Where we get our energy from as a civilization will shape and change our lives.
1. We can no longer keep using carbon fuels like oil and gas at the current rates because we are at or near the peak of global production. Prices will continue to rise.
2. Generating energy in this way produces greenhouse gasses which are beginning to cook our planet.
Out of these two points. I think the second is irrelevant. I doubt we will manage to make any major impact on our carbon emissions judging from progress so far. Certainly not the 60 to 80% cuts required to make any significant difference. If we could organise that, we could organise world peace, we dont have the will for either at this time.
The scale of change required will only happen by force on this planet, the forces will be economic.
The major factor affecting the economy of any country in the next 15 years will be the rise in prices of oil and gas. America and China will fight over control of these resources. (eg America taking iraq and China buying oilfields)
What should any country do in the face of this ?
We can modify our economics to support and accelerate our direction to the fix. Otherwise our economics will have to be modified as they start to fail.
Oil and gas are going to continue to get more expensive as predicted due to increased demand and supply shortage. This effect will be felt first in the economy of any country as energy literally 'powers' the economy.
So any country that invests heavily in and plans now for:
a) energy efficiency and everything that this connects to (eg trains, canals and local food)
b) more localised and sustainable energy production
c) non manufacturing based information economies, with localised recycling infrastructure (get computing and work from home, grow your own anything or buy it from your neighbour)
Will become the strongest economies of the future. Its common sense
Companies that already do this are showing significant economic gains today. This is a simple abc plan to a next generation sucessful economy.
* The rich countries have the resources to do this but not the political will,
* The poor countries could most easily make these changes but don't have the money.
The best and most rapid way to implement abc is raise taxes on all non sustainable energy products and use the money for the investment in abc policies !
People wont like this solution but they will like the alternatives far less. Society will be pushed to get governments to make these policies in a reactive way as the economy fails them, that's backward.
If America does not start to adapt soon its economy will become unsustainable. Farming in particular will need a big overhaul due to its triple reliance on oil for machinery, fertilizers (ammonia is a byproduct of oil refining) and transport/machinery. Food will get expensive quicker.
Funnily enough Cuba is a great example of what to do right, they were forced to go organic because of the US trade embargo and they now have efficient farming based on old fashioned crop rotation schemes.
We don't need more energy, we just need to use it better and there is a simple way to fix the problem. Its now down to which countries think ahead and do it to build there populations a strong and sustainable future.
I think in 100 years from now people will look back and laugh at how much energy we waste today and how we used our economic system so badly to hide this fact.
Even ignoring the inefficiency issue remember that energy is all around you. It is essentially free, we as a world have allowed for and relied on a centralized system of energy generation and grid distribution because it can be easily monopolized. This will all change to local forms of production and tapping energy.
Germany shows There is plenty of energy around.