When it comes to global energy consumption, business as usual is no longer an option. Here Michael Bradshaw reflects on the energy dilemmas we face today, at the beginning of what will be a crucial year in determining the international community’s future energy agenda.
It is now a year since my book Global Energy Dilemmas was published – and nearly two years since I sent the completed manuscript to the publisher. Last month I participated in an event entitled “Geography 2050: mounting an expedition to the future”, organised by the American Geographical Society and hosted by the Earth Institute at Columbia University. The occasion gave me the opportunity to reflect on what has changed since I finished Global Energy Dilemmas and to consider the major challenges we face in the coming years in orchestrating a transition to a more sustainable energy system. This article is the fruit of those thoughts.
The central thesis of my book is that the world faces an energy dilemma: can we have access to secure, affordable and equitable energy services that are environmentally benign? I say energy services because that is what we demand of the energy system – light, heat and motion etc. – and in each instance there are multiple ways in which the energy system can provide those services. For example, electricity can be generated from a wide variety of sources and the prime movers in the global economy have gone through a series of transitions: from animate, wind and hydro power through inanimate fossil fuels, nuclear power and back to hydro power, wind and other renewables.