¿Se está acabando el petróleo (otra vez)?

Los precios del petróleo se encuentran hoy muy por encima de los $50 por barril, en parte debido a crisis que han demandado un rápido suministro en el corto plazo, como el conflicto de Irak, las disputas laborales en Nigeria, el conflicto entre Yukos Oil y el gobierno ruso, y los recientes huracanes en Florida. Puede que los precios del petróleo bajen una vez que se disipen estas crisis, pero los efectos especulativos los pueden mantener relativamente altos, debilitando a la economía mundial y deprimiendo los mercados de valores.

Incluso un alza temporal en los precios del petróleo puede tener efectos de largo plazo, por las reacciones sociales que provocan. Los altos precios del petróleo impulsan el debate público acerca del futuro de los mismos. Nunca se puede saber a ciencia cierta el resultado de un debate público, pero es probable que sirva de amplificador de cuentos que implican que el riesgo de que los precios se eleven aún más. Los expertos pueden decir que los factores de suministro de corto plazo causaron los recientes aumentos de los precios, pero no obstante los precios creerán más en los cuentos alarmistas sobre el largo plazo.

El cuento alarmista que se está esparciendo ahora tiene que ver con el mundo en desarrollo, particularmente China y la India, en donde el rápido crecimiento económico (y no las restricciones del Protocolo de Kyoto a las emisiones de gases) se ve como el creador de una insaciable demanda de petróleo. El supuesto de este cuento es que el petróleo mundial se acabará antes de lo que pensamos, mientras esos miles de millones de personas persiguen sus sueños de tener una casa grande y vehículos deportivos. ¿Es esto plausible?

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