Your knowledge and views about energy and the environment, to some degree, depend on whether you are a Democrat or Republican, plus, if you are associated with the fossil industry or green technologies. However, not only is energy low on the list of issues facing the candidates for the 2012 presidential election, it is not even important enough to be placed in polls. Also too, there is so much disinformation floating around in the various media that most people are just not aware of the seriousness of what might be facing humanity. Here is the inflation adjusted (in red) historical price of oil:
Note that our most serious recessions occurred just after the price of petroleum jumped.
You probably feel that gasoline prices are unbearable today, but might not know that we pay about half the price of Europeans. The difference is because we do not lop on as much tax. If you want to pay less for gas, go to OPEC countries, for many of them charge about one-fourth what we do. For people from Hawaii, we shell out about 10% more for gasoline than the U.S. average.
Around the world, electricity prices are all over the map. The U.S. average is about 12 cents/kWh, but Hawaii is three times that rate (36 cents/kWh). We thus are charged 300% more than the national average. As in gasoline, Europeans pay about twice as much per kilowatt hour compared to the U.S., but there are some global anomalies: Argentina (6 cents/kWh), Brazil (34 cents/kWh), Denmark (40 cents/kWh).
Wind and solar are intermittent and dispersed. There is no hope for these two options dominating in the future. In addition, there is not enough biomass/water to satisfy global needs, unless marine biomass can be effectively developed. Hot dry rock (if go deep enough, our planet does get very hot) has promise, but every exploratory effort has been abandoned.
Nuclear fission (left, think Atomic Bomb) was eliminated by Fukushima. Nuclear fusion (right, what our Sun and all the stars do to provide energy) hopes for ITER in France to advance the technology, but they are only running into more difficult problems. That system uses something called magnetic confinement. I think laser fusion, known as inertial confinement, shows more potential, and I continue to dream about cold fusion. There is, too, heavy ion fusion, a second form of the latter, which promises more than electricity. We need, though, to more seriously progress on the other two-thirds of our energy consumption.
The future trend now is to use the cellulosic portion of the plant and advance algae R&D, for microalgae can be up to five times more efficient than any terrestrial crop to convert sunlight plus nutrients and water into biofuels. The biomethanol economy with a direct methanol fuel cell for ground transport deserves a good look. There is a more futuristic pathway, the hydrogen economy, but my sense is that this alternative is many, many decades away.