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02 Jun 2013, 13:27
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The following appeared in a newspaper editorial:
"The claims of some politicians that we are on the brink of an energy crisis are misguided. We have enough oil in reserve to see us through any production shortage and the supply of in-ground oil is in no danger of running out any time soon. There is thus no need to set aside the technology and infrastructure of a century of oil-based energy."
Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. Point out flaws in the argument's logic and analyze the argument's underlying assumptions. In addition, evaluate how supporting evidence is used and what evidence might counter the argument's conclusion. You may also discuss what additional evidence could be used to strengthen the argument or what changes would make the argument more logically sound.
The author of the newspaper editorial claims that politicians are wrong to think we are on the brink of an energy crisis, because we are not at risk of running out of oil. Therefore, claims the author, it is wrong to think that we ought to jettison a century's worth of developmental infrastructure built primarily for oil-based energy. Though the author's argument contains some interesting components, the argument is weakened by an obvious lack of evidence, as well as by unwarranted leaps in logic.
The first component of the author's argument is intended to explain that we are not at risk for a shortage of oil. The author claims that we have enough oil in reserve to outlast a production shortage. However, the author fails to quantify either the amount of oil in reserve or the length of time a production shortage might last. A production shortage could be a week, or it could be an indefinite amount of time. Without data comparing the length of time our oil reserves could last against the amount of time a potential production shortage could last, the author cannot credibly claim that our oil reserves could outlast ANY production shortage. The author goes on to state that the supply of in-ground oil is in no danger of running out any time soon. Again, a lack of specific data hurts the argument. "Any time soon" is a relative term. Even if "any time soon" indicated 100 years, it would not be unreasonable for a politician to claim that we are on the brink of an energy crisis - 100 years is simply two generations.
Additionally, this first component of the author's argument disregards the likely possibility that energy usage globally will continue to increase dramatically. What may seem like enough oil for us now, is unlikely to be enough in a continually industrialized world.
Finally, The author also fails to consider outside factors that may impact our access to oil regardless of how much is available in the earth. The political climate around oil is such that oil is partitioned by nations; it is entirely possible that the cost of oil increases, based on political factors, to the point that it is unfeasible to use it as an energy source even if it is available.
The second component of the author's argument intends to establish that because we need not fear an oil shortage, we should not set aside all the work we've done to build oil-based technology and infrastructure. This argument is weak for a number of reasons, the first of which is that an oil shortage, or access to oil, may be a legitimate concern (which we explored above). But even if an oil shortage is not something we should fear, this argument fails to consider a number of other important factors that might lead us to want to explore non-oil-based energy sources.
First of all, even if oil-based energy is sufficient for our society, it may not be optimal. To argue that we should not try to leave an oil-based energy culture because we've invested a century of work into related technology and infrastructure is to fall prey to the sunk-cost fallacy. No matter how much work we've invested into oil, if there is potentially an energy that is better for the world, cheaper, safer, and more efficient, then it is not implausible that we should pursue research into that new energy. The author fails to consider that even if we do not have an oil shortage, it may be in our best interests to reduce oil dependency. We spent many centuries riding horses, but someone still invented the car.
In conclusion, the author's argument that we have enough oil, and that therefore we should not leave behind our current infrastructure, is flawed for all the above reasons. It is not certain that we should not fear a lack of oil or at least a lack of access to oil, and it is not certain that we should not pursue other energy sources regardless of the availability of oil currently, for the sake of future generations.