Although Westerners were once reliant on whale oil for lighting, we never actually ran out of whales. Why? High demand and rising prices for whale oil spurred a search for and investment in the 19th-century version of alternative energy. First, kerosene from petroleum replaced whale oil. We didn’t run out of kerosene, either: electricity supplanted it because it was a superior way to light our planet. For generations, we have consistently underestimated our capacity for innovation.
… We forget too easily that innovation and ingenuity have solved most major problems in the past. Living sustainably means learning the lessons from history. And chief among those is that the best legacy we can leave our descendants is to ensure that they are prosperous enough to respond resiliently to the unknown challenges ahead.
I tend to think that this crisis will resolve itself the way Bjorn envisages. The question is: can it happen soon enough? And can we nudge non-carbon energy along by raising taxes on gasoline and carbon? In a sane world, we'd be adding a quarter to the gas tax every quarter from now on … and using all of it to pay for the cost of defense. That might pit one of the strongest forces in American society – the devotion to cheap gasoline – against one of its most draining burdens, the Pentagon and its many wars.