‘Civilization will crumble’ without the use of oil and gas: Is Elon Musk right?


Fact Box

  • At a conference in Stavanger, Norway on August 29, 2022, Elon Musk stated, “Realistically I think we need to use oil and gas in the short term, because otherwise civilization will crumble” while in the process of focusing on the technology for self-driving cars. 
  • According to the US Department of Energy, natural gas powers “more than 175,000 vehicles” in America and 23 million vehicles worldwide.
  • As of August 30, 2022, AAA reported the national gas price average was $3.844 which is compared to $3.151 from the previous year. The highest recorded price was $5.016 on June 14, 2022. 
  • By the end of July 2022, the price of living increased across the board with inflation at 8.5%, however, the gasoline index fell 7.7%.
  • On March 8, President Biden placed a ban on Russian oil and energy imports with Britain issuing a phase-out ban by the end of 2022. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, oil prices have risen over 30%.

Stephanie (No)

While many aspects of modern comfort absolutely rely on oil and gas, it doesn’t negate the fact that these are non-renewable resources that aren’t expected much longer, and in that time, humanity must learn to rely more on renewable sources of energy. Civilization has and can live without oil and gas, but it will take extreme expansions of renewable energy sources in daily living to slowly phase out the reliance on oil and gas. Even in the US, where renewable energy sources have been slow to take over standardized practices in daily living, a study by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) states that the US can easily transition to being run on 80% renewable sources by the year 2050. 

Large and ancient societies, like the Egyptians, even harnessed solar energy to heat their homes. Although these ancient civilizations are often viewed as being archaic and technologically rudimentary, they also utilized advanced techniques in home building and architecture to harness the sun’s power to heat their homes in cooler months and repel heat in the warmer months. Living on renewable energy can be done; looking to the past for creative solutions, like in architecture, can lessen our reliance on heating our homes using oil and gas. 

Finally, due to the finite source of oil and gas, its continued use is not in our control. According to BP, one of the largest oil and gas companies, the Earth only has 53 years left of oil and gas reserves to maintain our current consumption rates. If people choose to avoid switching now to renewable energy sources, it might cause a catastrophic event where many people are left without heating, cooling, transportation and electricity when non-renewable sources eventually run out. 

Elisa (Yes)

Unfortunately, burning fossil fuels is a ‘necessary evil’ because cheap energy drives life, growth, and prosperity. Without these sources of energy, civilization, along with the industrial revolution and the modern world as we know it, would have never existed as it is. Further, getting off of oil and gas is a nearly impossible, if not delusional, idea, especially when considering how much every part of society relies on these energy sources

Those dismissing Elon Musk’s claim are not considering how dependent we are on oil and gas. Without the interconnected web of trucking, utilities, and the internet, much of what we consider society would collapse. Even California is forced to admit that its electrical grid is woefully underprepared for the requirements to transition off of fossil fuel energy fully. At this point, discussions about “getting off of” oil and gas are an exercise in futility and hubris, especially because of the lack of decent substitutes available. 

While eventually, society may have to wean itself off of fossil fuels to transition to a more renewable and stable energy source, to do so in the here and now means relying on often corrupt and unstable politicians, many of whom are largely in the pocket of the oil industry. This inevitable corruption seems to fuel our dependence on the oil and gas industry even more. The truth is, unless there is an actual major collapse of just about everything, oil and gas will continue to run the world. There is little time left, and as Elon Musk says, “Extraordinary times demand extraordinary measures.”

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