Minerals cannot be synthetically reproduced in human time frames. But in the world of human action, neither crude oil, nor natural gas, nor coal exists in one, total, known form to start a depletion clock.
Erich Zimmermann warned against the fallacy of importing the physical science concept of fixity to the real-world process of mineral development. “If petroleum resources were in their entirety available from the beginning and could not increase but only decrease through use, it might be correct to advocate ‘sparing use so as to delay inevitable exhaustion’,” he explained.
But if petroleum resources are dynamic entities that are unfolded only gradually in response to human efforts and cultural impacts, it would seem that the living might do more for posterity by creating a climate in which these resource-making forces thrive and, thriving, permit the full unfolding of petroleum reserves than by urging premature restraint in use long before the resources have been fully developed.
The market order encompasses the concept of sustainability, which has been defined (Brundtland Report) as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
In a sustainable energy market, the quantity, quality, and utility of energy improve over time. Sustainable energy becomes more available, affordable, usable, and reliable. Energy consumers do not borrow from the future; they subsidize their progeny by enabling the expansion of technology and upgraded infrastructure.
The catchphrase sustainable energy encompasses the goals of security and reliability, energy availability, and environmental progress. Critics of industrial modernism censure fossil fuels, beginning with coal and continuing with oil. Relatively cleaner-burning natural gas is preferred of the three, but sometimes only as the transition fuel to an envisioned post-hydrocarbon economy.…