Vaclav Smil, Global Thinker No. 49, tells Foreign Policy's Charles Homans how the West got tricked into thinking it could overcome its gasoline addiction.
- By Charles HomansCharles Homans is a special correspondent for the New Republic and the former features editor of Foreign Policy.
I think that what’s happened is that we’ve been misled by the computer revolution. Cramming these transistors on the microchip happened so rapidly, the Moore’s Law idea, that people thought everything else works like that. Well, no — China in the past five years increased its coal production by 1.5 billion tons. We’ve invested tens of trillions of dollars into this global energy system. It’s the most complex human infrastructure system there is. We’re not going to walk away from it tomorrow because we’ve found something better.
You have to start changing everything, and there’s no constituency for speeding that up. After all, we know what we need to do. If everyone in the United States drove a Honda Civic, the gasoline consumption would be halved. But this is not going to happen. The other way is that you tax people into changing it — but you know very well what the sentiment about that is in Washington.
There comes a point when these things reach critical mass — it just takes 40 or 50 years. The biggest hope that people are missing is population. Before too long, the whole rich world won’t be growing. This will change everything. There will be less urgency to satisfy these energy demands. But a lot depends on what the Chinese do. I’m afraid the Chinese want to out-American the Americans.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |