ARG-118

The following appeared in a memo to the board of directors of a company that specializes in the delivery of heating oil.

"Most homes in the northeastern United States, where winters are typically cold, have traditionally used oil as their major fuel for heating. Last heating season, that region experienced 90 days with below-normal temperatures, and climate forecasters predict that this weather pattern will continue for several more years. Furthermore, many new homes are being built in the region in response to recent population growth. Because of these trends, we can safely predict that this region will experience an increased demand for heating oil during the next five years."


Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to decide whether the prediction and the argument on which it is based are reasonable. Be sure to explain how the answers to these questions would help to evaluate the prediction.


In this memo, the author predicts that the demand for heating oil will increase in the next five years. Quite convincing though his/her argument may seem at first glance, there are a number of questions regarding his/her lines of reasoning that requires further analysis. The argument could end up being pretty convincing or invalid in the end, depending on the answers to those questions.

To begin with, the author’s reasoning relies heavily on the accuracy of the climate forecaster, a question that is not answered. It is possible that the predictions about future climate are completely wrong, because the Earth’s climate system is highly complex and can change rather unpredictably. Without additional information to evaluate future climate and winter weather conditions, it is possible that the northeastern United States could actually experience warmer winters. This scenario would seriously challenge the predicted increase in oil demand, and render the author’s recommendation much less advisable. On the other hand, any valid proof that the forecast is well founded will strengthen the author’s argument.

Granted that future climate will be extremely cold and given the fact that new houses are being built in this region, whether or not oil demand will increase in response to colder winters and increasing population needs a second look. Behind the author’s argument lie two critical implied assertions. The first one is that people will spend their winter in this very region, which could be wrong. The possibility that people would migrate to warmer areas, such as the southeastern United States, during the winter to escape from the bitter cold must be considered and addressed. Yet, if the author can provide information to unequivocally demonstrate that a substantial number of people live in the northeast during the winter, his/her conclusion will have weight.

Furthermore, the second assertion is that oil will remain the major fuel for heating in the future. Although in the past people have traditionally used oil for residential heating, the possibility that new heating methods may emerge cannot be excluded. For example, residential heating powered by nuclear or solar energy may enter the market and begin to compete with traditional fossil fuels. We have no clue if the dominance of oil in energy market will still persist. If no, the demand for oil is unlikely to increase despite the fact that there is indeed a huge demand for residential heating.


While this may be the case, there are a number of questions regarding his lines of reasoning that requires further analysis. The argument could end up being pretty convincing or invalid in the end, depending on the answers to those questions.


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