According to a family legend, my grandfather thought that automobiles would be a passing fad on account the Earth's supply of oil would run out by 1924 or so.
So he bought a large number of horses, to be ready for the day.
But it didn't come. Instead, the Wyoming ranchers bought Model T Ford cars and rode around in them instead of on horseback.
More recently, people have wondered whether supplies of oil will run out. The issue is not so simple as a quick look at lists of proven oil reserves might suggest.
Because geological exploration is costly, oil companies search only for reserves that will last a dozen years or so. That is why century long time-series graphs that show `oil extracted' and `proven oil reserves' march more or less in parallel.
However, geologists also extrapolate from discoveries in thoroughly searched regions, such as the US, to estimate expected discoveries in poorly searched regions, such as central Africa. And they add in known deposits that are expensive to extract. These provide the long term estimates we see. And some people talk about newly hypothesized sources, such as methane clathrates.
So oil may not run out so quickly as some think; nor last as long as others hope.
And in any event, fossil fuels generate carbon dioxide which contributes to green house warming (i.e., to increased weather variability; only statisticians notice changes in global average temperatures). Even if reserves of methane clathrate turn out to be as huge as some now think, and even though methane is the least bad of the fossil fuels, it may be foolish to burn these reserves.
The Chinese government is planning to create huge quantities of carbon dioxide over the next century -- enough that in a generation or so, presuming their GNP rises to equal that of the US, the quantity released may become more than a "tree hugger's" issue: it may become the sort of issue that exercises lowland shopping mall owners and real estate developers -- that is, politically influential people. It all depends on how quickly the market expects oceans to rise and climates to become more variable (obviously, there is no economic concern for catastrophe that occurs beyond a financial horizon).
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