Bet 726

Duration 21 years (02015-02036)

“The amount of geologically-derived crude oil consumed by the United States in 2035 will be greater than the amount consumed in 2015.” Detailed Terms »

PREDICTOR
Joseph F. Huttner

CHALLENGER
Stephen W Snow

STAKES $400

will go to Ayn Rand Institute if Huttner wins,
or Oxfam if Snow wins.

Huttner's Argument

My belief that the amount of geologically-derived crude oil consumed by the United States in 2035 will be greater than the amount consumed in 2015 is based on four primary factors:

1) The overall population of the United States will continue to increase, largely as a result of immigration. More people equals more energy consumed. The reasons that this immigration will occur, and why it will be supported by government, are based on the following:

  • Vast expanses of unoccupied land exist that can be easily developed
  • Local governments allow cities to be "rebuilt" larger and higher as demand for space in those cities grows
  • Public and private capital can be easily and cheaply obtained - this capital in part supports investment in new domestic businesses
  • The American political system is based on common law, which is perceived to be generally fair and uncorrupt
  • America is home to the largest pool of skilled labor in the world, largely due to the high quality and tremendous funding of its higher education system
  • Increasing the real wealth of each subsequent generation requires population growth

2) The American electorate is generally unwilling to force themselves to pay more for a given unit of energy than they have to, and geologically-derived crude oil is often the cheapest form of energy available. There is a large and efficient global infrastructure in place to discover, extract, refine, deliver, and utilize geologically-derived crude oil. The sheer size of this infrastructure begets tremendous efficiency ("Any argument against size is an argument against efficiency." -Alfred Sloan). Some of this efficiency is passed on to consumers in the form of lower prices.

Additionally, the profitability of new innovations in the crude oil industry are magnified because they stand atop this large existing infrastructure. Thus, the incentive for profit-seeking individuals to focus on this market as opposed to others is substantial, which leads to still more efficiencies.

3) The solution to credible environmental issues stemming from the burning of fossil fuels is likely to be based on some scientific process which addresses those effects. It is unlikely that these solutions will in any way require that people reduce their overall energy consumption, including their consumption of geologically-derived crude oil.

4) Much of the geologically-derived crude oil for sale in the world comes from countries that have an under-developed economy. On a political level, it is in the interest of wealthier nations to purchase the exports of poorer nations, and that includes their oil - these transactions not only increase wealth for both nations, but they help foster harmony and peace among the peoples of the world.

Due to these factors, I am "long" on this bet.

Snow's Argument

I believe that the amount of geologically-derived crude oil consumed by the United States in 2035 will be less than in 2015. My reasoning is based on economic arguments rather than on an assumption that the drop will be caused by a deliberate policy to reduce fossil carbon use, even though such a policy would be highly desirable to reduce climate change. It seems likely to me that the price of oil will continue to rise as it has done in the past, while the price of renewables, particularly solar photovoltaic, will also follow past trends and continue to fall. Even though the US population and economy will continue to grow I claim that this growth will be more than compensated by improved energy intensity and by substitution of oil with natural gas and renewables.
While I agree with Joseph Huttner that the population of the US will continue to rise I think that this rise will be moderate because immigration is likely to be restricted while the birth rate will remain just below the replacement level. The fact that there is plenty of undeveloped land in the US and therefore space to house more immigrants is not an argument that is likely to overcome the reluctance of existing citizens to dilute their political influence by allowing high immigration. The pressure for inward migration is also likely to fall over the long term as the rest of the world becomes more wealthy and the birth rate falls.
The increasing wealth of the rest of the world will also have the effect of creating more potential consumers of oil who will compete with the US for limited supplies. The price of oil has jumped up twice during my lifetime, once in the late 1970s and again in the 2000s. After each jump it has fallen back substantially but then stabilised at about twice its previous level. This does not look like the behaviour of a resource that is extremely abundant like coal or iron or most other minerals. My guess is that the (inflation adjusted) price of oil will either remain near its present level or else jump up by another factor two between now and 2035.
In contrast to oil, the price of solar panels has fallen over the years with a halving time of around twenty years. While this trend cannot continue forever I see no reason why it should not continue for the next twenty years. Lithium prices are more difficult to guess as it has not been much in demand until recently, so I am betting on the possibility that either the Lithium price stays low or that other types of batteries are developed, so that electric vehicles will replace a significant fraction of gasoline vehicles over the next 20 years.
I would like to be clear that the quantity we are discussing is the total consumption of fossil crude oil and that a good definition of it would be the one used by the Energy Information Administration and documented annually at https://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/pet_cons_psup_dc_nus_mbbl_a.htm . This data shows that the consumption was 5,861,058 thousand barrels at the start of the data series in 1981, that the highest year so far was 2005 with 7,592,789 thousand barrels, and that the consumption in the reference year 2015 was 7,129,732 thousand barrels.


Detailed Terms

"Geologically-derived crude oil" will be measured by U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data for "U.S. Product Supplied of Crude Oil and Petroleum Products (Thousand Barrels)." The 02015 amount was 7,129,732 thousand barrels, and the data can be tracked at this link: https://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/pet_cons_psup_dc_nus_mbbl_a.htm

If the EIA data is no longer available, closest reputable organization with 02015 & 02035 crude oil numbers to adjudicate the bet.