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Energy Crisis: Is America In Trouble

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Global energy crisis threatens, scientist says

CHICAGO (April 17, 1997) -- An impending global energy crisis with potentially massive impact on American industry and jobs can be avoided if America strives for a portfolio of energy systems, a distinguished scientist said here today.

In advocating an end to name-calling between energy advocates and environmentalists, Alan Schriesheim said, "We cannot set effective energy policy in an environmental vacuum, nor can we set effective environmental policy in an energy vacuum."

Schriesheim, director emeritus at Argonne National Laboratory, spoke at a gathering sponsored by the Chicago Academy of Sciences at the University Club of Chicago.

Energy demand will soar worldwide over the next 20 years, he said.

"What do you think might happen," he asked the audience, "to the world's energy needs and environmental concerns if we added a new United States to the planet every three years for the next 20 years? This is not an academic question. The world population today is growing at exactly that rate, and it is projected to continue growing at that rate through 2020."

The bulk of that population growth will come in the poorer countries, Schriesheim said, "places where talk of energy policy comes second to talk of food and shelter and survival; places where, if the only affordable fuel is growing in the rain forest, you will take that fuel today without a moment's thought of the consequences tomorrow."

The Argonne scientist's talk was titled "What Every High School Graduate Should Know About Energy," and was part of the Chicago Academy of Sciences lecture series "Science Literacy for the 21st Century: What Should Every High School Graduate Know?"

Schriesheim told the audience that world population growth of more than 86 million people per year is "the equivalent of adding two cities the size of Chicago to the planet each month."

"So not only will all the Earth's current population demand more energy in the years ahead," he said, "those billions of new people are going to want their share too."

Schriesheim chided energy executives who dismiss environmental concerns, and environmentalists who dismiss the energy production potential of fossil fuels, flowing water, and uranium in favor of so-called "renewable" energy sources such as solar energy. He said that for the next several generations renewables -- such as solar, wind, and farm-grown energy crops -- are expected to provide only 2 to 4 percent of global energy supplies.

Those who argue that these largely undeveloped sources can replace traditional fuels, Schriesheim said, "seem to believe that a bird in the bush is worth two in the hand."

Everyone agrees, he said, that the perfect fuel would be renewable, non-fossil, environmentally clean, and would have reliable conversion, storage and delivery methods already developed.

"Unfortunately, no such fuel yet exists," he said. "No matter how hard we might wish it to be otherwise, there is an environmental price to pay with every fuel choice. No one fuel and no single technology will be the best environmentally in all cases, so choices must be made if we are to meet energy needs at the lowest possible environmental cost. And choices only are possible with a portfolio of options."

Both energy advocates and environmentalists must acknowledge each other's legitimate concerns if the nation and world are to meet exploding energy demand without hardships, he said.

"The alternative, one we've been practicing for far too long, is to stand still, regret the past, and find ever-increasing objections to any course for the future," he said. "Our discussions today are marked more by acrimony and stagnation than they are by progress and understanding.

"If we continue this negativism," Schriesheim said, "we will find ourselves halfway through the 21st Century with exactly the same energy picture we have today: We will still be burning fossil fuels, we will still be depleting those finite resources, we will still be spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and we will still be arguing."

A noted chemist who holds 22 patents and is scheduled to speak to a world technology conference next month in Istanbul, Turkey, Schriesheim also took aim at the notion that expanding energy needs are for trivial purposes.

"In talking about increasing energy demand," he said, "we are not talking about energy to power a third family TV or an electric toothbrush. According to one estimate, as many as 2.4 billion people -- that's a quarter of the projected world population -- will live in water-scarce countries by 2050. Africa and parts of western Asia appear particularly vulnerable. Also, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the number of undernourished people could rise from 175 million to some 300 million by 2010."

"We must have energy available to desalinate water and to grow and ship food to those people," he said, "or they will die of thirst or hunger. In a sense then, ensuring an adequate energy supply is a matter of life and death."

Jon Miller, vice president of the Chicago Academy of Sciences, said the lecture series is intended to help today's society ensure that "we and our children are prepared for tomorrow."

The series began last November and is organized by the academy's International Center for the Advancement of Scientific Literacy, which Miller said is the leading research organization in the world studying public understanding of science and technology.

Miller said the project's goal is to "bring together community, regional, and national leaders to think about and focus on one of the critical issues of our time. Today's technologically advanced society demands a high level of scientific understanding.

"In the future," he said, "a scientifically literate population will be even more important."

CNN) -- As rolling blackouts swept through parts of California in March, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham warned the country that it faces its "most serious shortage" since the 1970s.

Soaring utility rates have been the subject of much debate in California as the wholesale prices of electricity have skyrocketed, jumping from an average of $30 per megawatt hour last year to $330 in January.

The Bush administration, warning the crises will spread far beyond California this summer, is scheduled to unveil its long-term energy policy

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