cost of energy resources, both private and social. In this regard, it might be useful to begin by dividing the full costs of energy use into direct economic costs and external costs and to measure the two separately. Serious studies of the full social costs of energy use have been undertaken in Europe (EC 1995) and North America (ORNL 1992-1998), and a new study by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences is just beginning. However, to date, the assessments have been characterized by a high degree of uncertainty and complexity.
Linkages must also be quantified. As an initial starting point, one can estimate the greenhouse gas emissions from energy use, the demands of bioenergy production on land resources, the water requirements of the energy system, and the consumption of critical mineral resources, such as platinum. This would increase the probability for successful measurement, albeit for a limited set of factors. Given the widespread recognition of climate change as the principal unresolved environmental challenge facing the global energy system, and the availability of data to describe the relationships between energy and greenhouse gas emissions, this would seem like a promising strategy for beginning the measurement of the sustainability of the global energy system.
Measuring energy sustainability is a daunting task. It is also one that must be attempted in order for current generations to act responsibly toward their descendants. Fortunately, much valuable work has already been done in collecting necessary data and constructing useful analytical frameworks. Even if we must begin by measuring energy sustainability badly, it seems clear that we can and must begin.
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