Opinion by Helge Nome
As the forests of pre industrial Britain were depleted and transformed into charcoal to support a growing population, there must have been a number of doomsday prophets around that perceived insurmountable problems ahead. As it turned out, the shortage of charcoal provided the impetus to figure out a way of removing sulphur from regular coal and so create a usable substitute for charcoal. Britain became the leader of the industrial revolution and created an empire upon which “the sun never sets”.
Today, there are those that speak about “peak oil” and how our civilization has to adapt itself to alternative energy sources, such as sun , wind, geothermal, etc. What they don’t seem to realize is that shortages lead to innovation, just like it did in Britain some hundreds of years ago: New ways are now being devised to recover oil that could not be economically collected previously. Here in Central Alberta that reportedly has resulted in vastly improved recovery of oil from a relatively thin “cambrian formation” some 2 kilometers below the surface. New drilling technology enables “spurs” to be drilled horizontally once the formation, which may only be some 30 feet thick, has been reached. These horizontal spurs can be one kilometer long and have multiple oil collection points along the way. The result is much improved oil production from local wells even though oil flow through the shale deposits is very slow.
And there is probably more oil in this world than we will ever use. In the end it comes back to economics, not a scarcity of the resource.
That is equally true of any commodity you can think of, whether natural or manufactured: There is abundance, or potential abundance, everywhere.
The earth can easily sustain a lot more people than it does at present. The limiting factor is how people organize themselves in sharing what is there, and what can be manufactured.
During the years of, say, 500 to 1000 AD in Europe, there were endless conflicts between very large nomadic tribal groups over control of territory. Finally pressures grew to a point were they decided that tilling the soil was more beneficial for the group
than continually warring with their enemies. The higher population density possible in an agrarian society also made defense of territory much easier. A win-win for everybody.
They had re-discovered the wheel that had been used by ancient civilizations and more recent ones in the Middle East for untold centuries. The key was a change in relationships between individuals and groups, where the demarcation and ownership of land became all important.
In our brave new world we are faced with the same old challenges: Are we simply going to start slaughtering each other when a certain point is reached, like our nomadic forebears did, or are we going to change our ways?