It is hard to know which is the more remarkable- that it took 600 million years for the Earth to make its oil, or that it took 300 years to use it up.
The steep ride up the and down the energy curve is the most abnormal thing that has ever happened in human history. Most of human history is a no-growth situation. Our culture is built on growth and that phase of human history is almost over and we are not prepared for it. Our biggest problem is not the end of our resources. That will be gradual. Our biggest problem is a cultural problem. We don’t know how to cope with it.
So long as oil is used as a source of energy, when
the energy cost of recovering a barrel of oil becomes
greater than the energy content of the oil, production
will cease no matter what the monetary price may
Our ignorance is not so vast as our failure to use what we know.
Growth, growth, growth — that’s all we’ve known . . . World automobile production is doubling every 10 years; human population growth is like nothing that has happened in all of geologic history. The world will only tolerate so many doublings of anything — whether it’s power plants or grasshoppers.
Our principal constraints are cultural. During the last two centuries we have known nothing but exponential growth and in parallel we have evolved what amounts to an exponential-growth culture, a culture so heavily dependent upon the continuance of exponential growth for its stability that it is incapable of reckoning with problems of non-growth.
It is evident that the fortunes of the world’s human population, for better or for worse, are inextricably interrelated with the use that is made of energy resources.
Were we a rational society, a virtue of which we have rarely been accused, we would husband our oil and gas resources.
History, human or geological, represents our hypothesis, couched in terms of past events, devised to explain our present-day observations.
Historical chronology, human or geological, depends… upon comparable impersonal principles. If one scribes with a stylus on a plate of wet clay two marks, the second crossing the first, another person on examining these marks can tell unambiguously which was made first and which second, because the latter event irreversibly disturbs its predecessor. In virtue of the fact that most of the rocks of the earth contain imprints of a succession of such irreversible events, an unambiguous working out of the chronological sequence of these events becomes possible.
[The] first postulate of the Principle of Uniformity, namely, that the laws of nature are invariant with time, is not peculiar to that principle or to geology, but is a common denominator of all science. In fact, instead of being an assumption or an ad hoc hypothesis, it is simply a succinct summation of the totality of all experimental and observational evidence.