For him, though, the motivation to expand into renewable energy is mostly a pragmatic one. “We all know that we’re running out of oil. It’s an argument as to when,” he says. Yes, new sources of fossil fuels will be mined from shale and sand, and we’ll find ways to extract deposits that were too deep or expensive to get at with old technologies. Still, Burns says, that won’t be enough. “The growth of energy consumption is so huge that everything is needed. Clean tech has to be far bigger than the oil industry is today. It has to happen. There is no other solution.”
The numbers back him up. According to the International Energy Agency, the world now consumes 87 million barrels of oil a day. That’s projected to rise by a third, to 116 million barrels, by 2030. Yet many oil-industry experts think it’s basically impossible to extract more than 100 million barrels a day. Add to this a worldwide population expected to hit nine billion by 2050 (from 6.7 billion today), together with rising living standards in the developing world, and $4 gasoline may begin to seem like a bargain.
Burns is far more concerned with this supply-and-demand curve than he is with climate change. He’s not a skeptic, exactly; he thinks global warming is real, and anthropogenic. He doesn’t think the worldwide effects will be nearly as bad as predicted, though. Burns acknowledges that climate change will probably be bad for Australia. It will make the country even hotter and drier. But in Greenland and Canada, more carbon dioxide could have many benefits. “Yeah, the weather’s bad,” he says. “It’s not as bad a problem as running out of energy.”single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.