Despite the severe problems associated with energy production and use, many people at the summit expressed optimism that the problems can be overcome. Many new technologies are already available that can reduce energy consumption in transportation (Chapter 9) and in buildings and industry (Chapter 10), and other promising technologies are being developed. Moreover, many more people are recognizing the urgency of the energy issue, Bodman observed, which has built support for one of the most important elements of a national strategy: a national imperative to act. “Perhaps as never before, the American people are calling for action,” he said.
Yet many speakers at the summit also asked whether the level of urgency being expressed by the public and by policymakers is sufficient. New technologies can take a long time to develop and implement, especially given the large investments that must be made for new technologies to have a substantial effect in the energy sector. In light of projections that call for the use of energy to double during the 21st century, said Ray Orbach, “I think one can legitimately ask, ‘Where will the energy come from?’” Simple extrapolations of current trends into the future appear to yield untenable increases in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. “Can we survive as a globe under those conditions?” Orbach asked.
“We don’t seem to be able to generate the sense of urgency that’s required to address this problem,” said Ernest Moniz. “We talk about doing this and doing that, and before you know it a decade has passed. We can’t afford to waste another 10 or 15 years. We can’t get there from here if we do that. The sense of urgency is one that we need somehow to capture.”