We have been told that we live in a threshold age of energy production, an era when industrialized nations are poised to migrate from the combustion of fossil fuels to a solar- and wind-powered, renewable energy future. That has been the political assurance of the Obama administration and the appealing scenarios served up by energy futurists, even from the marketing departments of the large oil and gas corporations which today call the tune on energy policy.
It is a possible future that is increasingly at risk as more evidence emerges of the various threats of climate change. July was the hottest month in the lower 48 states since the government began keeping temperature records in 1895, and a draft report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirms--again--that human activity is warming the planet.
Yet as evidence piles up, government and corporate leaders seem to be preparing not for a future powered by alternative energy, but for a new age of carbon burning. New sources of "cheap" natural gas and oil reserves are being liberated by hydraulic fracturing (aka "fracking"), and political pressure is building for the Keystone Pipeline to carry oil from Canadian tar sands into the United States.
The IPCC draft report, leaked to the media in August, cites practical certainty (95 percent) in the scientific community that global warming is happening and that its potential impact will be devastating. It will certainly be costly.
The Natural Resources Defense Council reports that in 2012 the federal government spent more than $100 billion responding to various "natural" disasters. The city of New York alone may spend as much as $20 billion securing its shoreline from the next Hurricane Sandy. A study published in Nature reports that mitigating the effects of a vast release of methane gas from melting Arctic permafrost could cost as much $60 trillion.
If the industrialized world continues on its present course--a Titanic steaming heedlessly onward into a melting iceberg--the earth will experience 3. …