Fareed Zakaria at PostGlobal

Fareed Zakaria

Editor of Newsweek International, columnist

PostGlobal co-moderator Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International, overseeing all Newsweek's editions abroad. He writes a regular column for Newsweek, which also appears in Newsweek International and often The Washington Post. He is a member of the roundtable of ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanapoulos" as well as an analyst for ABC News. And he is the host of a new weekly PBS show, "Foreign Exchange" which focuses on international affairs. His most recent book, "The Future of Freedom," was published in the spring of 2003 and was a New York Times bestseller and is being translated into eighteen languages. He is also the author of "From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America's World Role" (Princeton University Press), and co-editor of "The American Encounter: The United States and the Making of the Modern World" (Basic Books). Close.

Fareed Zakaria

Editor of Newsweek International, columnist

PostGlobal co-moderator Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International, overseeing all Newsweek's editions abroad. He writes a regular column for Newsweek, which also appears in Newsweek International and often The Washington Post. more »

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On Energy, Free at Last

Energy independence sounds like such a great idea. if only we could be free ... of what, exactly? The single biggest energy exporter to the U.S. is Canada. And even the petrostates we don't like have to sell us oil at whatever price the market sets. We buy lots from Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. He denounces us, we denounce him, but we happily do business together. After all, what else is he going to do with his oil, drink it?

One could make a broader argument: the United States should wean itself off oil in order to diminish its crucial importance in the world of energy. That would make states like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia and Venezuela less powerful--and less able to fund militias and terrorist groups. This is a worthwhile goal, but let's be realistic. Given the demands for energy over the next few decades, oil is going to be a key part of the mix, which means that these countries will have plenty of cash. After all, Saudi Arabia was funding extremist Islamic groups in the 1990s, when oil was $20 a barrel. The Saudis were budgeting for oil at $35 until a few years ago--and still swimming in money. I would love to see a world in which radical Islam runs out of money, but I think that we will probably have to struggle against these forces for a long time. There is no quick energy fix.

The real sense in which we should strive for energy independence is somewhat different--and far more ambitious. We need an energy policy that understands that the world is going to require much more energy in the future. The math is pretty simple. Today there are about 6.7 billion people on earth. By 2050 there will be more than 9 billion. To sustain these extra 2.3 billion people while still raising standards of living everywhere, we will need to consume about twice as much energy as we do today. So the debate about oil vs. natural gas vs. biofuels vs. alternative energy is

wholly unrealistic. If we are going to sustain and support this kind of population and economic growth, we'll need everything.

The key is to free ourselves at every level of the energy chain. That means, first of all, finding sources of energy that are abundant, cheap and don't have hidden costs--environmental, social or military. (What do I mean by military? Well, if the Middle East produced only carrots, would we have fought the last two wars there? I don't think so. A large part of the American defense budget goes toward protecting our oil supplies.) How do we do that? By generating an enormous diversity in supply and having as many sources as possible be clean and green.

This part most of us understand, and the process of searching for new fuels and energy sources--solar, wind, geothermal--is already underway. But there's another aspect to energy independence that we also need to embrace. As we live and work, we consume resources--food, minerals--and energy, and produce massive amounts of waste. Then we have to spend more energy to deal with it. We are heaping computers in massive new landfills; many countries just burn all their waste, spewing fumes into the atmosphere. This is a cycle that has worked, so far, for 6.7 billion people, many of whom are still poor. But, as Tom Friedman argues eloquently in his call to arms, "Hot, Flat, and Crowded," it's unlikely to work with 9 billion people, many of whom will be consuming and producing more and more.

The solution is to be smarter about how we grow. We can and should build smart grids, highways and better-insulated buildings; cultivate vastly higher-yielding crops; and produce less-costly steel. We can achieve much more economic growth--almost 30 to 40 percent more, by some estimates--while using the same amount of energy. This doesn't depend on some miracle technology we're praying for, simply the disciplined application of technologies that already exist. Greater efficiency will lead to a more sustainable model of growth.

The ultimate goal is well articulated by William McDonough in his book "Cradle to Cradle." As he explains it, recycling today just takes large products--computers--and turns them into pieces of steel and plastic, and eventually those pieces get thrown into landfills. But we now know how to make things so that nothing is wasted--every component is either biodegradable or totally recyclable. Things go back to the earth or they go back into the manufacturing cycle.

This is not pie-in-the-sky stuff. McDonough is an architect and has designed a plant for Ford that saves millions of dollars a year by purifying rainwater on the building's green roof instead of treating it in an expensive facility. He's built a factory for Steelcase corporation in Switzerland where the water coming out is as pure as the water going in. McDonough points out that 4.5 billion pounds of carpet get thrown away every year in the United States. If all that were reused as manufacturing inputs--which can easily be done with existing technologies that don't add costs--you would gain efficiency and sustainability.

Previous technological revolutions have been liberating. Think of the IT revolution. It created the freedom to use massive amounts of computing power in every aspect of life--from a microwave oven to an iPod. The problem with the energy revolution as it stands now is that we are essentially offering the same product--electricity, a hybrid car, a fancy new light bulb--at a higher cost. Sure, you can feel good about it. But technology revolutions are about raising efficiency, not expanding virtue. An energy revolution would produce a world in which we can all use lots of energy without worrying about its costs or consequences.

The search for a silver bullet for energy is wrong on many levels. The real revolution that must take place is one of attitudes and ideas. We have many of the technologies we need. If we put them to work and create systems that allow for all the growth we want without running out of energy or harming the earth, we will have achieved true energy independence.

Comments (22)

dragutin_dimitrijevic Author Profile Page:

First off, Americans really must get away from their me, me ME Throw It Away and Get a Bright New Shiny Object mentality.

If the American government MANDATED the recycling of metal, plastic, paper, glass, organic and hazardous wastes throughout the country that legislation in itself would save billions of dollars spent on extracting, processing and buying raw materials. Americans do not tolerate much inconvenience and they will do very little voluntarily if it is not of some personal benefit to the individual, thus the necessity for federal legislation. Inconvenience for the good of the nation is easily accepted by the German public but it is not high on the list of priorities for most Americans.

Anyone who has ever worked in the wholesale, retail or service food industry in the United States has seen the staggering (shocking) amount of organic waste in the form of spoiled food and food scraps and leftovers that are dumped into rubbish bins behind restaurants and supermarkets and other businesses. Virtually all organic waste can be converted to ethanol or even soil enrichment compost rather than bulldozed into oblivion in useless landfills just for one example. The larger cities in the USA create many many tons of such organic waste every day of the week yet most is not utilised in any productive manner.

The Germans are infinitely more efficient and less wasteful than the Americans are and we have been recycling most of our domestic waste for years. For a brief overview or slice of life on how we recycle our manufactured products, packaging materials and other waste and therefore conserve natural resources see the refs below.

P.S. For the benefit of his American audience I'd highly recommend that Mr Zakaria or another commentator at CNN talk to his or her producer and make arrangements to visit Germany and do a piece on a recycling company here such as Remondis or AWM in Munich (München). I think most thoughtful Americans could be persuaded to adopt German-style recycling habits and legislation.

AWM (Munich/München)




seyyah Author Profile Page:

This is the problem of modern man whose moral boundries, or moral duties towards others, are determined by his financial capablity. With the lack of a higher authority which man, and everyman, is to submit, one will submit only to his inability to afford to consume, in financial terms. As soon as he recovers, his boundries will expand to the previous state.

david771 Author Profile Page:

Fareed, the planets oil reserves are finite. They will run out, and the majority of the oil companies know that that day is coming much sooner than the world will be able to comfortably deal with. As a consumer of 70% of the worlds oil reserves, the damage to our country will be many times greater than other nations that will be affected by the depletion of the worlds oil reserves. Moving to energy independence through renewables is our only chance of survival.

The worlds bigger problem is that the worlds population number is already bigger than the planet can sustain. The unbridled breeding in the Middle East, South American, Africa, and Asia has already reduced the quality of life to abysmal conditions for billions of the worlds citizens.

Religious fundamentalism, and Religious Extremism prevents efforts to control population through family planning education, birth control and general education programs in countries around the world. So the worlds population must be controlled by sick and painful bouts of starvation, disease, war and crime. That's their idea of "Family Values"

WilliamBlake Author Profile Page:

There appear to be real possibilities of developing commercial Helium3 fusion power generators, with no waste.

The prime problem, and its a big one, is only traces of Helium3 can be found on Earth.
However, the Moon is loaded with the stuff. How practical building a base and mining the Moon for Helium3 would be I'm not sure, but the Indian and Chinese popular science magazines are full of stories talking about it.

"...India's successful launch on Wednesday of its first moon mission, the unmanned Chandrayaan-I,..... In addition, the probe will spend the next two years mapping the entire lunar surface for minerals, including Helium-3 which is sought for nuclear fusion research, to which India could lay claim in future.

the strategic dimension, with Japan, South Korea and, especially, China heating up the Asian space race. China, long viewed as India's most important strategic competitor, caused a storm last year when it shot down one of its defunct satellites, sparking fears of an arms race in space. In October last year, China launched its first mission to orbit the moon.....the two nations will now compete to land a man on the moon — both have announced plans to do it by around 2020.


tma_sierrahills Author Profile Page:

- - -
"Free of what?" Well gosh, I don't know, for one thing, maybe not expecting every American president to go hat-in-hand begging the Arabs to lower oil prices by increasing supply. As for our never achieving energy independence, as well as still needing to find every possible additional drop of energy in the future because, "By 2050 there will be more than 9 billion." Well, yes, obviously, but Zakaria takes the opposite lesson from it. What about when the world reaches 10 billion, 20 billion and beyond? This energy/pollution disaster will only get ever-more inescapable as long as America pursues its fanatical pro-overpopulation policies, the disastrous consequences of which, almost without exception, strangely escape the attention of American media elites, who are guided by the philosophy of the locust swarm. (At least locusts are incapable of destroying the ecology of the entire planet.)
- - -
Border Enforcement + Immigration Moratorium = Job, Crime & Eco Sanity

SolShapiro Author Profile Page:

Efficiency is a good idea. But we will still need to generate a lot of energy and should be doing it sustainably.
When we think of the world's energy needs, electricity is the easy one; solar (probably solar thermal with storage) and geothermal can provide all the electrical energy we need; and if we are patient (measured in decades), the prices of these resources should get down to an acceptable level. By using ground source heat pumps, the energy we need to heat and cool our homes is electrical.
The tough one is transportation. Batteries may or may not become key players. Today's biofuels have serious capacity issues (land and conversion efficiency). Here we may need invention to learn how to make liquid fuel from energy, air and water. I don't have much faith in a hydrogen economy; economic generation of hydrogen, infrastructure and on-board storage are all tough problems.
I the meantime, we mustn't forget climate change to give us the time for all these new technologies. And here, geoengineering will be needed. The National Academy of Sciences under its progrm "America's Climate Choices" is moving slowly to this conclusion.
So, I agree let's do it all; electric grid based on renewables; HVAC using ground source heat pumps, efficiency; coal-to-liquid as an interim transportation fuel added to oil; and hope for invention to really find a solution to the tranportation world.

homeboy2 Author Profile Page:

Fareed's article and most of the posted comments are on point and cover the range of issues most reasonable informed people would make about energy independence. But no one seems to be alarmed by the 9 billion people population estimate. Are we assuming the earth can accommodate an unlimited amount of people? What about the "crowded" in "Hot, Flat and Crowded"? There will never be enough energy if the population grows without end.

cmarshdtihqcom Author Profile Page:

how about either a fuel cell or internal combustion hydrogen car? Solar or wind electricity can split water to generate hydrogen, and the stuff could be pipelined.

Here2day Author Profile Page:

Wind and solar should be the direction we take for our electrical grid. It's the cleanest and CHEAPEST.

Electrical cars are a must, and whatever happen to the 60 mile per charge battery Chevolette ( ? ) put in their prototype models a few years ago. The one everyone was raving about. The one they sold to Exxon-Moble. . . . . . . . . . And that's going to be one of our biggest problems. Just how powerful is big oil??! . . . I think by now it should come as no surprise how soulless a Corporation can be. Big money may derail clean, cheap energy after-all; the last time I checked, we still had the best government money could buy.

And Detroit, what came first? . . A) The demand for big gas-guzzlers, or B) all that advertising to convince consumers that what they wanted was a big gas-guzzler?

And just why did you sell a 60 mile to a charge battery to Exxon-Moble of all people [ see movie, Whatever Happened to the Electric Car? ]

cmarshdtihqcom Author Profile Page:

We don't need a military commitment to extract oil where people hate us.

We don't need our blood flowing over there.

We don't need our gold going over there, either in military expenses or to buy the black gold.

We don't need a fight 20-40 years down the road with some other world power (i.e. China) over petroleum.

We don't need a carbon blanket to heat the air and ocean up.

We don't need Middle Eastern solutions to America's problems.

We need to get our people working again.

I like the Pickens Plan, though I wonder if ten years is enough time. Maybe if we set our minds to it, like maybe World War II level effort. I sort of thought we needed nuclear as a helper: which could provide power to create hydrogen from water, or petroleum from coal if necessary. Stopping nuclear now won't get rid of the nuclear waste we already have. Take Yucca Mountain and run with it. Even if Nevada has to be depopulated. Sorry.

Maybe after a while, when we have solar and wind in vast quantities (redundant quantities because of the intermittent nature of wind and sunshine) up and running, we can close nuclear, and petroleum, forever?

except possibly petroleum for trains, ships, and aircraft, as there seems no alternative to very heavy Diesel engines and jet fuel. Maybe. The Air Force is testing biofuels, aren't they? I know several civilian ships have used nuclear power, notably the icebreaker Lenin, but I don't think it is ready for the rails. Would bioDiesel work in locomotives and ships like it does in cars and trucks?

Here's to a future with minimal petroleum or nuclear. Free power to the people from God Almighty.

WillSeattle Author Profile Page:

Interesting. The problem for us is that normally this becomes a political and tax debate, where the advocates for a single supply source tout their energy source as wonderful and all others as worthless.

In reality, we should definitely consider a multi-prong approach, whereby the USA diversifies all of our homegrown energy sources that are low on global warming and pollution measures, but considers the entire process from extraction, shipping, processing, and disposal.

This leads us to increasing our supplies of wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, hydro, etc while trying to improve our existing usage of coal, gas and oil but not subsidizing current production of those sources.

An easy solution is the creation of a carbon tax, which works better than cap and trade systems, but for political reasons we'll probably end up with a mix of tax subsidies (hopefully removing the ban on imported cane ethanol and the subsidy for corn ethanol which has impacted food prices highly).

Any such carbon tax should then be solely directed at such things as conversion of existing buildings to lower energy usage for heating/cooling (35 pct energy use nationwide), retrofitting existing low mpg trucks to plug-in hybrids where fitting, and building a nationwide high-speed passenger and freight rail system that connects dense populated areas to reduce aviation jet fuel usage.

chabot744 Author Profile Page:

Fareed, this is an argument that makes sense, so long as you totally ignore the devastating consequences of catastrophic global warming.

You're basically pretending that it doesn't exist, relegating it to one of the side effects of the way we use energy, rather than as an existential threat that threatens the very natural resources on which the global economy relies -- among them soil, air, and water. And humans.

Friedman is more alarmed than you about climate change -- and Friedman is not alarmed enough. Read Lovelock, The Revenge Of Gaia, if you want to understand what's going on with the planet.

The ice caps are crumbling into the sea, and you want to tell us that we need to burn more gas, oil, to meet growing demand?

This planet can not sustain 9 billion people burning energy the way Americans do today. We need to reduce overall demand, not just per capita demand.

And we need to stop treating the atmosphere like a garbage can. You can't take carbon out of the ground and burn it into the atmosphere indefinitely.

If you want to understand why, close yourself in the garage with the car running.

We're doing that on a planetary scale.


old_sarge Author Profile Page:

I would love to see that $780,000,000,000/year invested in our economy and not in that of our so-called friends. We can employ enough solar, wind, hydo and geo energy resources to eliminate oil and coal for electricity generation. Simple hybrid technology can take care of most of the rest and bring the entire western hemisphere into energy freedom. It is completely intolerable that we must rely on our enemies for the energy that drives our economies.

Citizenofthepost-Americanworld Author Profile Page:

I thoroughly enjoy your playful sense of humour, Mr. Zakaria, here and on GPS, whenever discussing such "serious" issues?

In the above, on energy responsibility and efficiency, I would have liked you to mention also 1. how often energy efficient innovations were literally "killed" (in the bud or in full bloom...), including by those who, deprived of any true vision, have since failed and gone bankrupt, ruining so many of us in the process, 2. how often world resources (e.g. crops, milk, etc.) were not only wasted but literally destroyed in mind-boggling quantities, for years on end, so as to better manipulate prices.

In other words, I would have liked that you mention that major impediments to freedom on energy have to do with greed, illegitimate profits and the power game. With all due respect to you and to Mr. Obama, and however important are our attitudes and ideas as citizens, it seems essential to me to look back and to point finger at those (criminally?) responsible and accountable for our collective dependencies, if we are to have a healthy, sustainable future.

I don't know how that is possible but your GPS is becoming more remarkable as the weeks go by. I sincerely hope you get all the support you need for years to come.

pjkobulnicky Author Profile Page:

This is an incredibly simplistic essay. In the future and with respect to energy, there are two words that cannot be used together. They are, "you just ..." or their many variants. As we use up energy that has taken millions or billions of years to store up beneath the Earth, we also use up the ability to say "You just ..." There will be no easy ways to make this a soft transition. There are, and will be, too many people for the energy sources that can be tapped. Until the media begins to talk about the tough futures we face all of the op-ed comments will just be feel good pieces.

yeolds Author Profile Page:

Mr Zakaria:

There is nothing in ME's oil [or that of Canada, Venezuela, etc] which has any connection to "our{USA's] oil supplies". The minute you refer to this issue as "our" you indicate in the clearest terms that you are not in the interested in A Constitutional Republic, but you are dreaming of an "ENDURING EMPIRE run by us". Wall street put an end to your desire, and the world is not subscribing to your idiotic desire. Observe the outcome of the G-20,l the USA could not get anything from the other nations.

Yes there is a possibility of energy independence [very limited, but not as steep as today's dependence] if and only if you have the capital for the investment [in excess of 3 trillion, aside formn the oil/gas industry] - unfortunately Wall Street destroyed over 15 trillion of wealth in the USA alone.

For all the hot airs of China helping, they do not have the money [nor does the world] to cover your deficit for this year, nevermind your negative balance of payments. So you are going to print money, thus further destroying your society.

So if you want energy independence, you will have to sacrafice big part of DoD's costs for many years, the only source of choice spending. Probably you would also have to establish a single payer medicare, and cut a lot of employees in the insurance business - do you have the political will with the present level of unemployment?

Perhaps to educate yourself on matters of energy, you shopuld devote considerable time to peruses daily http://www.theoildrom.com and offer some financial analysis instead of spin

voiceofmoderation Author Profile Page:

Sounds like what you are advocating for is a simple energy tax. If we were all paying $1 per kW/hr, you can bet we'd very quickly be replacing old light bulbs and appliances, upgrading insulation and windows, and turning down the AC. The prices of energy-intensive products like new steel and aluminum would go way up, incentiving the switch to recycling and more energy-efficient means of accomplishing the same things. Apply that same tax to gasoline, and you'd probably see a lot less giant McMansions in the exurbs and a lot more energy-efficient townhomes in the city (and not to get off topic, but school vouchers would go a long way toward making that happen as well).

Not to mention that the enormous revenues raised by such an energy tax would go a long way to reducing the estimated $10 trillion or so in debt we appear to be on path to creating in the next decade, which is unlikely to improve our long-term economic prospects as a nation.

tonystark Author Profile Page:

Your analysis is Absolutely correct. Too much of the energy debate is mired in 'PC' feel good initiatives rather than practical concerns. (witness the unintended consequences of govt focus on ethanol as well as the environmentalists in CA blocking solar and wind development in the CA desert lest it upset the environmental aesthetics of the Mojave.)BTW, all George Will said was that given a choice, Americans (or anyone else for that matter) would rather drive a big comfortable car...something up till now, but perhaps not much longer, tend to use more gas than econoboxes.)

Arce1 Author Profile Page:

In the late '80s and early '90s, I helped an electroplating plant reduce its waste to very near zero, including its rinse water, using a very simple technology that also reduced operating cost and improved quality. The technology had been used as early as the '20s, but costs a little extra capital investment, paid back in six to eight months, in most instances.
In the '60s it was hard to sell insulation with a pay back period of 2 years.
We can be more efficient, even without a lot of new technology. We just have to decide to do it and think responsibly.

hgcsato Author Profile Page:

Hello...any one for free trade as declared at G-20 in London?

How could oil producers buy Boeing planes, American weapons and movies, Levi's blue jeans and Starbucks coffee if there is no trade?

jlane1944 Author Profile Page:

A toning down of excesses will go a long way to balance the energy equation. If, as a society, we could content ourselves with cars that get at least 40 city/50 highway MPG, the volume of our oil consumption will be cut . . . well lets say dramatically.

As a society, we, each of us, need to find ways to shrink our individual carbon footprint, today. George Will argues 'we don't want the cars the government wants us to want' e.g. we want only big gas guzzlers. On this one issue, fuel milage, we will win or lose this particular conflict. If we cannot rein in our demand for 'super size' in cars, we'll never do so in the more subtle and harder to see arenas.

If we lose, please keep in mind that nature does not offer the rebooting option.

crossroadsteam Author Profile Page:

Energy independence could mean something else too: Energy trading only with allies. As the author notes, we currently import energy from both friend and foe. Sometimes the foes get greedy, and we are paying $4 a gallon for gasoline which was half that price only months ago. If we deal only with allies, we can work out the supply and the price on a gentleman's terms. And if we do some energy R&D of our own, we could become an exporter of new energies. Then foes might put away their animosity and want to become friends.

PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and washingtonpost.com, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.