Time and Its Uses
Many successful ideas have been pursued in a relatively benign environment of ignorance, meaning that the inventors were operating with relatively few bureaucratic restraints. Like every other ingredient, the ignorance of unintended side-effects (such as toxicity, life span effects, environmental impact) is in shorter supply, but not before ideas had reached their ascendancy. Freon is a good example; a substance which does a multitude of tasks extremely well, but with one tiny LEETLE drawback, namely, that it scavenges ozone from the atmosphere, and as a result, allows hazardous levels of ulraviolet radiation to impinge directly on the Earths surface. Petroleum as a fuel and chemical feedstock is another great idea, but with some fairly long technical shadows. These two examples were developed and exploited at points in time when the biggest open question was, "How many different ways can we use the product?", but an equally large question went relatively unasked, "What will the use of this substance do to us, in the future, on this our only planet?"
We've had a really bad record, as affected citizens, of taking a retrospective view of what impacts our miraculous inventions have had overall. Certainly, successful inventions have addressed the issue for which they were first developed, but time gives us a track record of incidental effects which may be ignored at our peril. Freon is now outlawed for most (if not all) uses, since its nasty aftereffect was identified. Petroleum is still finding new uses and markets, though again, the long-term numbers don't really add up. For reasons that make sense only to my darker imagination, we have not begun a national operation on the scale of World War II's Manhattan Project, to cross all petroleum distillates off the list of commonly-used fuels. Unless somebody's hiding a few continents' worth of underground decaying dinosaurs, we don't have the luxury of standing around while what's left in proven reserves gets used up. If you believe that China and India have suddenly conjured up domestic demands exceeding the total production of available oil, and will be content to pay over $60/barrel for it indefinitely (presumably, in hard currency- wonder how much of that is floating around in their collective treasuries?), then there's nothing in the supply and demand equation to drive the price down.
It may be a point of pride to Americans, who shrug off paying $80 - $100 a tankful for gasoline, but my guess is, many are wincing as they hand over the credit card. At home, they ought to be sitting down, before opening their heating bill.
I didn't initially plan to go postal on world oil prices. I've been thinking that we're already recovering oil from previously unprofitable sources, which are now viable thanks to the market prices for crude oil. When or if the prices drop significantly, these sources will be turned off again. We really need to start thinking about the eternal costs to produce goods and services, as long as we're stuck in this rut of using non-renewable energy sources. While we're enjoying the spectacle, it's time to think of a replacement for profligacy, as a new lifestyle.