Peter Van Dresser's Predictions of the Current Energy Crisis

This reprint of the 1938 Free America magazine article proves Mr. van Dresser's prediction of the current energy crisis is accurate.

| September/October 1975

  • Energy crisis oil fields
    The piece stands as dramatic proof that — 37 years ago — Mr. van Dresser was accurately predicting today's energy crisis, and outlining possible solutions that most people still haven't considered.

  • Energy crisis oil fields

Believe it or not, the following article by Peter van Dresser was originally published — exactly as you see it here — in the June 1938 issue of Free America. Not a word has been changed. The piece stands as dramatic proof that — 37 years ago — Mr. van Dresser was accurately predicting today's energy crisis, and outlining possible solutions that most people still haven't considered.

Energy Crisis: the Power Age

As Mr. Stuart Chase has pointed out, the most telling label for the period since the Industrial Revolution is, not the Machine Age or the Iron Age, but the Power Age. Machinery, metallurgy and mass production were known before Watt, but since the invention of the steam engine the amount of mechanical power available to man has increased at an unprecedented rate, until the present estimated horsepower of civilization is at least a billion and a half. The United States has such a liberal share of this flow of engine-generated horsepower that for each man, woman or child in the country there is available energy equivalent to the combined strength of fifty slaves or more.

It is this enormous increase in power which is held, more than any other single factor, to have made possible modern civilization with its equally enormous increase in productivity.

To a considerable extent this is true.

Any economic program — such as that of the distributist-decentralist — which calls for an adaptation of the methods of modem technology must take into account the problem of the source, generation, distribution and use of the inanimate power which makes possible this technology.

The broadest fact concerning power which observers of technological and economic trends have to point out is that as the twentieth century matures there has begun and must continue a modification of our technics to suit shifting energy sources. The most drastic of these shifts in point of nearness in time as well as magnitude of factors involved is due to the approaching exhaustion of our petroleum reserves. Geologists are fairly well agreed that within a few more decades America will experience a sharp diminution in the supply of available petroleum. Since the manufacture of automobiles — our greatest Power Age industry and keystone of our economic structure — is dependent on this supply, drastic reorganization in our technology or economy or both is to be expected.


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