Grim energy security scenario developed for the US

US Energy Scenarios for the 21st Century, a report published in July 2003 by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, looks at three possible energy futures for the US and the effects that each would have on greenhouse gas emissions up to 2035. Perhaps the most convincing scenario is Turbulent World in which 'constant dislocations, ubiquitous conflicts, and historically low levels of global cooperation shake the US economy and disrupt the energy sector.' The report sets the scene thus:

Outside the United States, nationalistic and geopolitical forces undermine stability in several important oil-producing states. Venezuela loses half of its export capacity due to conflicts between a populist government and an entrenched management bureaucracy. Iraq is invaded by an international coalition, with the next ten years spent rehabilitating and modernizing Iraqi oil fields. Fundamentalist challenges to reigning national governments lead to major economic and political dislocations on both sides of the Persian Gulf. Hostility to US presence in the region and to sustained US support for Israel continues to grow during 2000 to 2010. Political challenges to regimes in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates boil over, with major disruptions of petroleum output occurring from 2005 to 2010.
The resulting series of price shocks and supply interruptions culminates in 2010 with fundamentalist radicals overthrowing the House of Al-Saud, destroying the production infrastructure in the Eastern Provinces of Saudi Arabia, and torching large oil shipping terminals in the Gulf. A wave of attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf and sporadic terrorist attacks on energy facilities within the United States follow the fall of the Saudi regime. These events lead to a series of price spikes and a major disruption of oil supply. As a consequence, world oil prices more than double from year-2000 levels by 2010...
[The] price spikes and supply disruptions in the energy sector combine with terrorist incidents, accidents, and domestic weather-related disasters to unsettle the confidence of US investors and consumers in large-scale, conventional, centralized technologies.... The principal driving force for policy is concern about energy security. The emphasis of domestic energy policy shifts abruptly from one technology to another, but one by one, each "solution" is revealed to have a major flaw. There is one exception: to reduce dependence on imported oil, the federal government initiates a "crash" program designed to accelerate the commercialization of fuel cells that burn hydrogen derived from coal. This program, implemented on the scale of the Apollo "moonshot," proves successful.

As a result, and despite slow economic growth, carbon emissions rise 20 percent above the year 2000 level by 2035.

In another scenario, Technology Triumphs, US firms successfully commercialize technologies to improve energy efficiency and lower carbon emissions and then develop an international market for them. Even so, because of economic growth and an increase in energy consumption, carbon emissions rise 15 percent above their 2000 level by 2035.

The least likely scenario seems to be Awash in Oil and Gas, in which abundant supplies of oil and natural gas remain available to US consumers at low prices. Energy consumption rises considerably and conventional technologies dominate the energy sector. With few incentives to improve energy efficiency and little concern for energy issues, carbon emissions rise 50 percent above the 2000 level by 2035.

Not surprisingly, the report concludes that without a mandatory limit on fossil fuel consumption, US carbon emissions will continue to increase over the next thirty years. It says that "early and sustained investment, engineering success, and consumer acceptance of innovative low-carbon and efficiency- improving technologies would make the task of reducing emissions easier, as would energy security policies that reduced oil import dependence." On the other hand, low fossil fuel prices would make emissions reduction harder by encouraging high-carbon and energy-inefficient investments.

The report, written by Peter Schwartz of Global Business Network who was originally responsible for developing the use of scenarios at Shell, Irving Mintzer and J. Amber Leonard, can be downloaded from warming_in_depth/all_reports/ energy_scenarios/index.cfm.

This is one of almost 50 chapters and articles in the 336-page large format book, Before the Wells Run Dry. Copies of the book are available for £9.95 from Green Books.

Green Books banner 1

Continue to Part A of section 5: Towards a Sustainable Energy System

Site map for Before the Wells Run Dry