I continue to be amused, bemused and generally incredulous about the stream of – if you’ll pardon the expression – “expert opinions” about the quantity of unexploited and as yet undiscovered reserves of oil and gas buried below the surface of Planet Earth. Add in the conspiracy theorists, whose estimates are far greater than those of the experts, who clearly (sic) are out to bamboozle us all as a means of keeping prices artificially high, and away goes all the panic about running out of the stuff which we burn so profligately.
OK, let’s try a look at the issue top-down instead of from the supposedly educated bottoms-up perspective. Simple really: assume that the earth is a hollow sphere completely full of high-grade petroleum and liquefied natural gas. Can even the oil barons and the conspiracy theorists assert that there could be more of the stuff than that? Hardly! So how long would that lot last? (Possibly longer than such life on earth, including homo-not-so-sapiens that can survive a death-dealing atmospheric crown of carbon dioxide.) At our current rate of usage, and the current rate of increase in that rate of usage, how long? Not very!
But we can agree, can’t we, that the earth is not a hollow sphere, but a molten core (too hot for organic fuels), a lot of rock, and zillions of gallons of water, mostly salty? In fact, our dear old sage, Sir Isaac the Newton, correctly ‘guessed’ that the average density of the earth would probably be “...between 5 and 6 times that of water”, and water is quite a bit denser than those desirable combustibles. 5-6 times? Not a bad guess, Sir Isaac: the currently accepted figure is 5.5 times (!!!). So the “Not very” above is not nearly as “very” as the brim-full hollow sphere would give us.
Let’s face it, fellow temporary occupants of this increasingly befouled planet of ours, we’ve got it backwards: what we now call “alternative energy” is actually “there-is-no-alternative energy”; it’s the stuff to which we’ve become habituated that is the alternative – to survival.