There was an interesting column in The New York Times that seemed illuminating. The column was written by Evar D. Nering, professor emeritus of Mathemat-ics, Arizona State University. Some of the points are:
Assume we have a 100-year supply of oil, based on the current consumption rate. If this oil is consumed at a rate that grows by 5% each year (the current growth rate), this “100-year supply” will last 36 years.
Suppose we find a new source of oil, one that gives us a 1,000-year supply. At the same annual 5% growth rate in consumption, the new supply will last about 79 years.
Wait! We find even more oil — enough to give us a 10,000-year supply! Our worries are over, right? At the same 5% annual growth in the consumption rate, this bonanza of 10,000 years’ supply will last about 125 years.
Some of my dear friends have studied calculus. They will recognize the above as simple calculus calculations. The rest of us will have to take their word for how simple the math is. Simple or complex, the answer is the same: A supply-side attack on America’s energy problems can never work.
Doubling the size of the oil reserve will add, at most, 14 years to the life expectancy of the resource if we continue to use it at the currently increasing rate — no matter how large the reserve is today.
On the other hand, cutting the growth rate in half — to 2.5% per year — will almost double the life expectancy of the resource, no matter what it is.
The optimum plan would be to reduce the growth in energy consumption to zero — maybe to begin to consume less than we do today. To do otherwise is to leave our descendants in a cold and impoverished world.
Our political leaders apparently abhor long-term solutions to problems like energy. They’re enthralled by the quick fix that sounds good on the campaign trail. That’s why we’ll drill for more oil, even though we know it is a losing game — unless you, my dear friends, speak out to your elected representatives demanding a national energy strategy that addresses the rate of increase in energy consumption; unless you convince your friends to send the same message.
Personally, I would prefer that we not drill in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge. But, in the grand scheme of things, it is an insignificant action. Drill, if you must. But don’t pretend that the Alaskan pool of new oil will have any real impact on tomorrow. Energy conservation must be a national priority regardless of what is done to increase supplies.
Jim Norris is ceo of Excellence Alliance Inc. (EAI), Denver, CO.
Publication date: 06/18/2001