Taking a big picture view of the world and our future, the only realistic expectation is that liquid and gas fuels will be needed and used for a long time to come. In light of this we should embrace biofuels and compressed natural gas as much better alternatives to petroleum.
Don’t get me wrong. As a daily commuter, I drool over the upcoming swath of electric cars and plug-in hybrids. I fantasize about the day when I can ditch my car entirely and ride a high-speed, internet-connected, ultra-quiet Maglev train to work. And, as an avid fan of sci-fi, I also imagine a time when we’ve tapped the power of fusion to run anti-gravity personal transporter devices that fit on our belts.
But I’m also a realist. And, as realist, it’s pretty obvious that any of these pie-in-the-sky fantasies in which we won’t be using liquid fuel at all within 10 years time are missing the bigger picture.
So, to bring us back to reality, for a while now I’ve been chewing on this list of reasons why we’ll still be using liquid fuels in 10, 20, and even 30 years’ time. Look it over and let me know what you think.
1. Jets can’t fly on electricity. Once somebody invents that teleportation unit, we’re good. Until then, jets need fuel and we need jets.
2. What are we going to do with the hundreds of millions of liquid fuel-powered cars already on the roads?
4. It’s going to be a long, long time before electricity can haul 80,000 pounds 1000 miles at a go. Sure, trains can run on electricity if you build a massive new infrastructure to support it, but 80,000 pound trucks will always be needed to take that freight “the last mile,” so to speak. Trucks can deliver “right now” with less logistical maneuvering than trains. Also, trucks can be used to take freight into the “back country” where it just isn’t feasible or cost-effective to run track.
5. As long as America remains fundamentally American, there will always be the yodels who will drive fuel-sucking HUMMERS just because they can. Unless the US becomes a non-capitalist, fascist dictatorship, we won’t be forcefully changing these yodels’ lives to fit what the world actually needs any time soon.
6. For developing nations, it’s much less technology-intensive (read inexpensive) to develop an economy based on liquid fuels than on other types of energy. 35% of the world’s population does not have access to electricity. Moving liquid fuel around is much easier than building new infrastructure using high technology to move electricity around.
7. Biofuels have brought a much-needed high value back to agriculture — especially in developing countries. This will be clear in 50 years time when farming will once again be valued higher than the tourism industry. In the future, as long as money is the base of our economic system and fuel is a fundamental need, farmers will grow fuel.
You may disagree with my analysis on some of the above points, but I’m sure for every one of you reading this, there’s at least one of those reasons that makes sense.
My point is that we should stop complaining about how biofuels are “evil” and realize that, if liquid fuels are here for the long haul, biofuels represent a way to continue using liquid fuels that is much less polluting than burning fossil fuels.
Obviously there are many kinks that need to be worked out — chief among them crafting a system that still encourages the production of food while also allowing for the growth of fuel feedstocks. But I do believe these problems have workarounds and aren’t showstoppers, so to speak.
Additionally, I tend to agree with the Pickens plan in that we should be using compressed natural gas to run the next generation of long haul semi-trucks. I know Pickens stands to profit heftily off of any use of natural gas, but regardless, this doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.
Lastly, I’m not saying we should ignore electric cars. Actually, quite the opposite, we should be encouraging people to use the hell out of electric cars where appropriate, but we should also realize that one size doesn’t fit all.