“Things you know that ain't so” - “The world is running out of energy resources”
We constantly hear that our way of life is unsustainable because the world is running out of fossil fuels and other vital resources. It is simply not true. The world has more resources available to it than ever before.
When the steam engine was first invented people were worried that, quite soon, the world would run out of coal. Now the world is known to have more coal than it is ever likely to use. Modern coal-fired power stations are clean and efficient and have enough coal for hundreds of years. And we don’t even have to mine it: underground gasification can turn coal directly into gas without the dangers associated with mining.
Two or three years ago, the United States and the United Kingdom were expecting to import more and more gas. The shale gas revolution has turned this around. For the last hundred years, the reserves of oil have steadily increased. The people predicting the imminent arrival of “peak oil" have never been right. Reserves are now 25% greater than they were 10 years ago. Even if oil did start to run out, the immense amount of gas in offshore “methane ice" (clathrates) could easily be turned into liquid fuels.
According to one researcher, fossil fuel reserves are now more than 10 times the amount used until now. If we add in the immense clathrate resource the fossil fuel resource is 60 times the amount used so far.
For electricity, nuclear power and, in particular, reactors burning thorium, promise us a virtually unlimited supply of power with high reliability and at a low and predictable price. It is safer and more environmentally friendly than any other major form of power generation and recent research into radiation shows that exposure to low levels of radiation is not harmful and may even give some immunity to cancer. The radiation limits for nuclear power stations could be raised by a factor of 200 without the slightest risk._ If this was done there would be a substantial reduction in the cost of nuclear power and the public perception of the dangers of nuclear power would change.
If human ingenuity is allowed to follow its natural course, new and improved technologies will continue to provide us and future generations with affordable, reliable energy. Well before fossil fuel reserves come close to being exhausted, we will have found better ways to generate power, perhaps in ways that we cannot yet conceive. Humankind’s progress has been sustained via a series of unexpected, disruptive developments in technology and knowledge.
In spite of all the predictions, the world is not running out of food. With the efficient use of irrigation, improved plants and reduction in the enormous wastage that occurs in developed and developing countries, the world could easily feed a much larger population. As population growth declines sharply as people become more prosperous, economic growth in developing countries will go a long way towards solving the population problem.
I believe that one of the biggest dangers facing the world is well-meaning people who believe that the world is running out of resources, that technology has nothing good to offer, that it will no longer continue to make our lives better and better and that economic growth is incompatible with the environment. If these people carry the day, our grandchildren will suffer.