Richard Heinberg, one of the world’s premiere energy analysts, recently wrote an excellent essay called ‘Our Renewable Future’ which he has now published as a Simplicity Institute Report. It’s a fascinating discussion that reviews the current state of our energy predicament and reminds us that how we use energy is as important as how we get it. The introduction is posted below and the full essay is freely available here.
Our Renewable Future, by Richard Heinberg
People who pay attention to energy and climate issues are regularly treated to two competing depictions of society’s energy options. On one hand, the fossil fuel industry claims that its products deliver unique economic benefits, and that giving up coal, oil, and natural gas in favor of renewable energy sources like solar and wind will entail sacrifice and suffering (see ). Saving the climate may not be worth the trouble, they say, unless we can find affordable ways to capture and sequester carbon as we continue burning fossil fuels.
On the other hand, at least some renewable energy proponents tell us there is plenty of wind and sun, the fuel is free, and the only thing standing between us and a climate-protected world of plentiful, sustainable, “green” energy, jobs, and economic growth is the political clout of the coal, oil, and gas industries (see ).
Which message is right? Will our energy future be fueled by fossils (with or without carbon capture technology), or powered by abundant, renewable wind and sunlight? Does the truth lie somewhere between these extremes—that is, does an “all of the above” energy future await us? Or is our energy destiny located in a Terra Incognita that neither fossil fuel promoters nor renewable energy advocates talk much about? As maddening as it may be, the latter conclusion may be the one best supported by the facts.
If that uncharted land had a motto, it might be, “How we use energy is as important as how we get it.”
The full essay is freely available here.