A clear understanding of the facts drives the reality requiring global deployment of transformative technology for clean fossil fuels. The concept of clean fossil technology is not a myth, and if we are serious as a society about our global environmental footprint, then we must confront reality and accept the challenge.

Three fundamental projections — not subjects of debate or opinion but projections by the International Energy Agency (IEA) based in Paris — are:

  1. The world's demand for energy will double by 2050.
  2. Ninety percent of that growth will be in developing countries, where 2 billion more people will live by 2050.
  3. Fossil fuels will continue to be more than 80 percent of energy consumed in 2050. There is no plausible logic that would enable renewable deployment at scale in this timeframe.

Just as the guiding principles of greenhouse gas and global warming must be rooted in science and reality, so must our acceptance of the fuel choices the world will make to meet global demand.

Why? Because energy sustainability and choices by any society are rooted in three basic principles and they are determined in rank order by the level of economic development and maturity of that society. These fundamental principles are:

  1. Accessibility to secure and reliable energy. Today 1.7 billion people have no access, and another 2 billion will be on our planet in 2050.
  2. Affordability. If access is affected, go back to No. 1 above, as it is hierarchical and linear. A true portfolio will be required for sustainability, and a low-cost, affordable supply will be the choice by society.
  3. Environmental responsibility. Air, water and land impacts must be addressed. If No. 1 and No. 2 above are satisfied, such as what we know in developed countries, a truly complete sustainable approach must include this responsibility. Technology enables such principles to be realized — and not just in our world, but our global community.

The only way to satisfy all three legs of sustainability is to have the technology and capabilities in place to be enabled to meet global demand.

This analysis then leads us to the obvious conclusion that our global energy story must include transformative fossil fuel technology globally for a sustainable future over the next 50 to 100 years. If one really "cares" about the environment, then accepting the challenge is the only option. Running away from fossil fuels may seem logical to some in the developed nations in the world — in fact, it is referred to by some as "leadership." I would suggest it is running away from reality with wishful thinking. It is far short of leading; it is deceiving.


One cannot run from the facts. Wishful and "morally responsible" thinking that renewables will fill the global demand is naive and dangerous. The rest of the world is counting on our stewardship and requires us to step up to this challenge. The world wants technological solutions and outcomes, not moralizing.

What kind of challenges and what types of technology?

Carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas is a global challenge. But carbon dioxide is not a poison, and it can be addressed in a way to benefit the economy as well as the environment. We can capture carbon dioxide from fossil sources, process the carbon dioxide and deliver it to geological formations that have oil currently in place, and we can enhance the recovery of that oil. In this process of carbon capture utilization and storage, we safely and permanently store the carbon dioxide and eliminate its escape to the atmosphere. We can do this and have been doing it in several areas of the U.S. and Canada with great success. It is good for the environment and good for energy security. It really does take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and really mitigates greenhouse gases. It is a reality and has impact.

Water usage and purification are a challenge for oil and gas in the unconventional and fracking applications. Nanotechnology for water purification, new processes for "waterless" fracking using carbon dioxide and other related transformative technologies are being developed. New, novel processes and materials are being explored, and nascent computational mathematics and visualization technology will transform the way we explore and extract hydrocarbons. And with so much promise, support from industry, clear potential for transformation and environmental benefit, and the ability to generate jobs and improve our nation's energy security. One should ask, however, what is this administration doing? The answer is that it has done worse than nothing. It has:

  1. Cut funding to fossil technology development by over 40 percent year over year at the Department of Energy while ramping up Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulatory efforts to "kill coal" and dampen innovation in fossil. And it has blatantly stated that natural gas and petrochemicals are next, with no regard to economic impact.
  2. Increased funding for renewables and denied the global responsibility of U.S. leadership in fossil technology. We are punting the problem to the rest of the world and taking misguided comfort in wrapping ourselves in the illusion that renewables are the only answer. We cannot run away from clean fossil fuel technology leadership.

Let your congressmen and senators know that you expect more from our government, that it cooperates and collaborates with industry, universities and nongovernmental organizations to really address environmental challenges. People all over the world care about the environment, so let's not believe that renewable proponents are the only people with a conscience and such concerns. This is too important to be a political game of forced renewable portfolios by EPA and wealth transfer on the backs of the American taxpayer. Let's get serious about energy sustainability and lead the world. This doesn't get solved with hocus pocus, wishful thinking and carbon credits. It gets solved by technology and innovation.

McConnell is executive director of the Energy and Environment Initiative at Rice University and a former assistant secretary of energy at the Department of Energy from 2011 to 2013.