Unless America makes some bold moves, the energy world of the future could be even scarier than today’s.
The energy picture is scary and depressing, with the U.S. average price for regular gasoline soon expected to top $4 a gallon — nearly quadruple the level of less than seven years ago. The days of Tod and Buz merrily cruising Route 66 in their fuel-guzzling Corvette appear long gone.
But the long-term energy outlook perhaps is even more frightening for America, the world’s biggest energy consumer and largest importer of oil. Here’s why:
• The world’s population, approaching 6.7 billion, is growing by 75 million annually and will hit 9.2 billion by 2050, a 37 percent increase, according to U.N. projections (http://esa.un.org/unpp). That means 2.5 billion additional energy consumers, an increase more than eight times the current U.S. population of 304 million. India alone is expected to gain 300 million people between now and 2025.
• The population increase will be largely in developing nations, where per-capita energy consumption is rising rapidly as millions of people buy cars and other fossil-fuel-consuming goods for the first time. China’s vehicle fleet is expected to reach 270 million by 2030, a stunning sevenfold increase from 2005. The International Energy Agency (www.iea.org) projects that China’s annual vehicle sales will exceed those of the car-crazy U.S. by about 2015.
• The IEA forecasts that world energy consumption will rise more than 50 percent by 2030, if current government policies continue. About 74 percent of the increase will come from developing nations, with China and India accounting for 45 percent.
• Global demand for crude oil, the raw product for today’s increasingly precious gasoline, is projected to soar to 116 million barrels per day by 2030, a hefty jump of about 30 million barrels over current consumption levels. The more that demand rises, the greater will be the upward pressure on fuel prices.
• Some developing nations are encouraging oil waste by heavily subsidizing gasoline. In Iran, the government has raised fuel prices more than 25 percent — to the equivalent of 38 cents a gallon.
• U.S. control over world oil supplies will continue to diminish. Western oil giants such as Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell, Chevron and Conoco Phillips control only a small and steadily shrinking fraction of the world’s oil reserves. In general, the big national oil companies — such as those in Saudi Arabia, Russia and Venezuela — are providing only limited access to Western oil firms and are demanding increasingly large chunks of production revenues. That bodes poorly for America’s long-term energy security and its ability to avoid paying a king’s ransom to foreign oil producers in the future.
The U.S. must ensure a more stable energy future by greatly increasing conservation (think small, fuel-efficient cars, expanded mass transit, greener buildings and homes, and development patterns that shorten work and shopping commutes); diversifying its energy supply (more nuclear, clean coal, wind, solar, geothermal, biomass); and expanding domestic oil and natural gas exploration, production and infrastructure (opening up more offshore areas and a limited portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, building an Alaskan natural gas pipeline and using improved technology to milk more production from existing fields).
Perhaps most important, we must develop new engine technologies (think gasoline-electric hybrids, plug-in hybrids, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and electric cars).
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote the week of May 25, “Ultimately, we need to move our entire fleet to plug-in electric cars.”
I’m not sure I agree 100 percent, but that’s clearly the direction we must move in. Otherwise, America could become far more vulnerable in the precarious energy world of the future — to the point that $4 gasoline would be viewed nostalgically as a relic of the “good ol’ days.”
Jack Z. Smith is an editorial writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.