The United States and the rest of the developed world do not have an "energy crisis." What we do have is an "oil crisis," or perhaps more accurately, a "hydrocarbon crisis," or maybe just a "carbon crisis."
First the good news. The developed world has the technology, resources and economic might to develop essentially unlimited energy for electricity generation and transportation. Let's start with electricity. In his excellent book, "Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble," Lester Brown tells us that the U.S. has enough wind power to easily supply ALL our electricity demand by using the latest ultra-efficient wind turbines. (We commend Brown's book to anyone wanting a brief, easy to read summary of the world's environmental problems and how to fix them.)
On top of all that wind power, we also have enormous capability to tap solar power, especially in sunnier southern climes. We can also tap wave energy from the ocean and geothermal energy from underground (on the west coast). And get this: we can even make electricity from the tiny vibrations caused by our feet as we walk--engineers in the U.K. have announced a pilot project to generate electricity in a London subway station from the vibrations of 30,000 patrons per day walking across a springy floor.
As for transportation, the technology exists for hydrogen powered fuel cell automobiles--Honda's FCX concept car, to debut in 2008 with a 210 mile per hydrogen tank driving range, is an exciting example. We can also easily extend the range of fairly conventional automobiles by using existing hybrid technology with an additional electric battery to get 70 miles to a gallon. If we did that, we might reasonably get most of the fuel from ethanol.
If we, as a society, can waste $400 billion on a pointless war in Iraq, then we surely can easily afford the conversions to these new technologies over a 10-15 year period.
Now, the bad news, and why we need to get going (having lost several years in the do-nothing on energy Bush administration). If we, especially the United States (and China, which is dubiously catching up to us), continue to emit carbon into the atmosphere at the same current rate, we will accelerate global climate change to the point that our grandchildren will live in a much different world than we do.
The Curmudgeon is not as gloom and doomy on climate change as some folks. There are good sides to climate change (milder winters=more golf; some regions will have better agricultural conditions) and there are some bad sides (more and stronger storms, rising oceans, larger deserts). On balance, however, we think climate change will be more harmful than good, and it's also very risky--we really don't know how bad it might turn out.
In any event, sooner or later we have to reduce our reliance on oil and natural gas, because demand is now rising faster than new supplies can be found. (Coal is a different story--we have plenty, but it would be a huge eco-catastrophe to go all out on coal.) And we ought to do it sooner because it will be good for our environment, our economy and our security.
Consider this: the U.S. spends about $100 billion per year on imported oil. That money does little to create jobs and economic opportunities at home, and much of it goes to enrich countries that are enemies of the U.S. Diverting that $100 billion to the U.S. to build a new energy infrastructure would reduce our trade deficit and create jobs and investment at home.
Europe and Japan are already well on their way down this road. It's time the U.S. gets going, too.