Although the (merciful) cessation of presidential election campaigning put a damper on the climate change debate, the reality of its impact on commerce, on food production and perhaps most importantly on energy security is growing ever more threatening.
National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences concluded in 2010 that, “Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for—and in many cases is already affecting—a broad range of human and natural systems.”
Whether or not you might question the “caused largely by human activities” phrase, the objective measurements of everything from ocean warming to higher average temperatures across the world’s temperate zones to the devastating storms, hurricanes, droughts, flooding and other extreme weather events are conclusive: The climate is changing, and the impact will be monumental.
Along with a hundred other issues, climate change impacts energy security, and that’s probably the No. 1 priority in modern society, since agriculture and commerce and even military capability all depend on energy availability.
Obviously, most of the policy focus has been on the supply side of the equation, with demands that oil exploration be expanded, that restrictions on drilling offshore, on wilderness land or in deep ocean waters be swept aside in the interests of producing the oil we need.
Even the environmentally suspect technologies of oil shale extraction and natural gas fracking are being pushed aggressively, as if the urgency of maintaining our current energy consumption patterns means we need not consider the long-term effects of such activities.
Those are all policy decisions that are far from settled and will continue to occupy the national debate no matter which direction the political winds happen to be trending.
But what about the other side of the equation? What about demand? Can a similar focus on reducing demand mitigate the crisis-like urgency with energy procurement? One interesting take on the subject comes from the World Resources Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based policy NGO that concentrates on “green” business growth, transportation efficiency and sustainable development, among other often-controversial topics. On the issue of energy, though, the institute’s latest report makes a compelling argument: If we prioritized energy conservation, reduction in demand and promotion of renewable sources, we could sidestep the threat that worldwide fossil fuel demand could soon outstrip global supplies.