I think that we need to drastically reduce our energy consumption as soon as possible to preserve as many possibilities as we can for society.
I don’t think that a transition to renewable energy is going to happen overnight, nor do I believe that it should. Renewable energy works. We know this. Solar power, wind farms, hydroelectric, even tidal and wave power have been tested and we know their potential; the problem is that they’re not yet economically competitive with traditional fossil fuel sources, and that’s what needs to change. So it’s not really a question of technology, except to the extent (which may be considerable) that future technological advances make renewable energy sources cheaper. It’s really a question of economics. How do we foster investment in these energy sources? How do we get power companies to change over to generating energy from renewable sources, and how do we get individuals and businesses to prefer to purchase renewable energy over traditional fossil fuel generated energy? In a Communist country such as China or a country with a more autocratic system, you simply order the changeover and let the chips fall where they may. In a market-based economy, however, it’s not that simple. Basically it comes down to money. The changeover has to be funded, whether by direct infusions of cash, tax credits, incentive programs, licensing or technology rights, or some combination thereof.
I think we should use more renewable energy. But I also think that we as a nation, and possibly within some international framework, should develop a schedule for the changeover from fossil to renewable fuels–so many coal plants will be retired per year, so many solar facilities will go online, etc. The schedule should be quick enough to make a difference, especially in global warming, but also gradual enough to prevent a catastrophic economic shock that may wreck the whole system. We’re going to have to work with traditional energy providers to convert them to renewable energy in a way that makes economic sense for them, environmental sense for the planet, and some semblance of political sense for the people who will be making the decisions. I think we can reach such an equilibrium if we have the will to work toward it, but it certainly won’t be easy.
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