United States Must Lead the Way in Clean Energy
By Chelsea Michta '13
Over the course of the next several decades, world energy consumption is expected to increase by more than 50 percent, according to the United States Energy Information Administration (USEIA). Most of the projected increases in energy use will take place in China and India — two developing countries whose rapid rates of economic growth are facilitating the rise of middle class populations eager to consume products that require energy. The International Energy Agency, for example, believes that automobile ownership in China and India will rise dramatically over the coming years and that transport fuel consumption in the two countries, as a result, will quintuple by 2030.

The projected increase in world energy consumption is a cause for concern because it will entail increases in fossil fuel consumption. After all, China and India are planning, for the most part, to rely on petroleum, natural gas and coal to satisfy the expected rises in energy demand. This is problematic because fossil fuels are both hazardous to the environment and nonrenewable. For example, some analysts believe that the world production of oil has now peaked and will only decline in the coming decades, even as demand throughout the world continues to grow. If these analysts are correct in their predictions, then it would be foolish not to assume that oil scarcity may trigger an international energy crisis in the future. Although it is true that both China and India do have renewable energy projects in the works and that they have invested considerably in “green” initiatives, the fact of the matter is that these will not be enough to offset their — and hence the world’s — projected increases in fossil fuel consumption.

The only real solution to the problem outlined above,of course, would be for the world to transition from a fossil fuel based system to one rooted in clean, renewable sources of energy much faster than the current rate. Needless to say, this is easier said than done. The United States, however, can lead the way in triggering this transition because it has the resources and power necessary to help the world make the transition possible.

The United States should first adopt a more realistic understanding of how the future of world energy consumption will look. The USEIA seems to believe that there will be enough oil throughout the world to satisfy demand over the coming decades because it thinks that new oil field discoveries and advances in technology will allow more oil to be produced. This is a very optimistic view of the future and one that is at odds with more realistic analyses, such as those of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas. Needless to say, the United States needs to reassess its projections so it can better comprehend the full gravity of the situation.

Once the United States has a more realistic idea of what the future of world energy demand holds, it should embark on an ambitious plan to turn the large-scale use of renewable energy from theory to reality. It can do this only by investing much more heavily than it currently does in research and development projects associated with renewable energy, at both public and private institutions. The investment will have to be huge, but it will undoubtedly help the United States in the long run because it will establish the United States as the world’s go-to knowledge hub for renewable energy technology.

Finally, the United States will need to make renewable energy technology available to other countries, particularly developing ones, such as China and India, while also establishing joint research and development projects with those countries. The United States will have to make it clear to the world that it is willing to help developing countries transition to developed status through clean, renewable forms of energy, rather than watching idly as they make the same mistakes made by developed countries today when they transitioned into economic superpowers over the past several centuries.

Issue 11, Submitted 2010-12-08 03:33:34