The world consumes 40,000 gallons of oil every second, and that accounts for one third of the earth's energy use, according to David O'Reilly, CEO of Chevron, one of the world's biggest oil companies.
It's one reason, the Chevron CEO told Fortune, that the United States can't become "energy independent," at least not for decades. And he doesn't envision much change from the business of slowing carbon dioxide emissions by changing the fossil fuels we burn, either. His claim: Take every car, truck, train and airplane out of service and you reduce carbon emissions by just 14%; stop making electricity and go "back to an agrarian society" and it would cut emissions by 60%-70%.
(If you're keeping score, most CO2 reduction goals aim to reduce U.S. emissions by 80% by 2050 in order to prevent warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius, which it is hoped might stave off the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. Also, checking the facts, the Department of Energy puts the greenhouse gas contribution of U.S. transportation at 32%, though it's possible O'Reilly's 14% refers to world transportation figures.)
"To significantly change the energy mix is a big challenge, and I don't think it's likely to occur anytime soon," O'Reilly told Fortune. "Very long term, a century out, maybe 50 years out, with new technology and changes in the capital structure maybe some changes will occur. But in the next 25 years, it's unlikely there will be significant change."
His suggestion: "Carbon management" with an emphasis on energy efficiency.
He takes a dim view of the slate of presidential candidates, which isn't surprising considering that virtually every Democrat has endorsed the goal of reducing carbon emissions by at least 80% (and cutting oil company subsidies) and virtually every Republican talks about achieving energy independence.
"I don't think anyone has really got a plan, whether in the current administration, in the current Congress, or among the candidates. They're all taking a simple, relatively short-term view," he told Fortune. "You've got to take a view that you're going to look at this over 25 years or longer."
Chevron's slogan, on commercials touting its geothermal business, encourage listeners to "imagine that - an oil company as part of the solution." Whether or not you buy that, O'Reilly at least is not hiding from the press like other oil executives. Even if his numbers don't match reality, they have some important lessons for the way forward.
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