It's a big government report, with charts and graphs. If you've ignored every other technical paper from an agency with a long name, it sure looks like you can cheerfully deep-six the one released last week, since it contains phrases like "World marketed energy consumption is projected to increase by 57 percent from 2004 to 2030. Total energy demand in the non-OECD countries increases by 95 percent, compared with an increase of 24 percent in the OECD countries."
What's an OECD country?* Who cares, right? But actually this report from the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) is kind of a big deal, because of what it says about the collision course between business as usual and our climate and peak oil realities. The report makes a lot of assumptions, among them continued rising energy demand for the next two decades, mainly from the Third World (and especially China). It says that those cries of "Oil! Oil!" will push prices to $186 a barrel. What's more, coal will stay on the front burner as our largest source of electricity.
This is plainly impossible, both from the planet's point of view and the cold facts about our energy economy.
Coal is the biggest global warming aggravator, and climate visionaries such as NASA's James Hansen, not to mention myriad and increasingly vocal college students, are calling for "No New Coal." Soaring oil prices have already put a big crimp in demand, and it's far from clear we would even have it to pump if EIA's projections bear out.
The federal government needs to do energy outlooks, but this one is likely to be far off the mark. For instance, on June 19 China (the second-largest oil consumer today) announced steep 17 percent hikes in gasoline and diesel prices "to rein in energy consumption," according to Bloomberg.com. Electricity is going up, too, which should at least dent coal use.
The EIA report, while acknowledging that government incentives "are expected to encourage the development of renewable energy even when it cannot compete economically with fossil fuels," nonetheless sees only modest 2.1 percent per year growth in hydro and other clean sources. In 2030, the 59 quadrillion Btus of renewables would contrast with 695 quadrillion Btu of total energy use. It would still be less than 10 percent of the mix.
But I think 2008 will go down as The Year We Regulated Energy. A conservation-minded Congress is going to pass far-reaching climate legislation that includes cap-and-trade schemes, carbon caps and renewable energy incentives. As oil prices continue to go up (probably well past $186 a barrel) people all over the world, OECD or not, will be pushed into smaller cars, public transit and lower home energy use. It will be a green revolution the likes of which no federal agency is likely to foresee.
*OECD: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. It means the developed countries.
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