EDITORIAL: Doomsday crowd

Various left-leaning groups have long argued that humans are using up the world’s resources and that future shortages are inevitable.

One left-wing outfit, the Global Footprint Network, has even come up with a gimmick called Earth Overshoot Day to recognize the point at which they believe humans have consumed more in a given year than the planet can renew. In 2015 that day was Aug. 13, according to the group.

Certainly some natural resources — fisheries, for instance — are susceptible to overharvesting and depletion without proper management. But, for the most part, centuries of ominous forecasts predicting impending disaster as a result of “unsustainable” growth or development have consistently proven to be overblown — or outright wrong.

Recall the 1980 wager between doomsday purveyor Paul Ehrlich and business professor Julian Simon. Mr. Ehrlich had long been warning that society risked widespread famine and imminent collapse due to population growth. So dire was the situation, he wrote, that he would take even money odds that “England will not exist in the year 2000.” Mr. Simon responded by offering him a $10,000 bet that the cost of various resources would decline over the next decade, a sign that shortages were not an issue.

Mr. Ehrlich took the bait and lost.

His defenders offered all manner of excuses for this failure, but Mr. Ehrlich’s history of garnering media attention for apocalyptic pronouncements that failed to materialize had finally caught up with him.

All this comes to mind as geologists recently announced the discovery of an oilfield in west Texas “that dwarfs others found so far in the United States,” CNN reports.

For years, the usual suspects have been arguing that “peak oil” was upon us and that the world would soon experience a scarcity of fossil fuels. But largely due to new technologies, human ingenuity and innovation, the price of oil now hovers around $45 a barrel as U.S. producers lead the way in tapping new reserves.

“Peak oil is more wish than prediction — a desire to see the end of fossil fuels to serve a larger political agenda,” The Wall Street Journal noted in an editorial last year. “It is also a way of scaring governments into pouring money into alternative energy sources that can’t compete with oil and natural gas without subsidies and mandates.”

The oil in west Texas — the field stretches 120 miles between Lubbock and Midland — will likely remain in the ground for the near future until prices rise a bit to make it more profitable to recover.

While reasonable people can debate the long-term wisdom of fossil fuel use, nobody should take seriously those who argue we are rapidly running out of such resources.

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