plants alone—leaving no additional room for transmission lines, or people to enjoy the benefits of the electricity. And by the year 2000, the increased number of power plants would be consuming enough water for cooling to heat the total volume of water that crosses the continent by 20 degrees yearly.”

- Wilson Clark, Energy for Survival: The Alternative to Extinction (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1974), p. 89.

“Even the ultimate ‘limit’ to growth in electricity use has been set by California Institute of Technology scientist Jerome Weingart. The grand finale, he says, would be reached ‘if we were able to stack the new power plants on top of the old ones. After six more centuries of steady growth at 7 per cent per year, the United States would be a solid shaft of power plants whose outer boundary would be expanding with the speed of light! This represents what physicists would call the relativistic upper limit.’”

- Wilson Clark, Energy for Survival: The Alternative to Extinction (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1974), p. 89.

“The growth rates experienced in the development of energy in the world today cannot be sustained beyond a few more years.”

- Wilson Clark, Energy for Survival: The Alternative to Extinction (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1974), p. 89.

“Because of our insatiable appetite for energy we may within a few years see the Great Lakes, the Pacific, the Atlantic, and Gulf coasts ringed, and rivers lined, with electric generating plants.”

- Senator Lee Metcalf (D. Mont.), quoted in Wilson Clark, Energy for Survival: The Alternative to Extinction (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1974), p. 211.

“Within the next thirty years, major energy and materials shortages caused by a decline in the availability of cheap sources of oil, natural gas, and coal will force the advanced technological nations to develop options to avert social crises as economies decline through severely limited productivity. In order to develop decentralized technologies to carry us through this difficult period, it will be necessary to adapt the American society to energy sources that today appear novel and unimportant.”

- Wilson Clark, Energy for Survival: The Alternative to Extinction (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1974), p. 253.

James McKenzie (Worldwatch Institute)

“As global oil production approaches its peak, there will be upward pressures on world oil prices from their present low levels, though by how much and how fast they might rise remain uncertain. . . . As the peak and decline of world oil production comes within sight, we urgently need policies to encourage more efficient oil use and reliance on alternative energy sources, especially in transportation.”

- James MacKenzie, “Climate Protection and the National Interest: The Links Among Climate Change, Air Pollution, and Energy Security,” World Resources Institute Climate Protection Initiative, p. 27.

There are . . . geology-based arguments suggesting that global oil production may be only a decade or so away from . . . its inevitable decline. . . . When, not if, peaking occurs, major new sources of energy will have to be introduced quite rapidly. The squeeze will be felt first in global transportation—which is virtually totally dependent on petroleum.”

- James MacKenzie, “Oil as a Finite Resource: When is Global Production Likely to Peak?” World Resources Institute, March 1996, p. 3.

“An excess global oil production capacity gradually disappears over the coming decade, oil prices can be expected to rise. When and by how much will depend on such unknowns as the growth in global oil demand, the timing and speed of production declines, and the availability of suitable substitutes.”

- James MacKenzie, “Oil as a Finite Resource: When is Global Production Likely to Peak?” World Resources Institute, March 1996, p. 18.

David Goodstein

“The world will soon start to run out of conventionally produced, cheap oil…. We [will] start to run out of all fossil fuels by the end of this century.”

- David Goodstein, Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004), p. 15.

“Civilization as we know it will come to an end sometime in this century unless we can find a way to live without fossil fuels.”

- David Goodstein, Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004), p. 123.

Richard Heinberg

“It has been a fabulous party [of cheap energy]…. But … shall we vainly continue reveling until the bitter end, and take most of the rest of the world down with us? Or shall we acknowledge that the party is over, clean up after ourselves, and make way for those who will come after us?”

- Richard Heinberg, The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies (Canada: New Society Publishers, 2003), p. 242.

“Oil prices are set to soar…. Prices will likely reach at least $100 a barrel before the decade is out.”

- Stephen Leeb and Donna Leeb, The Oil Factor: Protect Yourself—AND PROFIT—from the Coming Energy Crisis (New York: Time Warner, 2004), p. 50.

6 comments

1 Alex Epstein { 05.13.11 at 12:53 pm }

Thanks, Rob, for this amazing compilation.

2 John W. Garrett { 05.14.11 at 4:02 pm }

You forgot to name Jeremy Grantham as a modern-day apostle of Malthusian resource depletion. His 4/25/11 piece discusses the effects of our dwindling natural resources on the prices of commodities in the context of a rising world population.

See: “Time to Wake Up: Days of Abundant Resources and Falling Prices Are Over Forever”
https://www.gmo.com/America/MyHome/

3 rbradley { 05.16.11 at 11:30 am }

Thank John….

This compilation was from some years ago–there are a lot of quotations to add to the list I am sure!

4 David Bellman { 05.18.11 at 9:22 am }

Just as in stock trading its all about timing. All these alarmist have at least one thing in common they rang the alarm bells much sooner than it had to.

At the same time I think its important to realize the evolution of mans uses of fuel started with wood. We still haven’t run out of wood we just moved on to dung, whale oil, coal, gas, petroleum, nuclear, and now solar and wind. Each of those sources are still used some less than other. The transition will likely not be abrupt. There will be those who will not adapt for some time. There will be technology to slow the change (e.g. horizontal drilling) as much as there will be technology to speed up the transfer (e.g. thin film solar).

The Club of Rome premise makes sense but it was based on different levels of productivity. We now can make more food production from an acre than we could ever imagined in the 1970′s. We can find oil where we never thought we could. At some point will it slow down – sure – but I think that time may be much harder to identify than the premise that we cant use our resources into infinity.

My blog – http://www.epis.com/market_insights/?cat=6/

5 Eric Anderson { 05.18.11 at 5:28 pm }

Pretty amazing set of quotes. I’m not sure the last one is in the same category, though. Didn’t it come true?

6 rbradley { 05.18.11 at 7:52 pm }

Eric:

Yes, and good point. But it was temporary and undoubtedly the author thought it was a step change rather than a peak point.

Another point: we can have political price spikes that are different from physical scarcity from nature–the latter being what the peak-oil folks have in mind.

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