Forecasting the future of energy use can be an exercise in hubris. As John Stewart points out in these pages, had the predictions of our energy future made at the time of the 1973 oil shock come to pass, we’d all be driving electric cars by now (and had we relied on the visions of popular science magazines in the 1950s, we’d be travelling by jetpack). The postwar magazine ads that accompany this section show how our imaginations often are not a great indicator of what’s to come.

The current lack of political will, as well as the economic costs, to change our energy ways certainly suggest that the future will be much like the present, with some take-up of renewable technologies but a whole lot of carbon (or methane) still being burned. Yet just as we have been off base on jetpacks and the electric fleet, we are also poor at anticipating revolutions (which is why they are called revolutions rather than managed change). From this point, we can’t be sure of what will come from pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in record-high levels. If the worst-case scenarios come to pass, our energy choices may be taken from our hands.

Photo: Shutterstock by xujun