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The Real New Deal: Energy Scarcity and the Path to Energy, Economic, and Environmental Recovery

Richard Heinberg

December 1, 2008

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Energy Scarcity and the Path to Energy, Economic, and Environmental Recovery

Post Carbon’s proposal for the Obama Administration’s response to economic, environmental, and energy challenges.

Executive Summary

Our continued national dependence on fossil fuels is creating a dangerous vulnerability to both long-term fuel scarcity and catastrophic climate change.

The current economic crisis requires substantial national policy shifts and enormous new government injections of capital into the economy. This provides an opportunity for a project whose scope would otherwise be inconceivable: a large-scale, fast-track transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

This project must happen immediately; indeed, it may already be too late. We have already left behind the era of cheap fossil fuels, with a permanent decline of global oil production likely underway within three years.1,2 Moreover, the latest research suggests we have less than eight years to bring carbon emissions under control if we hope to avoid catastrophic climate change.3 Lacking this understanding of the urgency of fossil fuel depletion and climate change, a mere shift away from foreign oil dependence will fail to meet the challenges at hand.

The energy transition must not be limited to building wind turbines and solar panels. It must include the thorough redesign of our economic and societal infrastructure, which today is utterly dependent on cheap fossil fuels. It must address not only our transportation system and electricity grid, but also our food system and building stock.

Our 21st century nation’s dependence on 20th century fossil fuels is the root of the economic and environmental threats we face. A coordinated, comprehensive transition to an economy that is no longer dependent on hydrocarbon fuels and no longer emits climate-changing levels of carbon – a Real New Deal for a post-carbon world – will be the Obama Administration’s greatest opportunity to lead the nation on a path toward economic, energy and environmental recovery.

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1. Gold, R. & Davis, A. (2007, November 19). Oil Officials. See Limit Looming on Production The Wall Street Journal. New York.

2. Lerch, D. (2007) Post Carbon Cities: Planning for Energy and Climate Uncertainty. Sebastopol: Post Carbon Press. Page 12.

3. Hansen, J. (2006, July 13). The Threat to the Planet. New York Review of Books. New York.