What is Worldview Two?
Whenever we make plans, there are always assumptions about how things will work, and the nature of the world we are planning into. The usual framework is that what we’ve experienced in the recent past will be pretty much what we’ll see going forward, with some improvements along the way. The hardest thing is to notice what’s been hiding in plain sight.
Once it rises above political details, the history of America has focused on large trends like the extension of freedom, the role of expansion and immigration, new technologies, and continued economic growth. Economics, in turn, has paid attention to the interactions between labor, capital, and the government.
All this is true, but it has all been made possible by the availability and exploitation of abundant natural resources – first land and timber, then minerals and a generally benign climate, but always energy. Waterfalls powered our first mills and factories. Coal first allowed abundant metals to be made, then powered trains and ships and factories, then ran most of our electric generation. Oil came along to run engines and now powers over 95% of our transportation system, including the giant machines needed to operate the mines and farm the plains. With oil and coal, we had the energy to build giant dams and nuclear power plants that provide more electricity. Natural gas has been another good source of energy for homes, factories, and electricity.
If we hadn’t had the waterfalls and forests, or the fertile land, or the coal, or the oil, or the natural gas, it is impossible to imagine the United States becoming as large, prosperous, or powerful as it has. To offer one fact as an example, during World War II, the United States produced more oil than the rest of the world combined, and that was a major factor in our ability to defeat the Axis powers.
Further, we notice these things mostly during interruptions –thus, the great Dust Bowl drought, or the Oil Crises of the 1970’s. Those events pass and things return to “normal.” We never have declines, we simply have periods of “negative growth.”
Recently the facts have changed, but our thinking has lagged behind. Oil production in the US reached its maximum in 1970, and even the additional of Alaskan oil, deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, hydrofracking in North Dakota and Texas, and a ten-fold increase in oil prices since 1998 have neither restored the old high rate or convinced us to give up our expectation that we can be “energy independent.”
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