Friday, July 02, 2010

2050 - will the 2nd coming save us?

STLToday | A young woman of our acquaintance recently ran out of cigarettes. It was suggested that if she must smoke, she could walk a couple of blocks to the nearest gas station and buy a pack.

“No!” she said in horror. “It’s a BP.”

Rather than contribute some infinitesimal part of the price of a pack of cigarettes to the company that franchises a gas station within walking distance, she drove a few extra blocks to a convenience store.

That’ll teach BP to mess up the Gulf of Mexico.

We admire her idealism, but not her knowledge of international oil market or her willingness to burn more gasoline and emit more hydrocarbons into the atmosphere in the service of a destructive habit.

If we’re reading a recent spate of polls correctly, many Americans are just like her: Full of idealism and noble beliefs as long as they don’t conflict with convenience and comfort.

A New York Times/CBS News poll released last week reported that 9 in 10 Americans think U.S. energy policy needs either to be rebuilt entirely or to undergo fundamental changes. The same 9 in 10 are at least somewhat concerned that the country depends too much on foreign oil.

But only 45 percent said they’d go along with an increased tax on gasoline to support the development of alternative sources of power. Fifty-one percent said nothing doing.

Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center and Smithsonian magazine released a poll that asked Americans what they thought life in the year 2050 would look like. Nearly three-quarters of the respondents said they thought it was likely that “most of our energy will come from sources other than coal, oil and gas.”

Back at the New York Times/CBS Poll, 59 percent of Americans said it was at least “somewhat likely” that sometime in the next 25 years, the United States would develop an alternative to oil as a major energy source. Americans are counting on science to bail them out.

But some scientists are warning not to count on it. Green energy, it seems, is not remotely “scalable” to the world’s energy demands. As the consumers of 25 percent of the world’s energy, this will be a problem for the 5 percent of the world’s people who live in the United States.

Life 40 years hence may be far less comfortable and convenient than it has been for the past 40 years. If the world is, in fact, on the downward slope of peak oil, and burning fossil fuels is causing the climate to warm to problematic levels and scientists don’t bail us out, then what?

We’re left to hope that the very scientists on whom we’re counting for cheap energy are wrong about global warming. The Pew/Smithsonian survey found that two-thirds of those surveyed think the world will get warmer by 2050; 30 percent said this definitely or probably wouldn’t occur.

Another Pew survey done last October showed that 36 percent of Americans don’t believe, in the face of overwhelming scientific consensus to the contrary, that there is solid evidence that human activity contributes to global warming.

This is slightly fewer than the 41 percent of those in the latest Pew survey who said they believe that Jesus Christ definitely would, or probably would, return to earth by 2050. Global warming and energy are the least of their worries.