The International Energy Agency issued its annual World Energy Outlook on Nov. 12. The Paris-based agency has 28 member nations and is acclaimed worldwide by many government agencies. The World Energy Outlook stated that North America is leading a global energy shift that will make the United States almost energy self-sufficient by 2035!
Almost all of this projected energy growth in North America, and particularly in the United States, is based on increased use of hydraulic fracturing and more efficient use of fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal). The report clearly states that although the renewable energy segment will continue to grow, the world will still rely heavily on fossil fuels to meet its ever-expanding energy needs into the foreseeable future.
This overriding projection by the IEA is supported by most of the developed nations and driven by purely economic reasons. The United States, China and India demand a cheap and reliable energy source to satisfy their insatiable appetite for energy. The undeniable fact is growth-based economies need a cheap energy supply to grow their economies and use job creation as a publicly accepted excuse. The hydrocarbon companies, which are truly worldwide in nature, are only too happy to support this data for profit motives.
Even the projected expansion of renewables is based on the continued and increased use of government subsidies to make them competitive with relatively cheap and available fossil fuels. The World Energy Outlook report doesn’t take into consideration many of the potentially devastating consequences of expanding fossil fuel usage.
The most important of these consequences is global warming, with all the environmental factors associated with increased usage of fossil fuels. Along with the contentious climate change issues, there are other related and overlapping issues that could affect this projected scenario: social discontent, general health issues, inadequate water supplies, lack of proactive government policies, etc.
Unfortunately, the human condition is to be reactive, not proactive. I am fairly certain that we will use every ounce of fossil fuels available unless the world condition forces us to put survival ahead of profit. Most of the world depends on growth to sustain economic viability. We are culturally and socially committed to an ever-expanding population, consumption of finite resources and a dependence on profit and material growth. If we continue on this shortsighted path we could very well see the end of growth as we know it. We are at a crossroads in our human development. The question is will we do the things necessary for our very survival and maybe of the survival of the earth itself? The human species is close to becoming a cancer upon the earth that could kill the host that we owe our very existence to!
I am not trying to take a purely environmentalist position or simply suggest a doomsday scenario. I am also certainly not speaking out of technical expertise. I am simply trying to express my opinion as an observer of reality and human nature. We live in a world society where cellphones and iPods have become more important than a sustainable ecosystem. I actually believe a compromise will be worked out that will pacify the public and allow the fossil fuel companies to extract their bounty. It would take a sea change in our collective attitude to wean us off fossil fuels and close to impossible from a pragmatic standpoint. The reality is our fate may already be sealed!