”I am sorry to say this, but we are headed toward really bad days,” a prominent energy economist told Time magazine last week. ”Lots of targets have been set, but very little has been done. There is a lot of talk and no action.”

That was no alarmist talking. It was Fatih Birol, the chief economist for the International Energy Agency, an oil industry organization whose annual World Energy Outlook report is widely considered a reliable indicator of petroleum supplies. Released as the price of oil neared $100 a barrel, the 2007 forecast sent an urgent message to world governments: The days of cheap oil are probably over.

It's not hard to understand why. The current daily supply of oil can barely cover world demand. With China and India rapidly industrializing, the International Energy Agency expects that the planet will require 116 million barrels daily by 2030 an increase of more than 50 percent from today's output to slake its petroleum thirst.

Can increased production meet the expected demand? Depends on whom you talk to. Dallas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens is one of the petroleum experts who believes that world oil production has peaked. If peak-oilers are right, there's nowhere for the oil supply to go but down and nowhere but prices to go but up. Others, including the International Energy Agency, believe that the current shortage is critical but manageable with necessary adjustments in both production and consumption, as well as investments in research and development.

The permanent end of cheap oil not only would hit American consumers at the gas pump, but in just about every other way. Our consumer economy, for example, depends on the foreign-made goods shipped inexpensively from overseas manufacturers. The points of potential pain are endless.

Moreover, there looms the threat of resource wars over dwindling supplies of a substance that no modern country can do without.

Now is the time to quit talking and start acting. Thoughtful Americans know that we can't keep living like this forever. Our nation must start investing heavily in public transportation, domestic drilling and research into renewable energy sources and clean-coal technology.

Whether the world supply of oil has absolutely peaked or is not rising to meet demand because of human folly, there's going to be a lot less of the black stuff around in the near future. And that's going to hurt.

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—The Dallas Morning News