The crisis of Ukraine has been in the news for much of the past few days. Russia is one of the chief suppliers of natural gas to Europe and they are looking to become one of the world's chief oil suppliers. Russia could, if they wanted, cut off the supply of natural gas to the EU or cut off the supply of oil or natural gas to Ukraine. Given this crisis, it becomes important even more now than ever to wean ourselves from dependence on fossil fuels.
Underlying this shift in supply is the inexorable shrinkage in the energy needed to create $1 of GDP. In 1976, I heretically suggested in these pages that this “energy intensity” could fall by two-thirds by 2025. By 2010, it had fallen by half, driven by no central plan or visionary intent but only by the perennial quest for profit, security, and health. Still-newer methods, without further inventions, could reduce U.S. energy intensity by another two-thirds over the next four decades, with huge economic benefits. In fact, as Reinventing Fire, the new book from my organization, Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), details, a U.S. economy that has grown by 158 percent by 2050 could need no oil, no coal, no nuclear energy, and one-third less natural gas -- and cost $5 trillion less than business as usual, ignoring all hidden costs. Today’s fossil carbon emissions could also fall by more than four-fifths without even putting a price on them.
This transformation requires pursuing three agendas. First, radical automotive efficiency can make electric propulsion affordable; heavy vehicles, too, can save most of their fuel; and all vehicles can be used more productively. Second, new designs can make buildings and factories several times as efficient as they are now. Third, modernizing the electric system to make it diverse, distributed, and renewable can also make it clean, reliable, and secure. These ambitious shifts may seem quixotic, but sometimes tough problems are best solved by enlarging their boundaries, as General Dwight Eisenhower reputedly advised.Another diarist tonight called for the left to return to bold ideas. I submit mine -- we don't need to wait for 60 votes in the Senate or 250 votes in the House in order to transform our society into a fossil free society. We can bankrupt not only the oil producers like the Russians and the Islamists, but massive consumers like the Chinese, who are constantly looking for new sources of oil around the world, including the Keystone Pipeline. That means that we don't have to pay the Saudis with massive weapons systems not to attack Israel or shut off the oil flow.
Thus, it is easier to solve the problems of all four energy-using sectors -- transportation, buildings, industry, and electricity -- together than separately. For example, electric vehicles could recharge from or supply power to the electricity grid at times that compensate for variations in the output from wind and solar power. Synergies likewise arise from integrating innovations in technology, policy, design, and strategy, not just the first one or two.
This transition will require no technological miracles or social engineering -- only the systematic application of many available, straightforward techniques. It could be led by business for profit and sped up by revenue-neutral policies enacted by U.S. states or federal agencies, and it would need from Congress no new taxes, subsidies, mandates, or laws. The United States’ most effective institutions -- the private sector, civil society, and the military -- could bypass its least effective institutions. At last, Americans could make energy do their work without working their undoing.
The article notes that oil demand will start to drop off by 2016. This means that while Climate Change is a serious problem, our world, including this country, is starting to adapt. Our own country is adapting more than even Lovins thought possible (as he notes in his article), although we always have to find ways of doing more. This means that we will be able to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, although the acute effects are already starting to be felt both in this country and around the world. For instance, the City of LA is already starting to do contingency plans in the event that sea levels there rise and homes get flooded.
We can then save billions of dollars by saving taxpayer dollars by only supporting countries which share our values and our aspirations since we don't have to shed blood for oil or support dictatorial regimes like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or Bahrain. We should, of course, work for strong relations with all countries. But the ones that get our military aid should be the ones who are democratic and who protect basic human rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
There is actually more risk in continuing to rely on fossil fuels, like many politicians would advocate on top of the obvious damage it does to the planet. The danger is that the Polar Ice Caps would melt and there would be the potential for a major global conflict that would dwarf World War II as the US, Russia, and Canada and other countries right over the oil contained below. But since wind and solar are an infinite resource that does not need to be imported, it lessens the risk for worldwide global conflict.