“We build into our automobiles more power and greater gas consumption than we need. We use the press and radio to push the sales of more cars. We drive them hundreds of millions of miles a year in pursuit of futility.”
“With the exhaustion of our own oil wells in sight … much of our resource capital has been used up, but we still have our yacht, our stable of horses….”
– William Vogt. Road to Survival (New York: William Sloane, 1948), p. 68.
MasterResource documents the historical record behind the grand energy debate from the vantage points of business, economics, political economy, and history. What was said? When? Why? And to what effect?
One aspect of the debate has been the difference between natural market efficiency/conservation versus its political offshoot, conservationism, defined as the belief that less usage is per se a moral good or economic necessity.
Enter William Vogt’s Road to Survival (New York: William Sloane, 1948), an early contribution to the modern Malthusian movement. As such, it is a forerunner to Paul Ehrlich’s screeds of the 1960s and 1970s (h/t to Pierre Desrochers).
Here is a sampling of Vogt’s views:
From page 68:
Millions of unneeded electric lights burn, every year, untold thousands of tons of American coal. Our most prodigal wastage is, perhaps, of gasoline.
We are an importing nation; and every day we waste hundreds of thousands of gallons. All manner of drivers let their motors run when they are not in use. Our tensions find outlet in racing motors an in traveling at high speeds that reduce the efficiency of our cars.
We build into our automobiles more power and greater gas consumption than we need.
We use the press and radio to push the sales of more cars. We drive them hundreds of millions of miles a year in pursuit of futility.
With the exhaustion of our own oil wells in sight, we send our Navy into the Mediterranean, show our teeth to the U.S.S.R., insist on access to Asiatic oil–and continue to throw it away at home.
Much of our resource capital has been used up, but we still have our yacht, our stable of horses–and quite a few breach-of-promise suits.
From page 147:
What is going to happen to our increasingly mechanized agricutlure as the petroleum famine overtakes us, or as the necessity of importing gasoline and refining it from coal or shale boosts its price? No none seems to have determined this.
The petroleum problem is part of a wider malaise to William Vogt.
From page 149:
For a long period after the settlement of Virginia, North America was producing more than man was extracting. But with the destruction of the environment and with increasing population, that day has long since passed. The present living standard for 145,000,000 people is being maintained only by living on our resource capital.
From page 150:
If destruction of land resources could return us to cultivation of inner resources, as during the period of New England’s flowering, we should be a happier, serener, and more stable people.
From page 151:
Insecurity breeds immaturity, and as we struggle to adjust to an ever-poorer, more uncertain world, we shall find the attainment of adulthood more and more elusive…. The greatest danger may lie in lack of time to apply the brakes.”
The neo-Malthusianism birthed in this book would not be forgotten. Consuming irreplaceable minerals (such as oil, gas, and coal) to leave the cupboard bare for a frightful future was the starting point for Paul Ehrlich, John Holdren, et al. in the dark decade of the 1970s (created by regulation, not nature or us). Air pollution joined in as an unsolvable problem with more people and more energy combustion.
And still later, the argument was that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions would trap heat and destabilize the planet…
It all started with Thomas Robert Malthus in 1798. And in a modern sense, it started with William Vogt’s Road to Survival in 1948.