U.S. policymakers are now considering a range of options to address the issues of future U.S. energy security and climate change. Energy policies are often proposed to address some combination of these. Yet not all policy options have equal impacts across both, and many options have negative impacts with respect to one or the other.
This chart shows how selected energy options compare, with respect to energy security and climate change impact. Bubble size corresponds to energy provided or avoided in 2025 with respect to a “business as usual” mix in 2025. Options in the upper-right quadrant have positive impacts with respect to climate change and energy security, while those in the lower-left have negative impacts to both. Those in the other quadrants involve tradeoffs. As depicted by the size of the bubbles, policy options vary significantly in their potential to meet future energy demand.
(click the image for an interactive chart of policy options)
Several options currently under debate illustrate the implications:
- Increasing CAFE standards has the potential to make the biggest contribution to meeting our energy needs. In addition, this option has very strong positive implications for both energy security and climate.
- While coal-to-liquids would increase U.S. energy security, pursuing this option would have significant negative impacts to the climate. Even if the most of the CO2 from the conversion process is captured and stored, climate impacts are still negative compared to business as usual in the transport sector.
- Ethanol from corn would also likely deliver significant new energy and increase U.S. energy security, but would likely deliver relatively small benefits to the climate. This is due to the high energy input required to process corn—and the fact that most of this energy is derived from fossil fuel (in particular, coal). Cellulosic ethanol delivers slightly less energy, but has a greater positive impact on climate change when considering its complete life cycle production and use.
It should be noted that the specific policies graphed here do not represent an energy forecast, but rather an effort to depict the implications of specific technology outcomes. Thus, different policy specifics would lead to different placement of “bubbles” on the chart.