It’s time we faced some inevitable facts about oil. We’re running out of it, for one. Oh, we won’t run out of oil tomorrow, or next year. In fact, oil may remain our primary energy source for the remainder of your lifetime. Still, the supply is finite.
More important for the immediate future, however, is that oil supplies and prices are extremely volatile - subject to enormous political pressure from various unstable governments around the globe. And since our global economy remains dependent on this relatively abundant and relatively cheap energy source, we’ll continue to experience the volatility created by political unrest, terrorism, earthquakes and other disruptions.
Purdue University professor Steve Hallett believes we should invest in the development of new energy sources now, before supplies of oil and prices become even more critical. In his new book, “Life Without Oil: Why We Must Shift to a New Energy Future,” Hallett argues that energy is the driver of our society’s success and that the loss of abundant supplies of oil will significantly impact all facets of society.
The Purdue plant scientist says, “You tend to hear about oil from oil guys and plants from plant guys. And that makes perfect sense. What you don’t get is the connections among those fields. Making connections is what ecologists do.”
In “Life Without Oil,” Hallett, who authored the book with Jon Wright, a journalist who has extensively covered energy issues, argues that throughout history all societies have collapsed, usually from the loss of a necessary resource. For our current society, that resource could be oil.
“We have a couple of choices: We either collapse, or we shift to something else,” Hallett says.
The graph below shows the use of oil for energy as a large spike that began its ascent about a century ago and reaches its final descent about a century from now. Hallett says that spike is like an ecological input. The upward portion of the spike has advanced society rapidly, while the downward may create an uncertain and difficult future.
Hallett acknowledges the fact that energy-rich oil has improved our ability to produce more food, both agriculturally and through fishing. More abundant food has led to a rapid growth in the world’s population, which necessitates more oil to keep people fed. Hallett also says that oil use is causing spikes in carbon emissions, which is a factor in climate change.