The 18th century British scholar Thomas Malthus believed human population growth was unsustainable because he thought that population
growth was exponential (2-4-16) while the food supply only grew arithmetically (2-3-4). Malthus argued that this relationship between population and food supply was a recipe for social catastrophe.
History has shown time and time again that Malthus was wrong. The population growth has not outstripped the food supply. Malthus’ predicted social catastrophe never happened because necessity is the mother of all inventions — when more food was needed to feed a growing population, there were innovations or alternatives discovered.
When it comes to energy, Malthus lives on with those who believe in peak oil. Peak oil is the idea that humans have reached the point of maximum oil production, and that proven reserves will be depleted. Despite these claims by peak oil alarmists, world proven reserves have doubled since 1980.
Some peak oilers point to the U.S. and note that U.S. proved oil reserves are down slightly from their 1980 levels. This is true. It’s also true that in 1980 the U.S. had oil reserves of 29.81 billion barrels. From 1980 through 2009, we produced 75.36 billion barrels of oil. In other words, we produced 250% of our proved reserves over the last 30 years.
In light of the conflicts in the Middle East, I am sure we will see the resurgence of peak oil claims that are artfully designed to encourage the taxpayer into thinking we need to further subsidize renewable energy. In order to combat the emotional pleas of Malthusians, here are a few fun facts from Reason and a great video from Learn Liberty that explains how resources are conserved and preserved:
- In 1855 there was an advertisement for Kier’s Rock Oil, a patent medicine whose key ingredient was petroleum bubbling up from salt wells near Pittsburgh, urged customers to buy soon before “this wonderful product is depleted from Nature’s laboratory.”
- In 1943 the Standard Oil geologist Wallace Pratt calculated that the world would ultimately produce 600 billion barrels of oil. In fact, more than 1 trillion barrels of oil had been pumped by 2006.
Any guesses on how much oil we will have in 20 years? I’m guessing 2 trillion barrels.