Our cover story, "Peak Oil Panic" (page 22), by Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey, author of Liberation Biology: The Moral and Scientific Case for the Biotech Revolution (Prometheus Books), debunks the widespread belief that the planet's supply of black gold is about to be tapped out. The earthshaking consequences of imminent petroleum exhaustion have been foretold in a spate of popular and influential books with alarmist subtitles such as The Impending World Oil Shortage, The End of the Age of Oil, and The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy. As Bailey points out, anxiety about petroleum reserves predates the modern oil industry: "An 1855 advertisement for Kier's Rock Oil, a patent medicine whose key ingredient was petroleum bubbling up from salt wells near Pittsburgh, urged customers to buy soon before 'this wonderful product is depleted from Nature's laboratory.'" That ad ran five years before the first oil well was sunk in Pennsylvania.
More important, the United States Geological Survey conservatively estimates that the "total world endowment of recoverable oil" is some 3 trillion barrels. That's enough, says Bailey, to take us through the next three decades —and to give us plenty of time to develop market-tested energy alternatives, especially if the government doesn't take the advice of "oil war hawks," anti-business greens, and others who are seeking to use the specter of oil shortages to gain control over political and economic systems.
Columnist Cathy Young explores a different sort of perennial hysteria in "The Great Fellatio Scare" (page 18). Contrary to lurid press accounts of teenage girls and boys gone wild, Young shows that the oral sex panic has far more to do with "worried adults' imaginations" than it does with social reality. The over-hyped accounts, Young notes, do "very little to help either adolescents or their parents deal with the real problems of growing up."
Such overblown stories misdirect us from issues more deserving of our attention—and outrage. For two examples in this issue, consider Peter Bagge's "The Beast That Will Not Die" (page 50) and Senior Editor Jacob Sullum's "Blow for Injustice" (page 54), which together detail the devastating social and economic damage done by the government's unconscionable war on drugs. Beyond the billions of dollars fruitlessly spent trying to keep people from getting high with their intoxicants of choice, the drug war corrupts cops, shreds the Constitution, results in 1.7 million arrests a year, and much, much more. Maybe it's time we as a nation fixate on those problems rather than false worries about oil shortages and teen sex.