Is it Possible that the Quantity of Oil is Practically Infinite?

by Don Boudreaux on May 20, 2004

in Myths and Fallacies

It seems obvious that we’re destined to encounter seriously reduced supplies (and higher prices) of oil. Even physics professors say so.

But consider a couple of scenarios.

Scenario One: You’re a hungry mosquito on the surface of an enormous balloon. The balloon contains as much blood as an Olympic-size swimming pool contains water. You, hungry mosquito that you are, inject your snoot into the balloon and enjoy a meal. Of course, by doing so you negligibly reduce the volume of blood in the balloon. But whether you know it or not, you can gorge yourself on blood from this balloon for the rest of your life and there will still be far more blood remaining in the balloon at your death than you’ve consumed during your lifetime.

Scenario Two: You’re a hungry mosquito on a balloon the size of child’s marble. You take a meal. The size of your meal relative to the blood-contents of the tiny balloon is large; you significantly reduce the contents.
…..

I don’t know if humanity and its demand for oil is like the mosquito in scenario one, but I’m sure that we are not like the mosquito in scenario two. We might be in some intermediate scenario – say, like a mosquito sitting atop a blood-filled balloon the size of a large beach ball.

But we could be like the mosquito in scenario one. That mosquito needn’t know – probably wouldn’t know – that she’s atop a physical quantity of blood that is practically limitless. If she’s told, accurately, that the amount of blood in her balloon is finite, she might worry that she’ll run out of blood, or that she’ll drink so much that what eventually remains in the balloon will be too costly for her to suck out; she might persuade herself to drink less blood. Would she be wise to do so?

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