Since the 1950s, the US has had a perverse approach to energy. In effect we have maximized demand by building bigger, hungrier cars, homes, and lifestyles and minimized supply by limiting oil drilling, coal mining, and nuclear development. And how do we make up the difference? We buy oil from the people who hate us most.
But this is changing. We’ve long been acutely aware of the geopolitical ramifications of relying on Middle Eastern oil. And the threat of climate change—along with high fuel prices—has made us all realize the need for greater energy efficiency. Thankfully, technology is coming to the rescue. New methods of extracting gas and oil, combined with efficiency gains in nearly every industry, mean that we are now minimizing demand and maximizing supply. And that’s a good thing, right? Not so fast.
Flipping the supply-demand relationship is having some unexpected consequences. Chief among them is that, as fossil fuels become more abundant—and we consume less of them—the incentives to develop clean, renewable energy drop dramatically. As a result, we may no longer be looking at an age of increasing solar, wind, and nuclear power. Instead we are likely moving into a new hydrocarbon era. And that’s very bad news for climate change.