Laughing and Crying about the Future of Energy

Last weekend I filled my vehicle with gasoline three times while driving almost a thousand miles to my home town. Will driving that far for a fun social event be feasible in 10 years?

The Laugh: In 1973 Art Buchwald laid the blame on the Harvard Business School.

Almost every sheik now in charge of oil policy for his country was trained at Harvard. Everything they learned there they have put into practice to the detriment of the Free World. The Harvard Business School taught the sons of Arab potentates how to sell oil, raise prices and demand outrageous profits for the black gold they have in the ground. Had these same sons been sent to the University of Alabama, Oklahoma or Texas, they would now be involved in developing football teams instead of putting the screws to everyone. (Link: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2206&dat=19731220&id=SMwlAAAAIBAJ&sjid=tPMFAAAAIBAJ&pg=6000,3995298)

The Reality: Many more people want to live the good life. (Read on if you want to know why we need a breakthrough that provides clean, inexpensive energy – soon.)

Link: Common Sense in Energy Storage Investing

We live on a planet where six billion poor live in squalor and deprivation while 500 million of us enjoy relatively comfortable lives. As long as the poor didn't know that there was more to life than mere subsistence, they neither contributed to nor demanded from the global economy.

For better or worse, the information and communications technology revolution gave half of them cell phones so the cat's out of the bag and the existence of a better life is no longer a secret. For the first time in history, we live in a world where more than half of the population knows that a better life exists and they all want a small slice of the economic pie. Human nature being what it is, their first natural response will be to work harder and compete for a place at the global economic table. If that doesn't work, their second natural response is likely to be far less pleasant.

The challenge of our age is not changing our carbon footprint because every ton of coal we don't burn in developed countries will be burned somewhere else. The same holds true for oil and natural gas. The inconvenient truth is that global consumption of these energy resources will continue apace no matter what we do and if anthropogenic global warming is more than the latest in a long-string of frightening but profitable alarmist theories, it's already too late to change the future and humanity will have to do what it's done since the dawn of time – adapt.

In the final analysis, our only challenge is finding relevant scale solutions to critical shortages of water, food, energy and every imaginable commodity. Whether we like it or not, the days of plenty have already passed and we must turn our attention to eliminating waste now, because if we don't make room at the table for six billion new mouths, the only possible outcomes are catastrophic conflict and horrific environmental devastation.