Speaking before about 600 people Sunday night, journalist Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran cautioned against an impending energy crisis, saying it would take enormous amounts of energy to meet the increasing demands of rapidly-growing economies like China and India.
Vaitheeswaran, a correspondent for The Economist and author of “Power to the People and Zoom: The Global Race to Fuel the Car of the Future,” was invited to campus as part of the LSA Energy Futures Theme Semester.
His talk, held at Rackham Auditorium, was critical of the world’s current use of energy, calling it “needlessly inefficient and dirty” and “unfairly biased against the poorest people in our world.”
Vaitheeswaran said when he first started writing about the environment for The Economist in 1997, people advised him against it, since “nothing happens in the environment.” He said those people were soon proven wrong with the creation of the Kyoto Protocol and the United States’ refusal to sign it.
Today, the energy crisis is such a hot topic that seemingly no politician can avoid taking a stand on it.
The environment and oil dependence, in particular, have attracted a great deal of attention during the presidential campaign, and Vaitheeswaran said he believed options like offshore drilling would not make the US energy independent.
“I don’t take an ideological position, I just look at the facts,” said Vaitheeswaran, adding that domestic oil reserves only account for about four percent of the total world reserve, while Americans consume about half of the world’s gasoline production.
Regarding the presidential election, Vaitheeswaran said, “whoever wins, Washington will get more serious about the environment issue.”
After speaking, Vaitheeswaran took questions from the audience, which was comprised mostly of students. One student questioned whether the spike in gasoline prices and the subsequent change in people’s behavior, like carpooling or taking the bus, were only temporary. Vaitheeswaran said he thought the prices would eventually fall.
“I think that when prices go down, people will revert to their old habits,” he said, at the same time noting that he does not think that oil prices necessarily will stay at their currently high levels. “Oil is a commodity, and for any commodity market — even highly politicized markets — prices go up, and prices go down.”
The solution to overdependence on energy sources that harm the environment, Vaitheesswaran said, is “a carbon tax for the dirtiest forms of energy” that would give incentives to people to change their lifestyles.
“We have to get energy right,” Vaitheeswaran said. “America has to be part of a solution.”
LSA freshman Patrick Nolan takes a class for which Vaitheeswarans first book, Power to the People is required and said he found the lecture “very interesting.”
Vaitheeswaran said after the lecture that his message is that the environmental problems are “very real” but that opportunities for change also exist, and said that, “there is more potential (in Michigan) than anywhere else.”