As oil production is at risk of reaching its peak while world demand continues to grow, a shortage appears to be inevitable. In order to avoid a crisis, it is becoming essential to develop alternative energy sources.
Yet it is not the first time that there have been fears that supplies of an essential commodity will run out. Already at the end of the 19th century a future winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics, Sir William Crookes, warned of an impending shortage of an irreplaceable resource: wheat. Foreseeing a rapid increase in the world demand for grain and the exhaustion of stocks of nitrogen fixer (indispensable for growing wheat), he predicted famine on an unprecedented scale.
His concern had a lasting consequence, Bernard Cazes tells us, because before his prediction could come true, a system for manufacturing nitrogenous fertilizers was invented.