Hal Harvey Founder and CEO, ClimateWorks Foundation; Senior Fellow, Bipartisan Policy Center
Well, remember, efficiency comes first. So we quit the waste. As soon as you quit the waste, then your energy demand drops in the rich countries and flatlines in the developing countries. That's a manageable problem. If you have dropping energy demand, you can make carbon drop even faster by a steady substitution of renewable fuels.
If you have flat energy demand, which they would in China, for example, then you can start chewing away at that with new renewables. But you've bought yourself the time to introduce those renewable on a mass scale. It's no longer a panic situation.
Human society has relied on fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, for many generations -- and we will probably rely on them for quite a while to come. As many have observed, this is not necessarily a good thing.
The fossil-fuel economy is the standard gasoline-burning world we're used to. But it has some serious downsides to it. Cars powered by the internal combustion engine produce byproducts that are bad for the air, like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and unburned hydrocarbons. Along similar pollution lines, the fossil-fuel economy is also responsible for a good portion of global warming. Each gallon of gas your car burns emits 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms) of carbon, which contributes to the rising temperature of the atmosphere. Meanwhile, the transportation of the oil used to produce gasoline is often at fault for major environmental pollution problems: Think oil tanker spills, pipeline explosions and well fires. Finally, on the political end of the spectrum, the fossil-fuel economy forces the United States to be dependent on oil-rich countries, as we can't produce enough of our own oil. That has all kinds of repercussions, including allowing other countries to control how much we pay for gas.
In 2007, while the government was pouring millions of dollars into alternative energy sources, fossil fuels were still responsible for nearly three-quarters of the U.S. electric power production [source: Manhattan Institute]. Alternatives to the use of fossil fuels for infrastructural power include nuclear power (which relies on uranium as its primary fuel, causing many to insist that it does not qualify as renewable), hydroelectric, wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and other sources. Of the alternative power sources, nuclear power production has long been the most popular. Together, nuclear energy and fossil fuels accounted for more than 91 percent of electricity generated in the United States in 2007 [source: Manhattan Institute]. Though interest in alternative energy is on the rise, fossil fuels and nuclear power account for too much of our electricity to be quickly or easily replaced, even if research and development of renewable energy is fully funded and vigorous. The Energy Information Administration predicts continued dependency on fossil fuels through the next two decades.
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