09 12 03 Will the Oil Last

by eric rempel

         In 1972, long before anyone was thinking about climate change, when Hwy. 12 was two lanes and Hwy 52 was gravel, a very significant book was published. The Limits to Growth, written by four scientists said that growth is good – but within limits. As long as a child is a juvenile, growth is good, but once that child reaches maturity, continuing growth is a sign of illness. Ultimately continuing growth kills. Economic growth is good, but unless we recognize that there are limits to healthy economic growth, and unless we find ways of functioning within those limits, we will destroy ourselves. The book shocked the world and became an international best seller, but it seems to have had a little effect on policy anywhere in the world. A copy of that book fell into my hands then, in the 1970s, and profoundly impacted my thinking. What I learned from that book has since affected many of my lifestyle choices, albeit in a limited way.

Consider the resource most essential to our current lifestyles – oil. The first oil well in North America, perhaps the world, was drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859. Oil had been found in wells before, but those wells were water wells. Nobody knew what to do with the stuff, and such wells were abandoned. Those drilling the 1859 well knew they wanted the oil for its energy. From that successful drilling, oil exploration developed. Oil was found in Texas, the Middle East, Alberta, etc. Today most people have forgotten there ever was oil in Pennsylvania, Texas produces a small fraction of the oil consumed in the USA, and Alberta's attention is on the tar sands. In other words, we began our use of oil by simply scooping up the oil most easily accessed, and have progressively moved to depending on oil that is harder to get at – oil that is costlier to get at – oil that takes more energy to get at. Our consumption of oil didn't increase much until the 1920s, but since then consumption has increased astronomically. So let’s accept that the increasing use of oil at its early stages was good. Is it still good today? What indicator do we have to tell us growth is no longer good?

Can anyone doubt that ever increasing oil consumption will ultimately destroy us? Is the “business as usual” model sane? This model says “if you can afford it, do it, buy it.” Surely a healthy respect for this limited resource suggests that we need a more sensible way of deciding how we use it.

I have been hoping our political leaders would enact policy to manage growth in a healthy way, but am realizing that if we wait for them, it will be too late. I can and must act on my own, but that alone will make little difference. But maybe, if we act together, we can leave our children and grandchildren a worthwhile legacy.