15.2.04

Running out of Oil

One of the more important obstacles that we face in the next two decades is the possible decline that we face in the production of oil and proven reserves. This will have a significant impact on the current economic structures that depend upon fossil fuels and their input in advanced industrial economies. Moreover, as China, India, Asia and Latin America increase the living standards of their populations, we can expect the demand for oil to jump just as proven reserves reach a limit.

David Goldstein, vice-provost at the California Institute of Technology and an advocate of nuclear technology, has written a new book entitled, "Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil". In this text, he examines the problems that society will face in meeting this challenge. In particular, advocates of reliance on the 'hidden hand' of the market, do not recognise that the limitations of the oil economy will apply to its short-term replacements: coal, natural gas and the uranium underpinning nuclear power.

Goldstein argues that there is no technological fix and that the complexities of energy supply require innovation on a broad range of front from new forms of power to greater innovation in existing infrastructure.

''There is no single magic bullet that will solve all our energy problems,'' Goodstein writes. ''Most likely, progress will lie in incremental advances on many simultaneous fronts.'' We might finally learn to harness nuclear fusion, the energy that powers the sun, or to develop better nuclear reactors, or to improve the efficiency of the power grid. But those advances will require a ''massive, focused commitment to scientific and technological research.

Goldstein argues that the inevitable decrease in oil reserves is a major problem - one that will affect future technological innovation and economic growth if it is not addressed and resolved.

Philip Chaston - 18.24, 15th February 2004

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