While it’s unlikely the we’ll find ourselves using the last drop of the world’s oil anytime soon, we are nearly guaranteed to face a shortage of cheap and accessible oil in the coming century. Known oil reserves are only prepared to meet today’s global demand for another 40 years. And two indicators suggest that we have even less time than that. One, anyone charting the rising middle classes in China and India can tell you, global oil demand is growing. Without new sources of energy, today’s oil supplies will not meet tomorrow’s oil demand. And second, figures for proven oil reserves aren’t so proven. Reserve figures are reported by global oil suppliers that have heavy incentives to exaggerate their reserves. Healthy global reserve estimates help to reassure investors and stabilize volatile prices. The world’s largest oil supplier since the 1980s, Saudi Arabian ARAMCO, has reported no major oil field discoveries in thirty years. Even so, the company’s reported reserves have barely changed in decades.
So, what alternatives are available to us? As of now, there seem to be only two options. Both will require serious changes to most global lifestyles. First, we can stay the course we’re on now and pay more for oil. We’ll continue to develop expensive and destructive oil extraction methods. Prices will rise until today’s high consumption lifestyle will be accessible only to the very rich.
The second and brighter alternative requires a global collaboration to wean the global economy off of oil. Nations and industries worldwide will need to prioritize sustainable energy development. We’ll use industry taxes and international regulations to make alternative energies competitive. Whatever global consumers decide to do, one fact is unavoidable: the price of oil, and energy in general, will be higher.