Failed predictions of resource exhaustion – Peak Oil #19

Carpe Diem calls attention to the silliness of many past predictions of our dire future in his post, Great moments in failed predictions of resource depletion.

I’m not sure which is larger – the magnitude of error or arrogance from the cited prognosticators. 

His discussion starts with:

The idiocy of “peak oil” and other claims of pending resource depletion have a long history, dating in many cases back to the 1800s. ”Peak nitwitery” experienced an especially strong revival in the 1960s and 1970s, thanks to Paul Ehrlich and his 1968 book “The Population Bomb.”

The post refers to a list of failed predictions compiled for a course at the University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!) –Economic Development of the US – David B. Mustard – Exhaustion of Resources.

Here are the first six items on the list, all of which deal with energy.

  • In 1865, Stanley Jevons (one of the most recognized 19th century economists) predicted that England would run out of coal by 1900, and that England’s factories would grind to a standstill.

  • In 1885, the US Geological Survey announced that there was “little or no chance” of oil being discovered in California.

  • In 1891, it said the same thing about Kansas and Texas. (See Osterfeld, David. Prosperity Versus Planning : How Government Stifles Economic Growth. New York : Oxford University Press, 1992.)

  • In 1939 the US Department of the Interior said that American oil supplies would last only another 13 years.

  • 1944 federal government review predicted that by now the US would have exhausted its reserves of 21 of 41 commodities it examined. Among them were tin, nickel, zinc, lead and manganese.

  • In 1949 the Secretary of the Interior announced that the end of US oil was in sight.

Let’s see how those turned out.

I think the factories in England are still in operation.

There’s been just a tad bit of oil found in California.

I remember seeing huge numbers of oil pumps when we lived just outside Wichita when I was a kid.

I’ve not seen it myself so I can’t say for sure, but I believe to be true the stories floating around that there is a fair amount of oil in Texas.

Current predictions from the prognosticators may be true that the U.S. will run out of oil by the end of this summer or 2016 at the latest, but that would be substantially past the predictions made in 1939 and 1949.

Check out the rest of the list.

The failed predictions of widespread starvation due to overpopulation and worldwide environmental cataclysm are even more astoundingly wrong. Check out the prediction of continent-wide dust storms stopping traffic on freeways and striping paint off houses, again all across the continent.

Oh, the degreed college professor making that particular prediction stands by his claim. That’s not the way I remember 1996, the year it was supposed to happen.

Sorry for the sarcasm. Well, only a little bit. It’s just so easy to ridicule all those silly predictions, whether made in 1885, 1970, or last week.

Perhaps Professor Perry should apply for a trademark. Wouldn’t it be fun to have to type Peak What?™ and Peak Nitwitery™?

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