A few weeks ago I was watching a debate on the Newshour on the local PBS station involving alternative energy technologies in the wake of the catastrophic BP spill. They had a proponent of alternative energy technologies, so called 'green' technologies, and a representative championing more oil drilling by oil companies.
I try not to wax political here or on the main site, but the pro-oil company guy was both obnoxious and belligerent, and worst of all, just plain wrong about a lot of points. Especially egregious was his repeatedly calling solar and wind power 'dead end' technologies. His skewed logic relied on the fact was that the basic ideas of solar and wind power were proposed a century or so ago, but their development has only been limited since.
Of course, such thinking is completely spurious, and shows ignorance of how technologies actually develop. Gunpowder, for example, was invented about a thousand years before reliable gunpowder weapons were finally developed. But if one asked a scholar in about 1000 AD if gunpowder was a 'dead end' technology based on what was available then, they'd probably say yes. And be completely wrong.
Most technologies don't explode onto the scene all at once, but rather go through a long period of slow but gradual development, and come to the fore only when there is a clear need for them. Steam engines were around as early as 1698 (or the 1st century AD, depending on your definition), but didn't catch on as a popular technology until 1800s. Rockets took a thousand years to go from fireworks to moon shots. Even the internal combustion engine, the killer app oil needed to become profitable, took decades to evolve into its industrial form.
The past decade, when dependence on the oil economy has led to numerous wasteful wars, environment-destroying oil spills, and a roller coaster of prices at the gas pump, has shown the pressing need for reliable, renewable energy technologies. In fact, if you keep up with the technology news, there has been a veritable explosion of so-called 'green' energy technologies, refinements and breakthroughs both. Solar energy cells dramatically increasing in efficiency and decreasing in price, wind farms and geothermal taps popping up everywhere, wave and tidal power projects grabbing a number of headlines.
Now I like to be realistic, and I realize that the world will be dependent on oil for energy for many decades yet. But ultimately, there is only a limited supply. It may last for a number of decades yet, maybe even into the next century, but it will eventually run out. Oil, not wind or solar or nuclear or tidal or geothermal or alternate fuels, is the REAL dead end energy technology. The sooner we begin switching over to alternatives, the less our economies and power grids and wallets will need to be at the mercy of a very volatile world market in oil.
And ironically, it is the resource-rich oil and energy companies like Exxon and Shell and BP who are in the best position to lead the large-scale conversion to these new technologies, and insure their long-term solubility and profitability in the process. But apparently they only care about short-term numbers and have to resort to tactics like propping up shallow, belligerent shills on news programs to spread misinformation. Its a shame, really.