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The Quest for New Energy Solutions

The relative prosperity and quality of life which our nation and citizens enjoy today is nearly unparalleled across the globe. Whether measured by gross domestic production, individual net income, educational opportunities, access to goods and services, safety and security indices, amount of leisure time or life expectancy, Americans are exponentially better off than most of the six billion people that inhabit the earth with us.

For the United States and most developed nations, the foundation of this prosperity has been the availability of abundant and affordable sources of energy. Until recently, most Americans took energy availability for granted: the lights came on when the switch was flicked; gasoline and other liquid fuels were seemingly limitless in supply; power was readily available to operate our farms, factories and offices; and our homes and workplaces were warm in the winter and comfortably cool in the summer. Most of us gave little or no thought to where our energy came from or how much it cost.

Today however, there is emerging awareness and understanding that the carbon based energy system we have depended upon to fuel growth and development is not sustainable. World oil reserves are in fact limited and, even more problematic, are located in politically volatile regions of the world. Our dependence on foreign oil continues to increase, further compromising economic and national security. The costs of petroleum, natural gas and electricity are increasing rapidly, affecting the vitality of the U.S. and world economies. Emissions from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas are impacting the environment and global climate. The lack of access to basic energy services by the world’s poor is widening the gap between the “haves” and “have nots”, creating additional global security concerns and challenges.

The following facts underscore the severity of national and global energy insecurity today:

  • as a nation the U.S. now imports more than 50 percent of the petroleum it uses
  • the U.S consumes more than 20 million barrels of petroleum each day
  • the U.S spends $120 billion a year on oil imports
  • two-thirds of the world’s oil reserves are located in the Middle East; U.S. reserves equal 2 percent of the total
  • carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have been increasing for the last 200 years
  • average temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere were stable for 1,000 years but have been rising steadily for the last century and faster for the last 20 years
  • fossil fuel production and use account for 60 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions affecting climate change
  • two-thirds of the world’s population do not have access to modern and reliable energy services
  • the energy deprived are the world’s most impoverished people
  • the United Nations projects that the populations of the 50 poorest countries will triple over the next 50 years

Energy, economic development, national security and environmental quality issues are inextricably linked. As noted by Timothy Wirth, Boyden Gray and John Podesta in their July/August 2003 Foreign Affairs article entitled The Future of Energy Policy, “Energy is the common thread weaving through the fabric of critical American interests and global challenges. U.S strategic energy policy must take into account three central challenges– economic security, environmental protection, and poverty alleviation– and set aggressive goals for overcoming them.”