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Andrew Revkin, who has written extensively about the energy crisis and climate change, lays out what he perceives as the stark realities facing humanity over the next few decades in The New York Times's Dot Earth.

  • Energy matters. Energy helps secure a wide array of necessities and conveniences that make life bearable for humans: drinking water, food production, storage and dispersal, to name a few. Energy also secures mobility, connectedness, health and comfort. Revkin cites the late chemist and Nobel laureate, Richard Smalley, who devoted the last years of his life to developing alternative energy sources.

     

  • Population. Even as we undertake stronger measures to conserve energy, the fact remains that roughly 9 billion people within the next few decades will require far more energy than what is available today. Revkin cites a burgeoning energy gap in which some 2 billion people lack illumination or a clean energy source for cooking meals.

     

  • China and India. If China and India follow the American pattern of transportation, the ballooning demand for oil that will follow is bound to produce a disruption of world affairs — a likely outcome even without climate change.

    "Think of it this way; the United States, with 307 million (heading toward 400 million) people, now consumes nearly 20 million barrels a day; India, with more than 1.1 billion people, is barely in first gear, currently using 2.67 million barrels of oil but poised for vastly increased demand," Revkin says. "Add in projections of car use in China and you see why status-quo fuel choices don't hold up."

  • Overreliance on coal. The excessive use of coal could exact a heavy price over time, leading to disruptive, long-lasting shifts in climate through the buildup of atmospheric greenhouse gases.

 

  • Energy quest over climate crisis. If forced to choose between climate crisis and energy quest, Revkin opts for an energy quest. That's not to discount the idea of a climate crisis, Revkin says, though he doesn't "think that phrase is a productive way to frame this challenge." Crisis, after all does not imply catastrophe or alarmism but rather "a state of affairs in which a decisive change for better or worse is imminent."

    The real issue involves whether to pursue the current path of adding more carbon to the atmosphere or to find an alternative one.

  • What's going on now isn't an energy quest. What is sorely needed is nothing short of a "sustained quest" involving all facets of society across the globe, Revkin says.

    "This is not some onerous task, but an active, positive assertion that the ways we harvest and use energy — an asset long taken for granted and priced in ways that mask its broader costs — really do matter," he says.

    Likewise, he says sustained investment in scientific research to secure "breakthroughs" that would expand the menu of available energy options.