Energy permeates every aspect of our daily lives. It has driven an exponential increase in human numbers and civilization from the horse-and-buggy days. It enables us to easily get to work, school and medical facilities as well as the freedom to travel for family and recreational purposes. It supports the quality of life Californians take for granted. We need more – not less – fossil fuels to maintain our own economy and lifestyle, and to develop economies and basic infrastructure for the people of developing countries.

Developing nations desire to raise their standard of living to that of the United States. With India and China’s combined populations of about 2.4 billion people, compared with the 300 million in the United States, the struggle to balance the world appetite for energy will be challenging.

To turn our backs now on energy from oil, coal and natural gas in favor of more expensive, intermittent technologies almost guarantees that Californians will pay more for energy, while the vast majority of the people of developing countries will be relegated to poverty and poverty-prone conditions for the rest of their days. It’s not just “Big Oil” that would suffer – it would be all of us.

This fact has been lost on the part of many lawmakers and regulators who have come under intense pressure from the powerful anti-oil lobby to eliminate fossil fuel production and use at the local and state levels in California, citing the impact of related emissions on the environment and public health.

While well-intended, that argument has lost much of its urgency in the face of California’s global leadership in air, water quality and climate change policies, which have achieved record reductions in emission levels.

The fact remains that oil – the source of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel – is the only energy source that is technically able to power about 95 per cent of transportation demands. Due to improved fuel efficiencies, and in a smaller part to the integration of vehicles that run on electricity or other alternative fuels, gasoline and diesel demand – and with it emission levels – has already been significantly reduced.

Growing population

Likewise, even with California’s projected growth in population from a current 38 million citizens to 50 million by 2050, and growth in vehicle registrations from a current 30 million to 44 million by 2050, the current fuel demand of 40 million gallons of transportation fuels a day is projected to continue to decline.

In Los Angeles, officials are pursuing a plan to downsize traffic lanes in order to accommodate bicycles and rail lines, a move that has struck fear into the hearts of commuters for whom cycling or mass transit are not feasible options – not to mention the increase in emissions as Los Angeles County’s already legendary traffic jams are made even worse. The city has also considered imposing a moratorium on oil production, which would kill jobs and necessitate costly and emission-forming importation of adequate supplies.

Off-oil schemes in Sacramento go even further. One scenario under consideration by the California Air Resources Board would mandate that the number of electric, plug-in hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles increase from a current 300,000 to 5 million and 40 percent of new-car sales by 2030, regardless of cost or feasibility. But the inconvenient truth is that solar and wind power are not cheap, plentiful, reliable, scalable or dependable, and thus require heavy government subsidies to flourish. In other words, they would rely on more costs to be borne by the financially challenged in California, which already ranks first in the nation in poverty.

Wringing enough pollution out of cars, trucks and other cargo-moving vehicles will require a paradigm shift to battery-electric and fuel-cell technology, but this shift becomes extremely challenging with California having both the most ultrawealthy individuals (those who can afford a Tesla) and the highest poverty rate (those who drive old clunkers) of any state.

What policymakers seem to have overlooked is that a statewide energy policy must take into account the realities of the world around us.

If we completely eliminated oil use in transportation, it would mean going back to horses, bicycles and walking or woefully inadequate, impractical mass transit – as well as taking freight movement back to the 19th century.

The next big challenge for California and, indeed, for humanity is mitigating climate change responsibly and cost-effectively. Despite our state’s well-intended desire to lead the charge, achieving this must involve an international strategy that realistically includes conserving fossil fuels as a precious resource for all of mankind while diversifying our global energy portfolio to take advantage of evolving technologies and alternative sources. Let’s hope that future generations will be up to that challenge.

Ronald Stein is founder of PTS Staffing Solutions, a technical staffing agency headquartered in Irvine.

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