Prof. Vaclav Smil says world has started an “energy transition” – you’d never know it by Democrat, Republican energy platforms
I’m mad as hell at both the Democrats and the Republicans. Energy policies from all presidential candidates leave a lot to be desired at the very time a lot should be demanded.
The global economy is in the midst of an energy revolution the likes of which we have never seen before. And I’m not just talking about the rise of renewable energies, though that plays a big role, of course.
There’s also this seldom talked about trend: Over the next few decades, the world is going to add several billion new (more or less) middle class energy consumers. People in China, India, and other developing nations who want to buy cars, live in decent housing, and enjoy a North American and European lifestyle.
Demand for all types of energy (except maybe coal) is going to skyrocket, according to forecasts from the International Energy Agency.
America is going to be at the forefront of this revolution. The United States arguably produces more oil and gas than any other country, and among major economies it consumes more energy per capita. No other nation has the combination of energy technology, expertise, experience, capital, and capacity to lead the parade.
Then why are the Democrat and Republican candidates’ energy policies so facile? They basically break down like this:
Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders: Climate change! Fossil fuels suck!
Donald Trump: *crickets*. Ted Cruz: Fossil fuels! Climate change sucks!
Take fracking, for example.
Last week during a debate, Clinton said she would strictly regulate fracking, but Sanders said he is four square against it. In short order, Clinton tacked left and announced that her regulations would be so stringent that fracking would essentially be ended in the United States.
Trump’s website doesn’t even list a policy position for energy. He tweeted years ago that he supported fracking, but hasn’t said much since. Cruz, on the other hand, made his energy position very clear a year ago when he kicked off his nomination campaign with the American Energy Renaissance Act, which fully supports fracking and basically reads like a wish list for the American Petroleum Institute.
Clinton’s energy plan – entitled “Making America the world’s clean energy superpower and meeting the climate challenge” – is really the mirror image of Cruz’s. Oil, gas, and coal are viewed only through the lens of climate change. Comparing Clinton to Sanders, there isn’t substantive difference between them from a policy point of view, really just incendiary language of the senator from Vermont.
So, not only do the candidates rarely mention energy during debates, but the debate is completely binary. Clean energy vs. dirty energy. Renewables vs. fossil fuels.
This doesn’t reflect the real world, which is at the beginning of a global energy transition, according to Prof. Vaclav Smil, as renewable energy technologies finally begin to gain traction in the marketplace.
Energy transitions take decades, usually 50 to 75 years, and this one could take even longer because of its complexity and scale. Global processes affecting billions don’t play out overnight.
A long transition, despite what climate change activists or their political allies might want to hear, means that American consumers and businesses will be using fossil fuels – mostly oil and natural gas – for decades.
Which is why a more rounded debate is essential. How can the global energy transition be managed competently if the American government is firmly in one corner or the other?
The simple answer is it can’t.
America’s leaders need to have a realistic and pragmatic view of the changing energy landscape.
Neither Democrat nor Republican challengers look remotely realistic or pragmatic at the moment.
Maybe that will change during the general election campaign. It needs to. Given its importance to both the economy and the environment, there is no bigger issue than energy.
America needs a president with a clear vision of the issue – how to manage an historic energy transition that may take the entire century to play out – and the energy policies needed to navigate the next four or eight years.
As of today, on this issue, the Republican and Democrat hopefuls are complete disasters.
So much so that writing this column only made me a hell of a lot madder.