Energy Alternatives, Energy Independence, Reducing Fossil Fuel Use

beyond fossil fuels
"60% percent of species around the world could die by the end of the 21st century"...
security and drains billions of dollars from the American economy. It is not a healthy relationship. It is probably unsustainable. And it is incredibly expensive.

The United States consumes one-quarter of the world's oil — 20 million barrels — every day; about 12 million barrels of that is imported. Assuming a price of $60 a barrel, that means that $720 million is flowing out of this country every day to finance what President Bush himself called our oil “addiction.”

The global warming picture is no less gloomy. Just in the last few weeks, a group of NASA scientists, headed by climate specialist James E. Hansen, argued that global warming has been more rapid over the last 30 years than anyone thought — about 0.2 degrees Celsius over each of the past three decades. If the trend continues unchecked, the group asserts, 60 percent of species around the world could die by the end of the 21st century and sea levels could rise several feet, enough to completely transform coastlines.

Many scientists regard Mr. Hansen's conclusions (although not his data on warming) as far too alarmist. But there are few mainstream scientists left who dispute the need for moving quickly to slow, stabilize, then reduce the human contributions to the accumulated carbon load that already exists in the atmosphere. And what they usually mean by “moving quickly” is to begin making major changes in the way we use energy in the next ten years .

It is in this context of early action that alternative fuels — by which we mean, largely, renewable fuels — must be viewed. There are all sorts of marvelous, futuristic (and plausible-sounding) ideas out there, including space-based solar systems, advanced biomass, worldwide electricity grids, and the like, nicely summarized by Marty Hoffert of New York University in a paper for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. But these are huge, enormously expensive projects, requiring a global budget, and none is likely to do much good in the near term.

There is, however, a lot that we can and should be doing right now.

I. A Renewable Called Efficiency

A quick but necessary word here on something that will do a lot of good in the near term — energy efficiency, that is, making much better use of the fuels we already have.

Amory Lovins , who runs the Rocky Mountain Institute in Aspen, Colo., and who has been preaching the virtues of energy efficiency and the promise of new technologies for years, is fond of pointing out that the United States uses 47 percent less energy per dollar of economic output than it did 30 years ago, lowering costs by about $1 billion a day.

Renewable fuels played only a small role in this transformation. What happened is that we took existing products and made them better. We manufactured more efficient light bulbs, built more efficient homes,