Human ingenuity in market settings explains why age-old predictions of energy famine have failed to come to pass.
On Sustainable Energy (Part II)
by Robert Bradley Jr.
January 10, 2012
Minerals cannot be synthetically reproduced in human time frames. But in the world of human action, neither crude oil, nor natural gas, nor coal exists in one, total, known form to start a depletion clock.
Erich Zimmermann warned against the fallacy of importing the physical science concept of fixity to the real-world process of mineral development. “If petroleum resources were in their entirety available from the beginning and could not increase but only decrease through use, it might be correct to advocate ‘sparing use so as to delay inevitable exhaustion’,” he explained.
But if petroleum resources are dynamic entities that are unfolded only gradually in response to human efforts and cultural impacts, it would seem that the living might do more for posterity by creating a climate in which these resource-making forces thrive and, thriving, permit the full unfolding of petroleum reserves than by urging premature restraint in use long before the resources have been fully developed.
Human ingenuity in market settings explains why age-old predictions of energy famine have failed to come to pass. Joining dire forecasts of prior decades, the chief geologist of the United States Geological Service stated in 1919: “The peak of [U.S.] production will soon be passed—possibly within three years.”
Erich Zimmermann, whose functional theory of resources pointed to open-ended resource development, waxed pessimistic when comparing the alternatives to coal: “Oil and natural gas are forging ahead rapidly, but because their total reserves are much smaller than those of coal they are bound to lose in relative importance in the not too distant future.” 
Energy czar James Schlesinger, the first secretary of the Department of Energy, created in 1977 legislation signed by President Jimmy Carter, similarly warned about “a classic Malthusian case of exponential growth against a finite source.” (MasterResource)