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Thomas Malthus’ “Essay on the Principle of Population” (1798) predicts that population growth, spurred by societal improvements, eventually will outstrip natural resources leading to universal famine and the demise of civilization. It reasons that population growth is exponential, while growth of food production is linear. For 200 years, his dire prediction has been forestalled by a parade of technological accomplishments based on cheap, dense fossil energy, that has provided astonishing, albeit unequal advances in man’s comfort, well being and reproductive enthusiasm.
Now, cheap, energy-dense fossil fuels are becoming scarcer. Readily available oil is estimated to last approximately 40 years; natural gas, somewhat longer; and coal reserves, at the projected consumption rate, will last about 150 years. But emissions from burning fossil fuels are thought by many to be the root cause of the current global warming and society, given the chance, would vote against carbon dioxide. Regardless of whether fossil fuel emissions cause climate change, we are running out, and we must seek alternative ways to satisfy energy demand – we again must turn to technology to forestall the Malthusian prediction.
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