Whereas for a decade many experts spoke of an imminent dearth of hydrocarbons and prices reached record highs, the cost of oil has fallen appreciably over the last two years and talk of shortage has almost disappeared. Does this mean there are no longer grounds for concern about the overall level of consumption of these energy resources? Doubtless not, though these questions of dearth or abundance of energy resources — and, more broadly, of all natural resources — are not solely to be examined in terms of the reserves at our disposal, but also, increasingly, in terms of the limits that ensue from the impact of their consumption on the environment (environmental damage, pollution, climate change etc.), as Cécile Désaunay and Éric Vidalenc show here.
Accordingly, they list a series of crucial key questions with regard to the future of our planet’s natural resources: is the growth of global resource consumption sustainable? How might energy prices develop? Can we foresee an absolute decoupling of economic growth from material consumption? What are the impacts on our ecosystems of resource degradation; have we passed planetary limits? They go on to stress two deep-seated trends that will have to be taken into account in managing our natural resources sustainably over the coming years: the very great inertia of energy systems and the possible substitution of alternative energies (and the limits to doing this). The equation is not getting any easier and the lever that is the control of consumption will doubtless have a crucial part to play in the sustainable management of our resources in the medium to long term.