By Scott Huntington
With the rise of green energy solutions around the world, the worldwide panic over oil use has faded to a dull roar. Still, oil and other nonrenewable fuel sources remain the driving force behind most industrialized and pre-industrialized nations.
From the soot-choked streets of Beijing to the American dream of an open road and a set of wheels, fossil fuels keep the world turning. Oil, a cornerstone in the distinctly American lifestyle, has been a cause for concern and criticism for many decades — so much so that one must ask: Will we ever run out?
Scientists seem somewhat divided on this, and it's apparent that measuring the volume of crude oil deep within the earth is somewhat more difficult than using the world’s longest dipstick. Instead, the best scientific predictions are just that: predictions and estimations as to the exact volume of oil available about the amount already used. Further, with the secrecy surrounding international business, the exact reserves and contributions of some oil-wealthy nations remain unclear.
To answer the question in short form, we don’t know.
However, this is not necessarily the case. First, with the significant advances in green technology — primarily solar, wind and geothermal — a new challenger has risen to topple fossil fuels from their throne. Every year, green energy becomes more affordable and available to the public, and more people begin to transition away from traditional energy sources. We see this with the rise of electric cars, with charging stations beginning to crop up across the U.S.
The main roadblock for most people interested in going green is the price point: It still takes a couple of years of problem-free solar panels or wind turbine use before someone can expect to break even on their initial investment. For others, going green is not an option, as they live in apartment complexes or otherwise urban settings, preventing the use of bulky green energy options.
With greater acceptance of green energy as a viable source and the continually lowering prices of green energy setups, it could quickly rise to usurp fossil fuels. It is likely if the trends continue — gas, oil, etc. maintaining a similar price, while green energy continues to become more affordable as more people adopt it — there will eventually come a time when it makes less financial senses to pay for oil or gas. People owning electric cars have already begun to see a return on their investments, and this will only continue to advance.
In other words, if the current trend in green energy continues, we will never run out of oil, because we will stop using it altogether.
We also can't know exactly how price fluctuations in the overall oil supply would impact consumption. For instance, if oil does become more scarce, the price of gasoline will naturally rise. Suddenly, people will find ways to start riding their bikes to work and may even cancel that road trip they had planned for the summer. Many will even begin looking for alternatives to oil — perhaps investing in an electric car in the process.
A drought in the worldwide oil supply could be exactly what it takes for green energy to become universally accepted.
If we can be certain of one thing, it is that the future of oil is uncertain. In the next decade, we could see green energy become so affordable that oil and other fuel sources lose relevance entirely. Likewise, new reserves or available oil could drop the price of gasoline to the point that we all hold off on buying that electric car for a couple of years.