“Cheap Oil Is Finished”

IT IS probably true that the average man in this great country of ours is roused these cold, dark winter mornings by an electric alarm clock, which perhaps also delivers soft music and the latest news and weather. He flicks on the electric light, and finds his way to the living room to adjust the thermostat to activate the oil burner or gas furnace to warm up the house.

He removes the twenty-four hour accumulation of beard with an electric razor, and then enjoys a brisk shower, the water for which was probably heated electrically or by gas. He may even clean his teeth with an electrically operated tooth brush, and stimulate the circulation of blood in his scalp with an electric massager; and his children, going through somewhat the same routine, may tidy up their own hair with a “hot” comb—electrically heated, of course.

By this time, the wife-mother (and jack-of-all-trades) has prepared breakfast for the family by squeezing fresh oranges by means of an electric juicer, fried the bacon and eggs on an electric or gas stove, elicited that delicious aroma from the coffee in an electric percolator, and further roused the appetite by popping two to four slices of fragrant bread into the electric toaster.

If our hypothetical man is an office worker dwelling in the suburbs, he now pulls on his jacket as he races to his car, drives downtown to the office, parks his car, and takes the automatic electrically operated elevator to his office in the skies. There he is surrounded by a multitude of gadgets, all essential, or seemingly so, to the efficient performance of his job—telephones, typewriters, accounting and calculating machines, office copiers, pencil sharpeners, massive computers—all electrically powered. Or if he works in a shop, his lathe or drill press, his spray gun, his sewing machine or offset press, is operated by electricity.

This vignette of one facet of American life may appear somewhat overdrawn, but in fact it does not even begin to picture modern man’s nearly total dependence, in the industrialized nations of the world, on labor-saving, life and luxury-providing appliances and machinery, all necessarily powered by energy in one form or another.

Three Thousand Miles of Oil

Visualize, if you will, a solid, double row of 42-gallon oil drums standing upright and touching shoulder to shoulder, and stretching clear across this nation on Interstate Highway 1-80 from the Atlantic to the Pacific—that is how much crude oil is gulped down every single day in the year by the insatiable American economic machine. Eighteen million barrels per day, six billion barrels per year!

The energy thus represented drives our farm plows, seeders and harvesters; it powers our factories in the production of everything from buttons and ballpoint pens, from clothing and pots and pans, to automobiles, trucks, building materials, and giant electric generators. It moves our railroad locomotives, our river and ocean shipping, our giant airplanes and our tractor-trailers as our whole complicated transportation system struggles to bring all these essentials of life to our local stores and shopping centers, and thus to our home and tables.

What a dramatic change has been wrought in the lifestyle of so many people, not only in this nation, but all over the world, largely through the medium of cheap oil. and gas, and the production and distribution of electricity! While all this has indeed greatly benefited mankind materially, it has at the same time robbed him of much of his independence and sense of security.

The Good Old Days?

And all this has occurred substantially in the lifetime of many now living. Many who are now in their seventies or thereabouts have been through much of the entire remarkable transition from the days of the jolting horse and buggy and rutted roads, the kerosene oil lamps, the butter in the well-spring, the hand-powered tools and coal furnaces, to the era of sleek motor cars and giant world-girdling luxury aircraft, refrigerators and air conditioners, and vast computer-run factories. Truly, in the last several decades great numbers of the populace have been living like lords, and taking it all for granted. Middle class millions have been enjoying conveniences, comforts and luxuries that kings of earlier days could not so much as imagine.

So it has come as no small shock to the people suddenly to be told that our on-tap supply of cheap and abundant oil, which is a principal element in the present energy supply, and therefore of our economic abundance and well-being, is being diminished, and that there has to be a change. And in the light of present-day lifestyles, the sense of shock is understandable. Life in America has come to a great extent to be centered around the use of the automobile, which is not regarded as a luxury, but as a necessity. Great numbers have located their homes and chosen their jobs on the unquestioned assumption that their private automobiles would provide the required transportation. That the supply of fuel might ever be withdrawn was a thought that never entered one’s head!

“Coming Events …

Now, out of the blue, a heretofore complacent people are confronted with the prospect of serious gasoline shortages and cold homes. More discouraging, many are losing their jobs, hundreds of thousands having already been discharged, while our leading economists are discussing, not whether there will be a recession, but whether it will be a slight one, or more serious. People who never before gave a thought to the matter are now painfully learning the simple fact that in highly industrialized economies it is energy, in one form or another, that makes the economic world go round; and the repercussions of its curtailment extend in greater or lesser degree to virtually every farthest nook and cranny and to every individual in the world.

There are some who believe the present difficulty is being blown up out of all proportion to the facts. The situation, they suggest, is not nearly as bad as it is being painted. The shortage, some of these contend, is artificial, having been created by those who would reap a harvest in higher prices. Furthermore, they say, the Arab nations will shortly lift the embargo and resume the shipment of oil to the excluded nations. Then everything will be fine again, the world will breathe a deep sigh of relief, and we will all resume our former carefree, careless ways.

… Cast Their Shadows Before”

But such thinking seems unrealistic, in view of what is known. The present energy crisis did not come upon the scene without having cast its shadow before. There are those who have been sounding the alarm for many years, but whose warnings of the approaching problems have gone unheeded. And early evidence of the reality of the situation was not wanting. Will any of those who were trapped for hours between floors in darkened elevators, or imprisoned in subway cars or railroad tunnels without lights, ever forget these and the many other harrowing experiences that attended the 1966 “blackout” in the Northeast? And every year since that time there have been “brownouts” of one sort or another as a result of the growing power shortage.

One incontrovertible fact is that the world population is growing by leaps and bounds, and these increasing masses demand ever larger amounts of food and shelter, the production of which depends increasingly on the use of energy to fuel more farm machinery, to turn more factory wheels, and to move the expanding transportation system so that all these vital necessities may be provided to more people, wherever they are. This one fact alone plainly indicates the need for an immediate multiplication of our supply of energy.

A second and equally obvious truth is that at the very time when the population is growing and the world needs more, not less energy, we have finally awakened to the fact that the world’s sources of energy are diminishing. Thus we see that the world is relentlessly caught, as in a steel vise, between the growing numbers of its inhabitants on the one hand, and the diminishing supply of the sources of energy to satisfy their wants on the other hand.

“Let the Weak Say, I Am Strong”

It was against this already bleak background that the Arab nations, who produce roughly one-half of the world’s oil supply, chose to use their oil resources as a political weapon against the Western nations in the hope of forcing them to bring pressure against Israel in their long-standing strife with that nation. This was a development that caught the powerful, highly industrialized nations of the West off guard, and which they surely did not anticipate; for who could ever suppose that these small, weak nations, who happened merely by the accident of geography to be blessed with vast reserves of oil, would ever presume to assert themselves against the all-powerful West?

That this is just what did happen is just another indication of the time in which we are now living; for the Prophet Joel tells us that in the last days (of this present evil social order), “the weak [shall] say, I am strong.” (Joel 3:1,2,10,11) And it is truly ironic that a small handful of Arab chieftains, by the simple act of closing the valves on the flow of oil, can turn the economy of a large part of the world upside down, bringing inconvenience and suffering, and indeed even the threat of worldwide economic and financial distress.

A Preview?

Thus, perhaps as a faint preview of the terrible trouble with which this present evil world will eventually pass away, we find people all over the world shivering in cold homes; adoption of the three-day work week in some areas; hundreds of thousands of working people off the payroll, and everyone concerned and confused as to the future.

Also, as a further part of this dim preview of the time of trouble, we are shown how quickly adversity strips off the veneer of refinement to reveal the innate selfishness of fallen man, as was evidenced by the savage scrambles of holiday motorists to get a share of the diminished supply of gasoline, and in the gluttonous price-gouging by the operators of gasoline stations, suppliers of fireplace wood, and many other commodities. One shudders to contemplate the situation that would develop if the shortages consisted not merely of gasoline, but of food!

The industrial revolution has benefited man materially through the specialization of tasks, wherein each member of society is dependent on every other member to perform his own part, and to do so well and honestly. This is at once the strength and the weakness of the system. It is its strength because each can thus concentrate his efforts on that which he does best. It is its weakness, because any one segment of specialists, in the pursuit of their own selfish ends, can bring the entire operation to a halt. This latter is what the Arab oil producers are attempting to do.

Fuel vs. Mules

That the Arab nations have a potent weapon with which to wage their economic war with the Western powers, and their military war with Israel, cannot be denied. For, as was earlier remarked, it is oil that largely lubricates the economic wheels of the world at the present time. As a small indication of the magnitude of the problem, someone has estimated that without the use of fuel-powered machinery, thirty million horses and mules would be required to bring in the harvest in the United States. It was noted, incidentally, that there are but six million such animals in the nation.

True, there are other forms of energy, but each of these poses its own special problem. It requires, for instance, many years to build an atomic power plant; and after it is built there is the continuing difficulty as to the disposal of the resultant nuclear waste. Moreover, of the atomic power plants already constructed and put into operation, many are either partially or completely now out of production because of minor accidents or technical difficulties.

The world supply of oil, gas, and shale oil is variously estimated at thirty to one-hundred years. Only coal seems to be in abundant supply, the United States alone having reserves estimated to have a life of some 3,000 years at the present rate of consumption; but coal has come into decreased usage because of its pollutive qualities. Possibly, the ultimate sources of clean and abundant power will be the ocean tides, and the sun, which the Scriptures tell us abideth forever. But sun power, too, is still well down the road.

The plain fact is that however large the world’s supplies of fossil fuels may be, there must eventually come a time when the world cupboard finally becomes bare of the energy supply as we now know it. Man cannot replace it. Untold ages were required to create the world’s fossil fuels, although it took prodigal man but a few short centuries to consume so much of it.

As various elements of the supply run out or run low or are denied, suffering ensues. Under such circumstances, one wonders how long the powerful nations of the West, which may be the have-not nations so far as energy is concerned, will bow to what some consider to be international blackmail by a few, small militarily weak nations. Indeed, at least one television commentator has publicly stated it as his opinion that the use of force would be justified to break the oil embargo.

Meantime, many people in many parts of the world will suffer hardship or deprivation in one degree or another. Lifestyles will be altered, work and school hours may be changed. Some luxuries, and even some necessities, will disappear. When that happens, as we have seen, unbridled selfishness, individual and national, comes to the top.

The great time of trouble with which this present evil world will be brought to an end will, no doubt, be composed of many diverse elements. One of the factors affecting the dissolution of the present world social order could be related to the energy problem. We shall have to wait, and watch.

Just how long the Lord will permit this present evil world to continue, we do not know. But we believe there are visible indications that the elements that make up this imperfect social order even now are melting, and that the world is in the early stages of that great time of trouble spoken of by Daniel the Prophet and by our Lord Jesus. But the world is unaware of what is happening.—Dan. 12:1; Matt. 24:21

“What Will Replace It?”

One of the powerful figures in the Arab oil world, and reputedly one of the more moderate, is the Shah of Iran. On behalf of all the Mid-east oil-producing nations he recently announced the latest large increase in oil prices, a rise, incidentally, that could work havoc with the economies and finances of a nation such as Japan, which imports almost all of its oil, and certain other of the European nations whose industrial complexes are geared to oil. At that time the Shah also stated, “The industrial world will have to realize that the era of their terrific progress and even more terrific income and wealth based on cheap oil is finished.” And then he protested, rather unconvincingly it would seem, that the Arab nations have no desire to harm the industrial nations. He stated, “We don’t want to hurt at all the industrialized world. … What good will it do if the present industrialized world is crushed and terminated? What will replace it?

Every good student of God’s Word can answer the Shah’s question with joyous assurance. Peter tells us, “The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. … Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.”—II Pet. 3:10,13

It is the glorious kingdom of God, the new heaven and the new earth, that will ere long replace this present evil world—it is that kingdom in which there will be no shortages of any kind, neither of energy, or food, or warmth, or of love. There will be no more selfishness, no more death, no more tears. And all nations and all peoples, whether peasants or shahs, shall love and worship their Heavenly Father, the Giver of every good gift and every perfect gift, and his loving, obedient Son, the greatest of all gifts. For

“In this mountain [kingdom of God] shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.

“And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations.

“He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth; for the Lord hath spoken it.

“And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us; this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”—Isa. 25:6-9

Dawn Bible Students Association
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