Given our rapidly developing industrial countries and increasingly technology-driven economy, global energy demands continue to grow. We face a dual challenge: doubling the world’s energy supply by 2050, in order to meet rising demand created by population growth and rising standards of living in developing nations, while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions associated with present and future energy production. As living standards improve for many across the world, total global energy demand could rise by up to 80 percent by midcentury from its level in 2000, according to a report on the world’s energy future from Shell Global.
The growing population also demands a greater supply of nourishing food and clean water. Yet food production already contributes nearly 30 percent of all greenhouse-gas emissions. Moreover, crop yields are already dropping, and with changing precipitation patterns and rising temperatures, it’s not at all clear that our current major crops, which feed the world, can even survive in the world of 2050–2100.
A range of energy sources and production techniques and technologies will be necessary to supply the power, food, and water we will need by midcentury. We must find ways to generate, transmit, and store energy from cleaner sources, such as solar and wind, and foster innovative approaches to nuclear energy. We must develop secure, energy-efficient and environmentally smart ways to produce food and distribute clean water.
To achieve these goals, we will need to make technical advances that take the political, cultural, and economic dimensions of these issues into account. We will need to create palatable economic and policy incentives for corporate and public investment in low-carbon energy sources. As important, we must address the damage that has already been done to the environment by mitigating the impact of climate change, and we must seek ways to prevent it from progressing further.