Illustration by Brian Stauffer Illustration by Brian Stauffer Remember “peak oil”? Around the turn of this century, some energy-industry analysts started to predict that the world was approaching the pinnacle of global oil production, after which point we would begin a descent toward scarce petroleum supplies. In some scenarios, a global oil crunch would force civilization to transition to renewable energy, regional food production, and revitalized local economies. In the darker imaginings, peak oil would usher in a dystopia of brutal resource competition. For some people, peak oil offered the promise that geology would be a kind of environmental savior. Earth’s natural limits would spare us the hard work of deciding, of our own volition, to pivot away from oil and gas and would—finally—awaken us to the limits of growth. But there was a problem with this form of supply-side wishful thinking. The lure of profits spurred the petroleum industry to find new ways to feed civilization’s appetite for oil—and, sure enough, advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling led to an oil and gas boom that has made the United States the world’s top oil producer. The peak was an illusion. Then the pandemic arrived. As businesses shut […]

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