GLOBAL TRENDS UNFORESEEN
This is the report (Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World) that came out last week to headlines screaming about U.S. inadequacies in future global competition.
No wonder. Its key theme: Drill, baby, drill.
The US National Intelligence Council (NIC) seems to have derived one insight from its research and reporting: Be afraid, be very afraid.
These “intelligence” folks must have used the researchers responsible for convincing the White House there were weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
As BBC News describes it, the report depicts a 2025 of “…diminished US power, dwindling resources, and more people.”
Diminished power and more people, sure. (As well documented by Fareed Zakaria's The Post-American World and Tom Friedman's Hot, Flat, and Crowded)
But dwindling resources? Yes, the sun will eventually burn out - in 4 or 5 billion years. As long as the sun keeps shining, the wind will keep blowing and the oceans will keep flowing and biomass will keep growing. What will run out is Old Energy.
Some general conclusions from Global Trends 2025 follow, as summarized by BBC News. Before becoming terrified while reading, consider the question of how these predictions describe a world any different than today’s.
Dominance: The U.S. will share power but have less “freedom of action…” Its military and economic leverage will be needed for stability and the fight against global climate change but China and Russia will also play key roles.
West to East: Global wealth will shift east. The BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) will most benefit. China will have the 2nd biggest economy and its military will gain importance.
Terrorism: Remains a problem, though diminished if economic conditions improve. The threat of the use of bio-weapons and dirty nukes remains. Al-Qaeda is not expected to endure.
Nuclear proliferation: Grows, but not a lot. The threat of nuclear war and concommittant economic and environmental havoc coming out of low-intensity conflicts like India-Pakistan and Israel-Palestine remains.
Food and Water: Shortages and scarcities will plague developing nations in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Global pandemics: Novel, highly transmissible, and virulent viruses and other diseases remain a threat.
Technology: A transition from Old Energies to New Energies is predicted to be slow.
Riiiight. So there will be no alternative but to rely on oil. Oh, maybe coal, too.
Now consider these facts, left out of the Trends:
Wind: The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) says it is entirely feasible the U.S. can get 20% of its power from wind energy by 2030.
Wind can supply 20%. (click to enlarge)
Solar: DOE also says it can bring solar energy costs to grid parity by 2015 and research firm Utility Solar Assessment USA) predicted solar can provide 10% of U.S. power by 2025.
Geothermal: The comprehensive Massachusetts Institute of Technology study found that current geothermal energy technologies could develop as much as 20-to-40% of U.S. power needs.
Hydrokinetic: A Greentech Media/Prometheus Institute study showed hydrokinetic (wave, tide and current) energies reaching grid parity in a similar time frame and they have the potential to provide 20% or more of the world’s power.
Add to this the recent International Energy Agency prediction that oil prices will return to over $100/barrel by 2015 and the conclusion is obvious: The only way the US National Intelligence Council (NIC) could reach the conclusions about energy it does in Global Trends 2025 is by starting from a highly prejudiced point of view. What could that point of view be?
Well, from the point of view of a global climate change denier, for one thing.
From the "2025" report: “Over the next 20 years, worries about climate change effects may be more significant than any physical changes linked to climate change…Many scientists worry that recent assessments underestimate the impact of climate change and misjudge the likely time when effects will be felt…Drastic cutbacks in allowable CO2 emissions probably would disadvantage the rapidly emerging economies that are still low on the efficiency curve, but large-scale users in the developed world—such as the US—also would be shaken and the global economy could be plunged into a recession or worse…”
They call that intelligence? Of course physical changes aren’t likely to be flagrant and profound in 2025. It could take until the second half of the century for the worst effects of climate change to set in. But the changes are already occurring and if the world does not aggressively move now, by 2025 the collision will surely be inevitable.
There are some very good reasons to anticipate 2025 with trepidation but Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World does not make a very good case for what they will be or what to do about them.
Solar can provide 10%. (click to enlarge)
US Global Trends report: Key points
21 November 2008 (BBC News)
US National Intelligence Council (NIC)
In Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World, there is a chapter entitled “Scarcity In The Midst of Plenty” which contains a topic heading of “The Dawning of a Post-Petroleum Age?” with text boxes entitled “Timing is Everything” and “Two Climate Change Winners” and “Winners and Losers in a Post-Petroleum World.”
Geothermal can fill a big part of the demand. (click to enlarge)
- By 2025 technology will facilitate a shift away from fossil fuels, with “immense” geopolitical implications.
(1) Saudi Arabia will reform, bringing in women and developing a new social contract with its people as it diversifies its economy.
(2) Iran will reform economically, its clergy will lose their grip, it will open up to the West and it will ease its nuclear policies in return for aid and trade.
(3) Iraq will diversify away from oil and develop its economy.
(4) The smaller Gulf will transform themselves into tourist and transport hubs.
(5) Outside the Middle East, Russia will be the biggest loser and, if its economy
remains tied to fossil fuel exports, it will be reduced to middle power status.
(6) Venezuela, Bolivia, and other petro-populist regimes could unravel.
(7) Cuba might be forced to begin China-like market reforms.
(8) Indonesia and Mexico, already declining in oil dependency, may diversify into non-energy sectors.
(1) 2nd generation, non-food biomass resources (high-growth algae, agricultural waste products, cellulosic biomass) emerge.
(2) “Clean” coal (carbon capture and storage, CCS) may be developing.
(3) Long-lasting hydrogen fuel cells have potential but remain in their infancy, a decade away from commercial production.
- A recent study: In the energy sector, it takes on average 25 years for a new production technology to become widely adopted because of the need for new infrastructure.
- Meeting baseline energy demand over the next two decades: $3+ trillion of investment in traditional hydrocarbons by companies built up over more than a century. New Energy demands similar massive investment.
- The greatest possibility for a relatively quick and inexpensive transition by 2025 comes from more mature New Energies (photovoltaic and wind) and improved in battery technology.
- Two Climate Change Winners:
(1) Russia has the potential to gain the most from temperate weather. Vast untapped reserves of natural gas and oil in Siberia and offshore in the Arctic will be more accessible. The opening of an Arctic waterway will give economic and commercial
advantages. But Russia could be hurt by Arctic tundra melt and will need new technology.
(2) Canada will be spared climate-related developments (hurricanes, heat waves) and will get millions of square miles to develop. Access to Hudson Bay resources and be a circumpolar power. Its growing seasons will lengthen, net energy demand for
heating/cooling will drop, and forests will expand. Minor negative changes in soil forest product damage from pest infestation will be enabled.
- Declining production: Yemen, Norway, Oman, Colombia, the UK, Indonesia, Argentina, Syria, Egypt, Peru, Tunisia.
- Flattening production: Mexico, Brunei, Malaysia, China, India, Qatar.
- Capable of expanding production: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, the UAE, Iraq (potentially), and Russia (39% in 2025).
- Saudi Arabia alone will account for more oil production than Africa and the Caspian area combined.
Wave energy will be price competitive. (click to enlarge)
- The Dawning of a Post-Petroleum Age?
- By 2025 the world will be in an energy transition.
- Liquid hydrocarbon production will not keep up with demand.
- This leads to increased control of oil and gas by national oil companies. National oil companies have strong economic and political incentives to limit investment to prolong production.
- This will stimulate another energy transition: the move to New Energy.
- Short term prize: Natural gas.
- Russia, Iran, and Qatar have 57% of the world’s natural gas reserves.
- North America (the US, Canada, and Mexico) has 18%.
- Coal may increase.
- The US, China, India and Russia have the 4 biggest coal reserves, 67% of global reserves.
- China will still be very dependent on coal in 2025.
- Nuclear will expand but, because of unsolved problems (like waste) there will not be enough to meet increasing world electricity demand. Third-generation reactors are beginning to be deployed around the world. China, India, South Africa and other rapidly growing countries will increase their use of nuclear. Available uranium is likely to be sufficient into the second half of the century. Breeder-reactors that use reprocessed fuel could emerge.
- The Geopolitics of Energy
- Oil price fluctuations will make economic stability challenging.
- With high oil prices: (1) Several states and regions (the Central African Republic, DROC, Nepal, Laos, most of East Africa, the Horn of Africa, Pakistan) could fail. (2) China will use more coal and build more nuclear plants. (3) Russia and Iran will prosper and gain power.
- With low oil prices: (1) Iran could westernize or crack down. The US and other Western states will adapt. (2) Russia will exert force in the Caspian and Central Asian countries. (3) China will cultivate political relationships (w/ Saudi Arabia and Iran) for access to oil and gas. (4) India will ensure access to energy in Burma, Iran, and Central Asia.
- Water, Food, and Climate Change: 21 countries with a combined population of about 600 million are currently either cropland or freshwater scarce. With population growth, 36 countries, with 1.4 billion people will be so by 2025. New entrants: Burundi, Colombia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Malawi, Pakistan, and Syria.
- Lack of water means compromised agriculture and hydroelectric power supplies.
Demand for food will rise by 50% by 2030.
- Farm production will continue to be hampered by misguided agriculture policies.
Urbanization will increase.
- Energy security and food security concerns will compete.
- Demand for biofuels—enhanced by government subsidies—will claim larger areas of cropland and greater volumes of irrigation water.
- “Fuel farming” will force grain prices higher.
- A consortium of large agricultural producers (including India, China, the US and the EU) could launch a second Green Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa to dampen price volatility.
- Civil conflict and a political and economic focus on mining and petroleum extraction will counterbalance.
- Population growth will outpace gains in agriculture.
- 200 million people may be permanently displaced “climate migrants,” 10 times today’s entire documented refugee and internally displaced populations.
- The number of migrants seeking to move from disadvantaged into relatively privileged countries is likely to increase.
- The biggest migrant flows will mirror current migratory patterns: (1)North Africa and Western Asia to Europe, (2) Latin America to the US, and (3) Southeast Asia to Australia.
Oil resources will not be there. (click to enlarge)
BBC News summary of the report’s conclusions: “The transition from old fuels to new will be slow, as will the development of new technologies which present viable alternatives to fossil fuels…All current technologies are inadequate and new ones will probably not be commercially viable and widespread by 2025.”