From the May 2007 and May 1857 issue of Scientific American:
We believe that no particular use is made of the fluid petroleum, from the ‘tar springs’ of California, except as a lotion for bruises and rheumatic affections. It has a pungent odor, and although it can be made to burn with a pretty good light, its smell is offensive. This, perhaps, may be obviated by distilling it with some acid; we believe that this is not impossible in this age of advanced chemistry. If the offensive odor could be removed, a valuable and profitable business might be carried on in manufacturing burning fluid from it.
I find the hubris that we can predict we know what energy we will be using for lighting in 150 years astonishing. But whatever it is, if we project economically viable reserves vs. current usage, we can project we will run out of it. It’s a good thing we found a replacement for whale oil and tallow in time.
I think scientists and journalists misunderstand what ‘finite’ means when it comes to resources. Even a compact finite sphere can seem infinite if as you approach the edge, you slow down, the sphere grows, or your direction changes. When resources get scarce, price rises slows down usage, viable reserves grow, substitutes change usage patterns and magically–as if stayed by an invisible hand–we never run out of anything.
For thousands of years the only thing consistently getting more expensive is the value of human attention (Simon).
[Update from Rand, Saturday afternoon]
Per a comment:
Now, I consider myself a moderate libertarian and thus strongly disagree with them on this but while I am a strong believer in innovation and technological progress, the argument about finite resources does give me pause at times. What about industrial metal ores etc…?
Could we not at some point simply run out of materials to use?
I would point out that there’s no such thing as a non-renewable resource. Except, of course, time, and (ultimately) energy. It will be a very long time, though, before we run out of either, at least as a species.
By the way, Sam. What’s with all the marathon posting? Did you just lose your job? Not that I don’t appreciate it. Just sayin’…