Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Letter from the Editor

The Energy Conundrum

We may be making ourselves comfortable at the cost of rendering the planet uninhabitable.

Energy is the solution. It’s also the problem.

What we mean by that will become obvious as you page through the stories in Energy 2016, our collection of the biggest energy stories of the past year.

Why the solution? In the developing world hundreds of millions want a higher standard of living. They want better schools and hospitals, a more reliable base for manufacturing, and a sturdier economy. They yearn for the basic elements of the modern world that technology affords and that westerners take for granted. They can’t do it without more energy.

As our senior editor for energy, Richard Martin, reports in “India’s Energy Crisis," Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants universal access to electricity for his citizens (some 250 million now live with sporadic access to electricity; another 300 million get by without any at all). As Jonathan W. Rosen writes in “Lake Kivu’s Great Gas Gamble,” the country of Rwanda, one of the world’s most surprising economic comeback stories, is being held back by its sketchy energy supply.

And of course it’s also the problem. The “enviable” western lifestyle comes with incredible costs. The more developed economies in North America, Europe, and Asia have powered their way into a world climate crisis. Since the Fukushima disaster (see “Can Japan Recapture Its Solar Power?”), Japan has fallen back on fossil fuels. And now the ambitions of places like Rwanda and India bring new risks—India’s dreams are likely to be impossible without leaning heavily on coal, and the “gamble” of the Lake Kivu story is the potential release of a massive death cloud of carbon dioxide that could kill everyone living alongside the lake. We may be making ourselves comfortable at the cost of rendering the planet uninhabitable.

Read climate scientist Ken Caldeira’s essay “Stop Emissions!” wherein he sets down the moral imperative for acting immediately. Or read editor David Rotman’s “Hot and Violent,” in which he outlines precisely how bad it is likely to get, not simply in terms of rising sea levels but in terms of water shortages, crop failures, and world conflict.

It’s not all gloom. People everywhere are working on the problem. Battery maker Ann Marie Sastry is chipping away at technology that might one day make electric cars cheap and solar and wind power more practical than fossil fuels. Chemist Peidong Yang is among those who hope to hack photosynthesis, the same system that plants use to grow, to make better fuels. And in an expansive annotated interview, Bill Gates, the billionaire and philanthropist, lays down the logical path forward if we hope to turn all those energy problems into solutions.

Enjoy,

Jason Pontin
CEO, Editor in Chief, and Publisher

Gain the insight you need on emerging technologies at EmTech MIT.

Learn more and register
More from Sustainable Energy

Can we sustainably provide food, water, and energy to a growing population during a climate crisis?

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Print Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.