Letters to the Editor: Energy costs are driving economy

Gov. Scott has said (Burlington Free Press, Jan. 20, p. 6A) that Vermont needs more immigrants for budgetary purposes: to pay taxes and produce income for storekeepers. This is good short-term thinking, typical for politicians, but poor long-term thinking and unsustainable over the next 100 years. The reasoning is simple: The population that an area can support depends on natural resources, especially cheap energy, and those resources are decreasing.
The human situation is like a herd of cows in a pasture, where the amount of grass determines the number of cows that the pasture can support. This number is called the “carrying capacity” of that pasture. Planet earth can support a maximum number of humans, but this number decreases as we run out of cheap oil. The number of people that Vermont can support also will decrease markedly as petrochemicals decrease. Solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and nuclear will pick up some of the slack, but the carrying capacity will decrease markedly from its present level.
Cows need grass and water, but human society needs jobs, water, food, soil, lumber, housing, schools, hospitals, etc., but mostly it needs energy, especially cheap energy. Oil is our cheap energy, and we depend on oil for most of our needs: Every article of clothing you wear has an oil component built into it, every article of food you eat has an oil component, every article you buy in Walmart or Home Depot has an oil component. We need oil, but it isn’t being synthesized anymore, so obviously we must get along without it within a relatively short time.
It is difficult for me to imagine life without oil. My life, with its luxuries, depends on cheap oil; I bought blueberries last week grown in Chile and flown here in the middle of winter. Losing cheap oil will decrease the ability of one farmer and his tractors to grow cheap food for a hundred families. Large farms will go; small farms will return. Food production will suffer globally, and starvation will increase. Friction over limited resources will increase. Unquestionably, these events will occur; the only question is when.
The U.S. has lots of oil relative to other nations, most of whom don’t have and cannot afford petrochemicals. Nevertheless, within 80 – 120 years the U.S., including Vermont, will run out of oil. When that occurs, the nation, and its individual states, will not be able to support the population it supports today.
Whether cows or humans, every species has a carrying capacity. Planet earth can support a maximum number of humans, but this number is much larger now than it will be when decreased oil or water become a limiting factor. The carrying capacity of Vermont also will decrease for the same reason. When that occurs, the smaller our population, the better off we shall be. (Google “India Population” for an example of uncontrolled population growth.)
In summary, Vermont has plenty of oil to support its current population, but that situation will not be sustainable when oil disappears. To be fair to future Vermonters we should maintain a population that will be sustainable. That means decreasing population (by births and immigration) today to preserve a sustainable quality environment for our great grandchildren.
David Van Vleck

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