Simple Solutions to Energy and Global Warming

07/02/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The June 19th issue of The Economist very well captured the state of energy and global warming today, with vague hints on future directions. Some consensus, though, appears to now be forming about the current situation and potential pathways:

1. The global economy is unsustainable and possibly headed towards collapse.
2. Peak Oil plus surging demand will continue to increase the price of petroleum.
3. Global Warming will result in a Carbon Tax.
4. It will take improvements in energy efficiency and a range of sustainable energy resources to minimize the coming pain, and nuclear power will no doubt be included.

The problem is that society suffers from a fatal flaw: we can't seem to make smart decisions until it is too late. Thus, we will agonize, then suffer, but, somehow, again recover. Is there a better way?

We should have done something after the first energy crisis in 1973, but did not even do anything much after the second energy crisis in 1979. Part of the problem is that Ronald Reagan decimated the American solar program when he became president in 1982, and the world followed suit. Understandably, too, there was no need for panic, as gasoline (in 2005 dollars) cost about $2/gallon in 1950, jumped to $3/gallon in 1980, but dropped to $1.30 in 1998. (Go to SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth in the box on the right for details on this paragraph and much of the following.)

Thus, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on climate change came at the worst time possible when oil prices were nearing an all-time LOW. Again, in 2005 dollars, oil cost $18.76/barrel in 1972, $89.48/bbl in 1980, $14.38/bbl in 1998... and is now somewhere over the rainbow in the range of $135/bbl, in 2008 dollars. The fact that China and India were excused made it easy for the incoming George W. Bush administration to also opt out in 2000. No matter how conscientious you want to be, reducing carbon dioxide became a joke when those countries conforming to those environmental rules began to lose investments and jobs, made all the more hilarious when just the additional coal power plants of China, the U.S. and India dwarfed all the carbon dioxide savings accrued by the 182 parties who signed and took steps. By the way, India and China did ratify the protocol. It's just that they don't have to follow the strictures

In 2006 came the 600-page Stern report commissioned by British Chancellor Gordon Brown. The solution was simple: annually invest 1% of the World Gross Domestic Product to stabilize greenhouse gas concentration over the next 50 years to prevent a global recession. In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said we might need to invest as much as 3% of the GDP by 2030 to limit long-term global warming. This is serious money, as a household in the UK with a weekly income of $700/month would be taxed an additional $91/month (or $3 per day) for this program.

Then on June 6 of this year, the International Energy Agency indicated that the world would need to spend $45 trillion by 2050 just to meet the target of a 50% cut in emissions suggested by the G8 nations, where the atmospheric temperature would still probably increase by a little more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit. The 2008 U.S. Federal budget is $2.66 trillion, so we are talking really big money, and not even getting close to solving the problem.

International study groups can suggest all they want, but someone has to make a decision. The G8 nations next meet from July 7-9 in Japan, where the main theme is the environment. Will there finally be a firm resolution to Peak Oil and Global Warming? No! No! No! No! No!

Our leaders will dialogue and express sincere concerns, but we might need to wait until 2012 when those heads of countries meet in the United States, when someone like, perhaps, Barack Obama, will be in his 4th year of presidency. It will take all that time, anyway, to gain some consensus and arrive at a workable plan. But actual decisions will be made only if the world is by then in the midst of depression, where, maybe millions have succumbed to a particularly hot summer, and oil rests at $250/barrel. But, then, isn't that a bit too late?

So what is the SIMPLE SOLUTION? Read those books in the box on the right. The first action step I took was reported in my first HuffPost of May 29, 2008, entitled, "Well, Barack, We Have a Problem." But what was I thinking when I only suggested a trillion dollar solution.