A world after fossil hydrocarbons

There are no shortage of proposed solutions for our future energy needs on the internet, and while I don't find the Green Sheet's "Seven Ways to Solve Our Energy Problem" particularly outstanding among them, kudos for assembling this eye-catching graph:

One can quibble with the exact level of the curves (The Oil Drum tends to be fairly vocal on Peak Oil, for example, so another source might not show oil falling to essentially zero), but there is no escaping the fact that our great grandchildren's energy mix will need to look radically different than our own today.

I think the interesting philosophical question is whether market forces alone will allow a smooth transition to that new energy mix, or whether large-scale government intervention is needed to engineer it.

Market forces are powerful - the oil price spike in the 1970s spurred a wave of new exploration, resulting in major finds in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, and the North Sea, and the spike in 2007/8 saw a massive influx of investment in alternative energy.

As for government's role, there is on one hand a compelling argument to be made that the key enabler of the technological explosion we've seen in the last half century was not private-sector innovation, but rather the dividends from unprecedented government research into basic science, which the private sector picked up and ran with once they reached appropriate maturity (see: nuclear power, the computer, the internet, the cell phone). On the other hand, the government's track record as a market engineer is mixed at best. I don't have the whole answer, but there's no question in my mind that continued government funding for basic scientific research has to play a part.

Finally, as Green Sheet says, those who criticize should offer paths of their own, so for what it's worth, the biggest differences between my current working hypothesis and Green Sheet's proposed solution are:

1) I would not rank rail as Priority #1 (I assume they're referring primarily to urban public transit, but there will still be transportation fuel demand for airplanes, intercontinental commercial shipping, etc.)
2) I would rank energy efficiency much higher
3) I am more optimistic about nuclear, particularly in the long term, given the potential for new technology breakthroughs

P.S. Not to mention existing nuclear technology. Dan Frum via Andrew Sullivan:
This past week, I had an opportunity to visit French nuclear facilities as a guest of the U.S. Nuclear Energy Institute. At the end of the trip, I was taken to the large concrete-lined below-ground chamber in which the French store the most hazardous of the nuclear wastes generated by reprocessing. The room in which I stood held something like one-third of the total of all the most hazardous waste produced in France since the 1960s. It was rather larger than a high school gym. I stood atop of a concrete disk with a numeric code. Beneath that disk was a cylinder of concrete perhaps 5 meters deep. Below that was 10 meters of empty space, and below that a stainless steel tube holding nuclear byproducts. After my visit to the room I was scanned for exposure to radiation. My dose? About half as much as I had absorbed on the flight from the U.S. to France, about the same amount as I’d have ingested from a small dish of mussels.

P.P.S. Coincidentally, Tony Blair just outlined his seven policies to fight global warming:
The seven short-term measures proposed by today’s report are: incentives to stimulate wind and solar power; improving the efficiency of machines used by industry; better building codes; reducing the fuel consumption of vehicles; cutting the carbon content of fuel; setting new energy standards for domestic appliances; and cutting back on the level of deforestation.
Note that four of the seven are efficiency-related. My only complaint is that "cutting the carbon content of fuel" is meaninglessly high-level.

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