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This article is from the In-Depth Report Science and the Holidays
60-Second Earth

A Holiday for Oil

Are we running out of oil?

[Below is the original script. But a few changes may have been made during the recording of this audio podcast.]

 

Hanukkah is all about oil—and a miracle that purportedly stretched one day's worth of oil into light for eight days. The question is: will modern society have to do the same?

Our world relies on oil for everything: fuel, plastic even food. And with prices now plummeting one might predict a return to the age of abundant, cheap fossil fuel.

Not according to the International Energy Agency, which now predicts “peak oil” as early as 2020. Peak oil is the point at which the world's oil producers are drawing as much oil out of the ground as they will ever be able to. Paired with continued growth in demand from places like the U.S. and China, that's a recipe for much higher oil prices.

A majority of oil executives surveyed by the consulting firm Deloitte agree. They predict an end to cheap oil within the next 25 years--and an even larger majority think it will cease to be the cheapest energy source.

But rather than searching for ways to stretch the oil we still have--like a modern Hanukkah--it makes more sense to accelerate development of clean alternatives such as electric cars or biofuels from algae--and avoid dirty ones like turning coal or tar sands to liquid fuels.

As a Saudi oil minister once said: The Stone Age didn't end for a lack of stones. And the Oil Age may not end for lack of oil.

—David Biello

60-Second Earth is a weekly podcast from Scientific American. Subscribe to this Podcast: RSS | iTunes

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