Key concept: We can make the transition to a more sustainable energy future by greatly improving energy efficiency, using a mix of renewable energy resources, and including the environmental and health costs of energy resources in their market prices.
Eight questions policy makers should ask: o How much of the energy resource is likely to be available in the near future (the next 25 years) and in the long term (the next 50 years)? o What is the estimated net energy yield for the resource? o What are the estimated costs for developing, phasing in, and using the resource? o What kinds of government research and development subsidies and tax breaks will be needed to help develop the resource? o How will dependence on the resource affect national and global economic and military security? o How vulnerable is the resource to terrorism? o How will extracting, transporting, and using the resource likely affect the environment, the earth’s climate, and human health? o Does use of the resource produce hazardous, toxic, or radioactive substances that
we must safely store for very long periods of time?
There will be a gradual shift from large, centralized macropower systems to smaller, decentralized micropower systems such as wind turbines, household solar-cell panels, rooftop solar water heaters, small natural gas turbines, and fuel cells for cars, houses, and commercial buildings.
A combination of greatly improved energy efficiency and the temporary use of a natural gas will best help us to make the transition to a diverse mix of locally available renewable energy resources over the next several decades.
Because of their supplies and artificially low prices, fossil fuels will continue to be used in large quantities.
Three roles government plays: o Keeps the prices of selected energy resources artificially low to encourage use of those resources. o Keeps the prices of selected energy resources artificially high to discourage their use. o Emphasizes consumer education.
The three big ideas: o We should evaluate energy resources on the basis of their potential supplies, how much net useful energy they provide, and the environmental impacts of using them. o Using a mix of renewable energy sources—especially solar, wind, flowing water, sustainable biofuels, and geothermal energy—can drastically reduce pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and biodiversity losses. o Making the transition to a more sustainable energy future will require sharply reducing energy waste, using a mix of environmentally friendly renewable energy resources, and including the harmful environmental costs of energy resources in their market prices.
By relying more on a diversity of direct and indirect forms of renewable solar energy coupled with improving energy efficiency to reduce unnecessary waste of energy and money, we could implement these three principles of sustainability.
By including the harmful environmental and health costs of fossil fuels and nuclear energy in their market prices, we would be applying the full-cost pricing principle. This could only be accomplished with the aid of compromise and trade-offs in the political arena by applying the win-win solutions principle. And many analysts argue that such solutions would greatly benefit life on earth immediately and in the long run—a classic application of the principle of responsibility to future generations.