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  • 1. In the 1970s a rising world population and the finite resources available tosupport it were hot topics. Interest faded—but it’s time to take another lookCharles A. S. Hall and John W. Day, Jr.I n recent decades there has been con- siderable discussion in academiaand the media about the environmen- strongly influenced by the writings of ecologists and computer scientists who spoke clearly and eloquently tainable future,” but the word “energy” appeared only for personal “creative energy”—and “resources” and “humantal impacts of human activity, especial- about the growing collision between population” were barely mentioned.ly those related to climate change and increasing numbers of people—and But has the limits-to-growth theorybiodiversity, but far less attention has their enormously increasing material failed? Even before the financial collapsebeen paid to the diminishing resource needs—and the finite resources of the in 2008, recent newspapers were brim-base for humans. Despite our inatten- planet. The oil-price shocks and long ming with stories about energy- andtion, resource depletion and popula- lines at gasoline stations in the 1970s food-price increases, widespread hun-tion growth have been continuing re- confirmed in the minds of many that ger and associated riots in many cities,lentlessly. The most immediate of these the basic arguments of these research- and various material shortages. Subse-issues appears to be a decline in oil ers were correct and that humans were quently, the headlines have shifted to thereservoirs, a phenomenon commonly facing some sort of limits to growth. It collapse of banking systems, increasingreferred to as “peak oil” because global was extremely clear to us then that the unemployment and inflation, and gen-production appears to have reached growth culture of the American econ- eral economic shrinkage. A number ofa maximum and is now declining. omy had limits imposed by nature, people blamed at least a substantial partHowever, a set of related resource such that, for example, the first author of the current economic chaos on oil-and economic issues are continuing made very conservative retirement price increases earlier in 2008.to come home to roost in ever greater plans in 1970 based on his estimate Although many continue to dismissnumbers and impacts—so much so that we would be experiencing the ef- what those researchers in the 1970sthat author Richard Heinberg speaks fects of peak oil just about the time of wrote, there is growing evidence thatof “peak everything.” We believe that his expected retirement in 2008. the original “Cassandras” were right onthese issues were set out well and basi- These ideas have stayed with us, even the mark in their general assessments,cally accurately by a series of scien- though they largely disappeared, at least if not always in the details or exact tim-tists in the middle of the last century until very recently, from most public dis- ing, about the dangers of the continuedand that events are demonstrating that cussion, newspaper analyses and college growth of human population and theirtheir original ideas were mostly sound. curricula. Our general feeling is that few increasing levels of consumption in aMany of these ideas were spelled out people think about these issues today, world approaching very real materialexplictly in a landmark book called The but even most of those who do so be- constraints. It is time to reconsider thoseLimits to Growth, published in 1972. lieve that technology and market eco- arguments in light of new information, In the 1960s and 1970s, during our nomics have resolved the problems. The especially about peak oil.formative years in graduate school, warning in The Limits to Growth—andour curricula and our thoughts were even the more general notion of limits to Early Warning Shots growth—are seen as invalid. A discussion of the resource/popula- Even ecologists have largely shifted tion issue always starts with ThomasCharles A. S. Hall is a professor at the College of their attention away from resources to Malthus and his 1798 publication FirstEnvironmental Science and Forestry of the State focus, certainly not inappropriately, on Essay on Population:University of New York at Syracuse. John W. various threats to the biosphere andDay is a professor emeritus in the Department of biodiversity. They rarely mention the I think I may fairly make two pos-Oceanography and Coastal Sciences of Louisiana basic resource/human numbers equa- tulata. First, that food is necessaryState University. Both are systems ecologists withwide-ranging interests and experience in energy tion that was the focal point for earlier to the existence of man. Secondly,and resource management. Address for Hall: Col- ecologists. For example, the February that the passion between the sexeslege of Environmental Science and Forestry, State 2005 issue of the journal Frontiers in is necessary, and will remain near-University of New York, Syracuse, NY 13210. Ecology and the Environment was dedi- ly in its present state…. AssumingInternet: chall@esf.edu cated to “Visions for an ecologically sus- then, my postulata as granted, I230 American Scientist, Volume 97
  • 2. Ladi Kirn/AlamyFigure 1. The global population has doubled in the last four decades, as exemplified in this crowded market in India. Although some regions sufferfrom poverty, the world has avoided widespread famine mostly through the increased use of fossil fuels, which allows for greater food production.But what happens when we run out of cheap oil? Predictions made in the 1970s have been largely ignored because there have not been any seriousfuel shortages up to this point. However, a reexamination of the models from 35 years ago finds that they are largely on track in their projections. say, that the power of popula- affluence—albeit only recently. Paul The first 20th-century scientists to tion is indefinitely greater than Roberts, in The End of Food, reports that raise again Malthus’s concern about the power in the earth to produce malnutrition was common through- population and resources were the subsistence for man. Population, out the 19th century. It was only in ecologists Garrett Hardin and Paul Eh- when unchecked, increases in a the 20th century that cheap fossil en- rlich. Hardin’s essays in the 1960s on geometrical ratio. Subsistence ergy allowed agricultural productivity the impacts of overpopulation includ- increases only in an arithmetical sufficient to avert famine. This argu- ed the famous Tragedy of the Commons, ratio. A slight acquaintance with ment has been made many times be- in which he discusses how individu- numbers will shew the immensity fore—that our exponential escalation als tend to overuse common property of the first power in comparison in energy use, including that used in to their own benefit even while it is of the second. agriculture, is the principal reason that disadvantageous to all involved. Har- we have generated a food supply that din wrote other essays on population, Most people, including ourselves, grows geometrically as the human pop- coining such phrases as “freedom toagree that Malthus’s premise has not ulation has continued to do likewise. breed brings ruin to all” and “nobodyheld between 1800 and the present, as Thus since Malthus’s time we have ever dies of overpopulation,” the latterthe human population has expanded avoided wholesale famine for most of meaning that crowding is rarely a di-by about seven times, with concom- the Earth’s people because fossil fuel rect source of death, but rather resultsmitant surges in nutrition and general use also expanded geometrically. in disease or starvation, which then killwww.americanscientist.org 2009 May–June 231
  • 3. of fossil fuels. Other ecologists, includ- ing George Woodwell and Kenneth Watt, discussed people’s negative im- pact on ecosystems. Kenneth Bould- ing, Herman Daly and a few other economists begin to question the very foundations of economics, including its dissociation from the biosphere nec- essary to support it and, especially, its focus on growth and infinite substitut- ability—the idea that something will always come along to replace a scarce resource. These writers were part and parcel of our graduate education in ecology in the late 1960s. Meanwhile Jay Forrester, the inven- tor of a successful type of computer random-access memory (RAM), beganAP Images to develop a series of interdisciplinary analyses and thought processes, which he called system dynamics. In the books Figure 2. A village on one of Bangladesh’s coastal islands was devastated by a cyclone in 1991, and papers he wrote about these mod- in which a total of more than 125,000 people were killed. Large storms had caused destruction in 1970, and would again in 2006. Although people in areas such as these are aware of the risk, els, he put forth the idea of the coming overcrowding often prevents them from moving to safer regions. difficulties posed by continuing human population growth in a finite world. The people. This phrase came up in an es- food supplies, human health and na- latter soon became known as the limits- say reflecting on the thousands of peo- ture, and that Malthusian processes to-growth model (or the “Club of Rome” ple in coastal Bangladesh who were (war, famine, pestilence and death) model, after the organization that com- drowned in a typhoon. Hardin argued would sooner rather than later bring missioned the publication). The mod- that these people knew full well that human populations “under control” els were refined and presented to the this region would be inundated every down to the carrying capacity of the world by Forrester’s students Donella few decades but stayed there anyway world. Meanwhile agronomist David Meadows and Dennis Meadows and because they had no other place to live Pimentel, ecologist Howard Odum and their colleagues. They showed that expo- in that very crowded country. This pat- environmental scientist John Steinhart nential population growth and resource tern recurred in 1991 and 2006. quantified the energy dependence of use, combined with the finite nature of Ecologist Paul Ehrlich argued in The modern agriculture and showed that resources and pollution assimilation, Population Bomb that continued popu- technological development is almost would lead to a serious decline in the lation growth would wreak havoc on always associated with increased use material quality of life and even in the numbers of human beings. At the same time, geologist M. King Hubbert predicted in 1956 and again in 1968 that oil production from the coterminous United States would peak in 1970. Although his predictions were dismissed at the time, U.S. oil produc- tion in fact peaked in 1970 and natural gas in 1973. These various perspectives on the limits to growth seemed to be fulfilled in 1973 when, during the first energy crisis, the price of oil increased from $3.50 to more than $12 a barrel. Gaso- line increased from less than $0.30 to $0.65 per gallon in a few weeks while available supplies declined, because of a temporary gap of only about 5Bettman/Corbis percent between supply and projected demand. Americans became subject for the first time to gasoline lines, large increases in the prices of other energy Figure 3. In 1979 motorists were forced to line up for rationed gasoline during a period of oil- sources, and double-digit inflation price shocks and reduced production. Such events were compelling support for the argument with a simultaneous contraction in that the world’s population could be limited by a finite amount of natural resources. total economic activity. Such simulta- 232 American Scientist, Volume 97
  • 4. neous inflation and economic stagna-tion was something that economistshad thought impossible, as the twowere supposed to be inversely related.Home heating oil, electricity, food andcoal also became much more expen-sive. Then it happened again: Oil in-creased to $35 a barrel and gasoline to$1.60 per gallon in 1979. Some of the economic ills of 1974,such as the highest rates of unemploy-ment since the Great Depression, highinterest rates and rising prices, re-turned in the early 1980s. Meanwhile,new scientific reports came out about AP Images/Brennan Linsleyall sorts of environmental problems:acid rain, global warming, pollution,loss of biodiversity and the depletionof the Earth’s protective ozone layer.The oil shortages, the gasoline linesand even some electricity shortages inthe 1970s and early 1980s all seemedto give credibility to the point of view Figure 4. In drought-stricken southeast Ethiopia, displaced people wait for the official distri-that our population and our economy bution of donated water. Children who try to make off with the resource hours ahead of the appointed time are chased off by a man with a cane. Such incidents demonstrate that water ishad in many ways exceeded the abil- another resource often available only in limited quantities.ity of the Earth to support them. Formany, it seemed like the world wasfalling apart, and for those familiar ity more generally, arising from nature’swith the limits to growth, it seemed as constraints. They felt that their viewif the model’s predictions were begin- was validated by this turn of eventsning to come true and that it was valid. and new gasoline resources.Academia and the world at large were Mainstream (or neoclassical) eco-abuzz with discussions of energy and nomics is presented mostly from thehuman population issues. perspective of “efficiency”—the con- Our own contributions to this work cept that unrestricted market forcescentered on assessing the energy costs seek the lowest prices at each juncture,of many aspects of resource and en- and the net effect should be the lowestvironmental management, including possible prices. This would also causefood supply, river management and, all productive forces to be optimallyespecially, obtaining energy itself. A deployed, at least in theory.main focus of our papers was energy re- Economists particularly disliked theturn on investment (EROI) for obtaining perspective of the absolute scarcity ofoil and gas within the United States, resources, and they wrote a series ofwhich declined substantially from the scathing reports directed at the scien-1930s to the 1970s. It soon became ob- tists mentioned above, especially thosevious that the EROI for most of the most closely associated with the lim-possible alternatives was even lower. its to growth. Nuclear fusion was cit-Declining EROI meant that more and ed as a contender for the next sourcemore energy output would have to be of abundant, cheap energy. They alsodevoted simply to getting the energy found no evidence for scarcity, sayingneeded to run an economy. that output had been rising between 1.5 and 3 percent per year. Most im-The Reversal portantly, they said that economies hadAll of this interest began to fade, how- built-in, market-related mechanisms Figure 5. The values predicted by the limits-ever, as enormous quantities of previ- (the invisible hand of Adam Smith) to to-growth model and actual data for 2008 areously discovered but unused oil and deal with scarcities. An important em- very close. The model used general terms forgas from outside the U.S. were devel- pirical study by economists Harold J. resources and pollution, but current, approxi- mate values for several specific examplesoped in response to the higher prices Barnett and Chandler Morse in 1963 are given for comparison. Data for this longand then flooded into the country. Most seemed to show that, when corrected a time period are difficult to obtain; manymainstream economists, and a lot of for inflation, the prices of all basic re- pollutants such as sewage probably have in-other people too, did not like the con- sources (except for forest products) had creased more than the numbers suggest. Oncept that there might be limits to eco- not increased over nine decades. Thus, the other hand, pollutants such as sulfur havenomic growth, or indeed human activ- although there was little argument that largely been controlled in many countries.www.americanscientist.org 2009 May–June 233
  • 5. cratic collective tastes of all people were reflected in their economic choices. For those few scientists who still cared about resource-scarcity issues, there was not any specific place to apply for grants at the National Science Foundation or even the Department of Energy (except for studies to improve energy efficien- cy), so most of our best energy analysts worked on these issues on the week- end, after retirement or pro bono. WithChristian Science Monitor/Getty Images very few exceptions graduate training in energy analysis or limits to growth withered. The concept of limits did live on in various environmental issues such as disappearing rain forests and coral reefs, and global climate change. But these were normally treated as their own specific problems, rather than as a more general issue about the relationship be- tween population and resources. Figure 6. Oil is not the only resource that may have peaked, with use outstripping the Earth’s ability to support the level of consumption. In Sardinia, off the coast of Italy, commercial A Closer Look fishermen’s catches are down by 80 percent compared to what their fathers used to haul in. For a distinct minority of scientists, there was never any doubt that the the higher-quality resources were be- bet and had to pay Simon $576. The in- economists’ debate victory was illusory ing depleted, it seemed that technical cident was widely reported through im- at best, and generally based on incom- innovations and resource substitutions, portant media outlets, including a dis- plete information. For example, Cutler driven by market incentives, had and paraging article in the New York Times J. Cleveland, an environmental scien- would continue indefinitely to solve Sunday Magazine. Those who advocated tist at Boston University, reanalyzed the longer-term issues. It was as if the for resource constraints were essentially the Barnett and Morse study in 1991 market could increase the quantity of discredited and even humiliated. and found that the only reason that the physical resources in the Earth. So indeed it looked to many as though prices of commodities had not been The new behavior of the general the economy had responded with the increasing—even while their highest economy seemed to support their view. invisible hand of market forces through quality stocks were being depleted— By the mid-1980s the price of gasoline price signals and substitutions. The was that for the time period analyzed had dropped substantially. The enor- economists felt vindicated, and the re- in the original study, the real price of mous new Prudhoe Bay field in Alaska source pessimists beat a retreat, although energy had been declining because of came online and helped mitigate to some effects of the economic stagnation the exponentially increasing use of oil, some degree the decrease in produc- of the 1970s lasted in most of the world gas and coal, whose real prices were si- tion of oil elsewhere in the U.S., even until about 1990. (They live on still in multaneously declining. Hence, even as as an increasing proportion of the oil places such as Costa Rica as unpaid debt more and more energy was needed to used in America was imported. Energy from that period.) By the early 1990s, win each unit of resources, the price of as a topic faded from the media and the world and U.S. economies basically the resources did not increase because from the conversations of most people. had gone back to the pre-1973 model the price of energy was declining. Unregulated markets were supposed to of growing by at least 2 or 3 percent a Likewise, when the oil shock induced lead to efficiency, and a decline in en- year with relatively low rates of infla- a recession in the early 1980s, and Eh- ergy used per unit of economic output tion. Inflation-corrected gasoline prices, rlich and Simon made their bet, the re- in Japan and the U.S. seemed to provide the most important barometer of energy laxed demand for all resources led to evidence for that theory. We also shifted scarcity for most people, stabilized and lower prices and even some increase in the production of electricity away from even decreased substantially in response the quality of the resources mined, as oil to coal, natural gas and uranium. to an influx of foreign oil. Discussions of only the highest-grade mines were kept In 1980 one of biology’s most per- scarcity simply disappeared. open. But in recent years energy prices sistent and eloquent spokesmen for The concept of the market as the ul- increased again, demand for materials resource issues, Paul Ehrlich, was timate objective decider of value and in Asia soared and the prices of most “trapped,” in his words, into making a the optimal means of generating vir- minerals increased dramatically. Had bet about the future price of five miner- tually all decisions gained more and Ehrlich made his bet with Simon over als by economist Julian Simon, a strong more credibility, partly in response to the past decade, he would have made a advocate of the power of human inge- arguments about the subjectivity of de- small fortune, as the price of most raw nuity and the market, and a disbeliever cisions made by experts or legislative materials, including the ones they bet in any limits to growth. The price of all bodies. Decisions were increasingly on, had increased by 2 to 10 times in re- five went down over the next 10 years, turned over to economic cost-benefit sponse to huge demand from China and so Ehrlich (and two colleagues) lost the analysis where supposedly the demo- declining resource grades. 234 American Scientist, Volume 97
  • 6. Another problem is that the eco-nomic definition of efficiency has notbeen consistent. Several researchers,including the authors, have foundthat energy use—a factor that hadnot been used in economists’ produc-tion equations—is far more importantthan capital, labor or technology inexplaining the increase in industrialproduction of the U.S., Japan andGermany. Recent analysis by VaclavSmil found that over the past decadethe energy efficiency of the Japaneseeconomy had actually decreased by10 percent. A number of analyses haveshown that most agricultural technol-ogy is extremely energy intensive. Inother words, when more detailed andsystems-oriented analyses are under-taken, the arguments become muchmore complex and ambiguous, andshow that technology rarely worksby itself but instead tends to demandhigh resource use. Likewise oil production in the U.S.has declined by 50 percent, as predict-ed by Hubbert. The market did notsolve this issue for U.S. oil because,despite the huge price increases anddrilling in the late 1970s and 1980s, Figure 7. The original projections of the limits-to-growth model examined the relation of athere was less oil and gas production growing population to resources and pollution, but did not include a timescale between 1900then, and there has been essentially and 2100. If a halfway mark of 2000 is added, the projections up to the current time are largelyno relation between drilling intensity accurate, although the future will tell about the wild oscillations predicted for upcoming years.and production rates for U.S. oil andgas since. There is a common perception, evenamong knowledgeable environmentalscientists, that the limits-to-growth mod-el was a colossal failure, since obviouslyits predictions of extreme pollution andpopulation decline have not come true.But what is not well known is that theoriginal output, based on the computertechnology of the time, had a very mis-leading feature: There were no dates onthe graph between the years 1900 and2100. If one draws a timeline along thebottom of the graph for the halfwaypoint of 2000, then the model results arealmost exactly on course some 35 yearslater in 2008 (with a few appropriate as-sumptions). Of course, how well it willperform in the future when the modelbehavior gets more dynamic is not yetknown. Although we do not necessarilyadvocate that the existing structure ofthe limits-to-growth model is adequatefor the task to which it is put, it is im-portant to recognize that its predictionshave not been invalidated and in fact Figure 8. The annual rates of total drilling for oil and gas in the United States from 1949 to 2005 areseem quite on target. We are not aware shown versus the rates of production for the same period. If all other factors are kept equal, EROIof any model made by economists that is is lower when drilling rates are high, because oil exploration and drilling are energy-intensiveas accurate over such a long time span. activities. The EROI may now be approachining 1:1 for finding new oil fields.www.americanscientist.org 2009 May–June 235
  • 7. Avoiding Malthus Clearly even the most rabid supporter of resource constraints has to accept that the Malthusian prediction has not come true for the Earth as a whole, as human population has increased some seven times since Malthus wrote his article, and in many parts of the world it continues to grow with only sporadic and widely dispersed starva- tion (although often with considerable malnutrition and poverty). How has this been possible? The most general answer is that tech- nology, combined with market econom- ics or other social-incentive systems, has enormously increased the carrying capacity of the Earth for humans. Tech- nology, however, is a two-edged sword, whose benefits can be substantially blunted by Jevons’s paradox, the concept that increases in efficiency often lead toFigure 9. The rate at which oil is discovered globally has been dropping for decades (blue), and is lower prices and hence to greater con-projected to drop off even more precipitously in future years (green). The rate of worldwide con- sumption of resources.sumption, however, is still continuing to rise (red line). Thus, the gap between supply and demand And technology does not work forof oil can be expected to widen. Data courtesy of the Association for the Study of Oil and Gas. free. As originally pointed out in the early 1970s by Odum and Pimentel, increased agricultural yield is achieved principally through the greater use of fossil fuel for cultivation, fertilizers, pesticides, drying and so on, so that it takes some 10 calories of petroleum to generate each calorie of food that we eat. The fuel used is divided nearly equally between the farm, transport and processing, and preparation. The net effect is that roughly 19 percent of all of the energy used in the United States goes to our food system. Mal- thus could not have foreseen this enormous increase in food production through petroleum. Similarly, fossil fuels were crucial to the growth of many national econo- mies, as happened in the United States and Europe over the past two centuries, and as is happening in China and India today. The expansion of the economies of most developing countries is nearly linearly related to energy use, and when that energy is withdrawn, economies shrink accordingly, as happened with Cuba in 1988. (There has been, how- ever, some serious expansion of the U.S. economy since 1980 without a concomi- tant expansion of energy use. This is the exception, possibly due to the U.S.’s outsourcing of much of its heavy indus-Figure 10. The energy return on investment (EROI) is the energy cost of acquiring an energyresource; one of the objectives is to get out far more that you put in. Domestic oil production’s try, compared to most of the rest of theEROI has decreased from about 100:1 in 1930, to 40:1 in 1970, to about 14:1 today. The EROI of most world.) Thus, most wealth is generated“green” energy sources, such as photovoltaics, is presently low. (Lighter colors indicate a range through the use of increasing quanti-of possible EROI due to varying conditions and uncertain data.) EROI does not necessarily cor- ties of oil and other fuels. Effectivelyrespond to the total amount of energy in exajoules produced by each resource. each person in the United States and236 American Scientist, Volume 97
  • 8. Europe has on average some 30 to 60 public discussion, in part because of change, in any meaningful way, weor more “energy slaves,” machines to an inaccurate understanding of both need to make them again central to ed-“hew their wood and haul their water,” what those earlier papers said and the ucation at all levels of our universities,whose power output is equal to that of validity of many of their predictions. and to debate and even stand up tomany strong people. Most environmental science textbooks those who negate their importance, for Thus a key issue for the future is focus far more on the adverse impacts we have few great intellectual leadersthe degree to which fossil and other of fossil fuels than on the implications on these issues today. We must teachfuels will continue to be abundant and of our overwhelming economic and economics from a biophysical as wellcheap. Together oil and natural gas even nutritional dependence on them. as a social perspective. Only then dosupply nearly two-thirds of the energy The failure today to bring the potential we have any chance of understandingused in the world, and coal another reality and implications of peak oil, or solving these problems.20 percent. We do not live in an infor- indeed of peak everything, into scien-mation age, or a post-industrial age, tific discourse and teaching is a grave Bibliographyor (yet) a solar age, but a petroleum threat to industrial society. Barnett, H., and C. Morse. 1963. Scarcity andage. Unfortunately, that will soon end: The concept of the possibility of a Growth: the Economics of Natural Resource Availability. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Uni-It appears that oil and gas production huge, multifaceted failure of some sub- versity Press.has reached, or soon will reach, a maxi- stantial part of industrial civilization is Campbell, C., and J. Laherrere. 1998. The end ofmum. We reached that point for oil in so completely outside the understanding cheap oil. Scientific American March: 78–83.the U.S. in 1970 and have also now of our leaders that we are almost totally Cleveland, C. J. 1991. Natural resource scarcityreached it in at least 18, and probably unprepared for it. For large environmen- and economic growth revisited: Economicthe majority, of the 50 most significant tal and health issues, from smoking to and biophysical perspectives. In Ecologicaloil-producing nations. The important flooding in New Orleans, evidence of Economics: The Science and Management of Sustainability. Edited by R. Costanza. Newremaining questions about peak oil are negative impacts has historically preced- York: Columbia University Press.not about its existence, but rather, when ed general public acceptance and policy Day, J., et al. 2007. Restoration of the Mississip-it occurred for the world as a whole, actions by several decades. pi Delta: Lessons from Hurricanes Katrinawhat the shape of the peak will be and There are virtually no extant forms and Rita. 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Journal of Energy Resourcesfrom roughly 100:1 in 1930, to 40:1 jobs would cease to exist without pe- Technology 126:86–89.in 1970, to about 14:1 in 2000. Even troleum. But on our university cam- Hall, C. A. S., and C. J. Cleveland. 1981. Petro-these figures are relatively positive puses one would be hard pressed to leum drilling and production in the United States: Yield per effort and net energy anal-compared to EROI for finding brand- have any sense of that beyond com- ysis. Science 211:576–79.new oil in the U.S., which, based on plaints about the increasing price of Hall, C. A. S., et al. 2001. The need to reinte-the limited information available, ap- gasoline, even though a situation simi- grate the natural sciences with economics.pears likely to approach 1:1 within a lar to the 1970s gas shortages seemed BioScience 51:663–673.few decades. to be unfolding in the summer and Hubbert, M. K. 1969. Energy resources. In the Historically most of the oil supplies fall of 2008 in response to three years National Academy of Sciences–National Re- search Council, Committee on Resources andin the world were found by exploring of flat oil production, assuaged only Man: A Study and Recommendations. Sannew regions for oil. Very large reser- when the financial collapse decreased Francisco: W. H. Freeman.voirs were found rather quickly, and demand for oil. Meadows, D., D. Meadows and J. Randers.most of the world’s oil was found by No substitutes for oil have been 2004. Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update.about 1980. According to geologist developed on anything like the scale White River, Vt.: Chelsea Green Publishers.and peak-oil advocate Colin Camp- required, and most are very poor net Odum, H. T. 1973. Environment, Power and Soci-bell, “The whole world has now been energy performers. Despite consider- ety. New York: Wiley Interscience.seismically searched and picked over. able potential, renewable sources (other Smil, V. 2007. Light behind the fall: Japan’s electricity consumption, the environment,Geological knowledge has improved than hydropower or traditional wood) and economic growth. Japan Focus, April 2.enormously in the past 30 years and it currently provide less than 1 percent Tierney, J. 1990. Betting the planet. New Yorkis almost inconceivable now that major of the energy used in both the U.S. and Times Magazine December 2: 79–81.fields remain to be found.” the world, and the annual increase in the use of most fossil fuels is generallyEnergy Scarcity much greater than the total productionThe world today faces enormous (let alone increase) in electricity fromproblems related to population and wind turbines and photovoltaics. Ourresources. These ideas were discussed new sources of “green” energy are sim-intelligently and, for the most part, ac- ply increasing along with (rather thancurately in many papers from the mid- displacing) all of the traditional ones.dle of the last century, but then they If we are to resolve these issues, in-largely disappeared from scientific and cluding the important one of climatewww.americanscientist.org 2009 May–June 237

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