One has only to read a newspaper or magazine to realize the importance of energy at this early juncture of the 21st century. It will surely become more critical as world demand for oil continues to increase and its supply peaks and begins to fall.
Industrialized nations have become addicted to an ever-increasing amount of energy, and developing nations are beginning to demand advantages in their business and personal lives that require abundant energy. Competition for scarce resources, primarily oil, is already shaping U.S. foreign policy, military strategy, and international trade balances. Battles over energy sources are not new. U.S. relations with Japan before the bombing of Pearl Harbor deteriorated badly because of Japan's aggression in oil-rich Indonesia. Germany made a huge strategic error in World War II by attacking the Soviet Union to take over its oil fields in Azerbaijan.
Conflicting with our need for energy is our desire to control pollution and global warming. The complex issues surrounding energy are quite confusing to the vast majority of citizens of the world and the United States. Americans very much need to understand energy issues, including crises, shortfalls, affordability, economics, dependence on foreign oil, political instability in oil-producing nations, foreign relations, infrastructure, environmental considerations, and alternative sources. These are exactly the issues explained by this excellent book. Young Americans will be making important national and personal decisions regarding energy during their lives, and they will have to be well informed to make the right decisions. For example, they should form opinions on whether a nation's economic security necessarily depends on oil, what can be done about the environmental impact of energy use, and whether alternatives to oil can be developed quickly enough to have the potential to substitute for dwindling oil reserves.
A careful study of this book will allow the reader to come away better prepared than most Americans to carry on informed conversations on energy topics. The book is also a rich resource, leading anyone interested in quickly learning more about a particular topic to other authoritative sources of information. It is an excellent vehicle for high school students wanting to conduct research. Also, it provides many topics for spirited discussion.
In its introduction, Global Issues: Energy Supply and Renewable Resources does a fine job of putting energy into a historical perspective. It tells how humankind used wood for many centuries as the primary fuel or source of energy for heating and cooking. But excessive use of wood for fuel led to deforestation in China and Europe, with the destructive environmental consequence of washing away topsoil. Eventually, a transition to coal for most heating was made, showing that it is possible to change from one source of energy to another with some positive benefits. History also shows how humans harnessed the wind to power ships and grind grain, among other things. Then, in the late 1700s, humans first learned to make an engine that would convert heat energy into work—the steam engine. The Industrial Revolution began, and people harnessed energy for thousands of tasks over the next 200 years. However, technological advancement has not been painless, and there are lessons to be learned from history. Coal pollution became a major problem, so, in the late 1800s, oil began to replace coal as an energy source. Again one source of energy supplanted another, at least to some extent. Use of coal declined because oil was a more convenient and cleaner fuel. Now we are beginning to require other sources of energy to substitute for oil, partly because fossil fuels generate carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming, but also because we do not have a choice—oil supply will soon be exceeded by world demand.
The introduction also explores renewable and alternative sources of energy, including wind, solar, biomass, and ethanol. Many alternative sources of energy are still in the early stages of development, and the author explains the challenges that need to be overcome before these alternative energy sources become viable, able to reduce our dependency on oil as the primary source of energy in the world. Deciding which alternatives to pursue aggressively—balancing the environmental, efficiency, and scalability aspects—is the challenge humanity is facing today.
The introduction is followed by a very thoughtful chapter on the United States and energy. It talks about U.S. dependence on foreign sources of oil and how it is impossible for the United States to produce enough oil to be self-sufficient. It explains how Americans were affected, including being led into severe recession, by foreign events in the 1970s: U.S. support of Israel leading to the Arab oil embargo and the differences with Iran that are ongoing. This chapter describes how Congress has tried to deal with energy and environmental issues and how, for the most part, U.S. dependence on foreign oil has continued to increase because nothing Congress has done has been very effective. After reading this book you will have some facts on what drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would do for U.S. energy needs. You will have some facts to help you decide how close to peaking world oil production might be. You will have a much better understanding of environmental and global warming issues and how they affect energy production and influence the desirability of various sources of energy.
Global Issues: Energy Supply and Renewable Resources also gives the reader an international perspective on energy issues. Sources of energy, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, are commodities that are bought and sold in the global economy. Some nations have more of these resources than others. But balancing the supply and demand of these commodities worldwide is difficult, especially because many of the countries that supply and those that consume energy do not have good relations. The book describes how America uses so much oil that it became an importer in 1970; now it is by far the world's biggest consumer of oil and is dependent on nations such as Venezuela and Saudi Arabia as suppliers.
The book talks in detail about China's very rapid growth as a consumer of energy. China has been very successful in growing its manufacturing industries in recent years. The industrial plants and consumers' automotives and electrical appliances are putting pressure on China's energy supplies and creating pollution. China's determined approaches to solving these problems may well hold some lessons for the United States. Are the United States and China going to butt heads over energy in the years to come? If they do, you can bet that your life will be affected.
Global Issues: Energy Supply and Natural Resources also describes how several other countries have dealt with some of these matters. Germany is a leader in using renewable alternative sources of energy, generating more electrical power from wind than any other country. Iran is an example of an oil-rich country that has mismanaged its resources considerably, subsidizing gasoline consumption and not developing its oil fields wisely. As a result, its economy is weak, and its people are restive. Nigeria also is a major producer of oil and natural gas and should be a rich country, but 70 percent of its people live in poverty. Consequently, sabotage by rebels and vandalism abound, making this major supplier to the United States fairly unstable. This instability makes oil markets nervous and drives up the price of oil.
The world demand for oil will continue to increase as the supply peaks and begins to fall. This trend will lead to an ever-increasing shortage of oil. Over the medium to long term, we can neither drill nor conserve our way out of this dilemma, although doing both will give us more time to develop alternatives to oil. All the alternatives to oil have serious technical and/or social implications that must be addressed before they can replace the huge quantities of oil we use. However, once they become motivated, Americans have historically been very good at solving large and difficult problems. Remember the complete conversion of U.S. industrial might from consumer goods to war matériel in the six months after Pearl Harbor, the rebuilding of Europe after World War II under the Marshall Plan, and the solving of the huge technical problems involved in putting a human on the Moon within 10 years. It is my hope that with their drive, ingenuity, and technology, humans can wean themselves from the addiction to oil.
This book will be a resounding success if it inspires the best and brightest young people to pursue careers in science, engineering, and economics to develop alternatives to the present excessive reliance on oil, coal, and natural gas. It would be delightful if such an effort could have the same sense of purpose, excitement, drive, organization, and success that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the entire space program had when they set out to put a human on the Moon.
Author of Over a Barrel: A Simple Guide to the Oil Shortage
PART I At Issue
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