A Sustainable Energy Future through Education and Research
A position paper by Patrik Jansson and Tünde Fülöp, January 2013.
Full text pre-print.
Sustainable access to energy for a growing population is a global challenge. Our society is dependent on a stable supply of energy; industry (including agriculture, mining, manufacturing and construction), transport and heating can only work if sufficient energy is available. Over 80% of the current global use of energy is based on fossil fuels: oil, coal and gas. In addition to the potentially devastating climate effects of burning two billion years of stored hydrocarbons within a century, fossil fuels will eventually run out and we will be left with less than one fifth of the current energy supply which will clearly not be enough. Thus the energy system of the world will have to change dramatically to replace the fossil fuels with existing and new sustainable sources. This is a major global challenge for mankind.
But it is not only a technological challenge; there are also important political dimensions: we need international agreements, a stable economy and a long-term view (over several decades). The kind of global restructuring needed requires local as well as international agreements. Already now we are facing tensions due to the uneven distribution of energy production (mainly “mining” of oil, coal and gas) and consumption. Access to strategically important regions is causing conflicts and as fossil fuels run scarce, increasing prices may lead to increasing tension. Even if we disregard open conflicts, the sheer size of the energy sector makes it a major force in the global economy and with the uneven distribution of producers and consumers this force is destabilizing. The transformation towards sustainable energy solutions will take decades, so a major political challenge is long-term commitment (over several elections). In democracies this requires a voting population which is aware of the energy problem and willing to support the transition. Policymakers around the world, and their voters, need access to comprehensible and trustworthy information about potential energy sources and ways to change our strong dependence on energy.
This paper was written as part of the effort to define "Global System Science".