by Tom Mast
Oil is currently the most widely used source of energy in the world. Its existence is particularly vital to our transportation industry, which has evolved from the humble horse and buggy to today’s sophisticated system in less than 150 years. The facts indicate that world production of oil will start declining in the near future, while demand continues to grow. The ensuing oil shortage will inevitably lead to social and economic disruption, unless we develop alternative fuels quickly.
The world must find alternatives for all hydrocarbons, beginning with oil. We have procrastinated until the eleventh hour. Alarmingly, we have not even settled on the technologies for oil alternatives. These new oil alternatives — and surely there will be more than one — are far from obvious today. Huge technical and social implications are attached to all of the proposed options.
Right now, scientists are unable to pinpoint exactly when the production of oil will fall below the demand, but one thing is for sure: this critical moment will arrive soon, relative to the amount of time that will be required to find alternatives for oil.
In his book Out of Gas, David Goodstein, distinguished professor at the California Institute of Technology, writes, “Civilization as we know it will come to an end sometime this century unless we can find a way to live without fossil fuels.” I am confident that we can find a solution to this problem, but we won’t discover an answer unless we work harder and smarter than we have so far.
Changes will come — big changes. What will be our energy source in twenty-five, fifty, or a hundred years? We just don’t know, and that is the heart of our dilemma. Kenneth Deffeyes claims in his book Hubbert’s Peak that in sixty years, production of conventional oil will be one-fifth of the present volume. I can remember sixty years back, and I promise you that it isn’t a very long time. I wrote this book hoping to improve the chances that my grandchildren’s world would incorporate some viable alternatives for the four-fifths of the oil production that will be gone forever.
There is a reason we find ourselves approaching a time of oil shortage with no obvious alternatives to oil: a widespread ignorance of energy issues exists, leading to general confusion and apathy. Public apathy discourages policymakers from supporting effective long-range energy programs. Apaths leads people to waste energy in their homes and on transportation.
Will we just accept the devastating efffects of the coming oil shortage, or will we actively work to solve the problem while we still may have time? The time to act is now, but it is difficult to be proactive if we don’t even understand the basics of energy and oil. Energy’s role in our modern world is quite complex, and we can’t see the big picture based on the scraps of information gleaned from newspapers, magazines, and television. Reading this book will give you a balanced and factual picutre of the medium-to-long range role of oil in supplying the world’s energy needs, as well as an understanding of the many technical and social implications of the oil alternatives. This book is meant as a concise summary of an urgent issue, a synopsis for individuals who want to be conversant with this important topic.
The first objective of this book is to define energy, oil’s role as a source of energy, and the status of oil alternatives — all succinctly. The second goal is to motivate readers to be more proactive in taking steps to reduce world dependence on hydrocarbon fuels, especially oil. It is certain that our children and grandchildren will enjoy a much less comfortable lifestyle than we do, unless energy issues become a national and international priority soon. Building whole new industries is a mammoth undertaking. We can do it, but the time to begin is today.