Out of the Energy Box

Friedmann, S. Julio; Homer-Dixon, Thomas
November 2004
Foreign Affairs;Nov/Dec2004, Vol. 83 Issue 6, p72
The article discusses the global energy crises and critiques various alternatives to the use of fossil fuels. Most scientists believe that recent global warming is largely the result of human energy consumption, which releases carbon dioxide, a powerful greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Massive, almost inconceivable amounts of energy are used to do everything these days, from building airplanes to running sewer systems and hospital equipment. Energy is the essence of modern civilization, and as societies and economies grow, so does their energy consumption. In the United States and most other developed countries, 85 percent of this energy comes from fossil fuels (mainly coal, oil, and natural gas). In developing countries, wood, charcoal, straw, and cow dung still meet a large portion of heating and cooking needs, but the shift to fossil fuels is happening fast. Global energy consumption is growing at roughly two percent per year and is projected to double by 2035 and triple by 2055. The good news is that fossil fuels are still relatively abundant and cheap. The bad news is that burning fossil fuel emits carbon dioxide. And global energy consumption is so great and rising so fast that humans are demonstrably changing the climate. Reducing the consumption of energy and increasing its efficient use would help control emissions. But such measures will not likely be sufficient to solve the problem. Nor will replacing fossil fuels with alternative sources of energy, which remain prohibitively expensive or too impractical to be used on a large scale. Sources of renewable energy, such as solar power, are inherently ill suited to modern energy needs. Hydrogen is no panacea either. It is much touted for yielding only heat and water--no carbon dioxide, acid rain, ozone, or soot--when it is consumed. But because it is not a primary source of energy, it has large-scale supply problems.


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