Energy Conservation

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Science  13 Apr 1973:
Vol. 180, Issue 4082, pp. 155-162
DOI: 10.1126/science.180.4082.155


We can no longer afford to ignore the serious potential consequences of our lavish use of energy. Continuation of the present rate of increase, particularly with the trend to imported fuels, will lead in short order to a level of dependency on imports which is disturbing for both the national security and the balance of payments.

The inevitable rise in the price of energy will presumably lead to some increases in the domestic energy supply. But our reserves, particularly in the preferred forms of petroleum, gas, and even low-sulfur coal, are finite. Thus, the energy problem must also be attacked from the standpoint of energy conservation. The forthcoming rise in fuel prices will, of course, make more attractive some forms of conservation which at present are economically marginal. Nevertheless, consumers, industry, and government will have to make difficult choices in the years ahead: between greater convenience and lower energy bills, between the high capital costs of energy conservation measures and the long-term dollar savings from increased energy efficiency, and between environmental protection and the availability of needed energy supplies.

Existing capabilities and technology, on which short- and midterm improvements must be based, appear to offer substantial possibilities for reducing U.S. energy consumption within the next decade (11). Long-term solutions to the energy problem, however, will depend to a considerable extent on the continuing appearance of new technological capabilities for increased efficiency of energy utilization and increased integration of energy applications. The capacity for continuing technological advances is, of course, dependent in turn on a strong relevant scientific base.

A word of caution is necessary. Recent experience has shown that technological advances alone will not solve the problem. The problem spans not only the traditional physical and engineering sciences but also those sciences which deal with human attitudes and actions, that is, the social sciences, and includes a more fundamental understanding of underlying economic principles. The challenge to all sectors of American science should be clear.

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