I don't know what we'll rely on for energy in 50 years and, on a personal level, I guess it doesn't really matter. I'll be 109 by then and, assuming I haven't gone on to my eternal reward or everlasting retribution, I figure my driving will be confined to an electric scooter through the corridors of the home.
But if by that time we're still dependent on petro-fuels, we'll likely be in a pickle. Based on recent upticks in gasoline prices, a gallon of gas in 2058 could set you back about $95.98. (Don't try to find that figure in any actuarial table, though. I just made it up.) But, given the current state of oil reserves, consumption and the potential for escalated use by a much larger world population in 50 years, that guesstimate might not be all that far off.
That's why it seems to me that current proposals to cut back on biofuel production make no sense.
I also wonder at the logic behind calls for more oil exploration, offshore drilling and sacrificing wilderness areas for a few barrels of oil, none of which will be available for a decade or longer.
It seems to me that applying that same amount of exploration effort and research money to alternative fuels makes a lot more sense.
And that doesn't mean just grain-based ethanol. Corn, most likely, will not offer the final solution to our energy demand dilemma. Competition for edible grains (from the livestock industry, exports and other uses) may limit long-term sustainability of corn-based biofuels.
The good thing about ethanol, however, is that it's a start. Folks have begun to think seriously about sources other than crude oil as a reliable energy source. They've begun to think out of the barrel, if you will.
And they're looking at more than food crops as potential energy sources. Algae, for instance, may offer potential. Waste products will have a place. Anyway, we'll need to find uses for all the things we routinely throw away. We can't continue to build garbage mountains all over the country — towering monuments to our monumental consumption and waste. So why not convert that stuff into energy somehow?
I don't know how to do all this stuff of course. I have degrees in English literature, not rocket science, so my expertise on the matter is admittedly limited. But I've met a lot of scientists in quest of interesting stories over the past three decades and I am convinced that we have the skills and the mental acuity to find solutions to our energy problems.
We just have to commit to the project. Commitment may mean taking a step back from the way we've done things for more than 100 years. It may mean weaning ourselves away from what has always been our fallback energy source, fossil fuels.
It may mean taking a hard look at our infrastructure and natural resources to find efficient ways to use wind, waste and will to solve what may be humanity's next big challenge.
And it will require courageous leaders — politicians, industry leaders and scientists with enough vision to see beyond short-term fixes. By the time those band-aid proposals come to fruition we should be much closer to cleaner, sustainable, and reliable fuel sources.
We have the resources if we only have the will.