Daniel Yergin's The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World is a leading candidate for the coveted QB1 award this quarter. In addition to concisely laying out the history of energy use in the modern world, the author looks at all of the potential successors to oil and coal and the practicability and transitional challenge of each. I expected to come away from this book more optimistic, and though I did in a way, it's equally clear that the move from the current energy model is going to be a matter of decades, and that I may never get my hydrogen-powered jet pack.
One of the main points Yergin makes is that the most achievable gains in energy efficiency are to be had from adjusting current use patterns to be more efficient and economic. Properly inflating your tires and turning out the lights when you leave the room may not be as sexy as a solar panel, but they, and their like, are just as important, and attention must be paid.
I was thinking about this as I listened to Tristram Stuart's TED talk on the way to the Y this morning. He lays out, in fascinating detail how much food is wasted in the world (50% of available product in the developed world), and how much more efficient and better fed we could all be if we simply tried to squeeze every available calorie out of the current supply, and fed the remainder to pigs, turning waste into food, as it were. I'm certainly aware, from past experience and current news, how critical our porcine friends are to waste disposal in Egypt, but I hadn't fully understood the impediments to efficiency that are either regulatory, or a result of discerning consumer requirements (apparently lots of edible produce is discarded because it fails to meet certain aesthetic standards). This chart, from thinkprogress, along with the aforementioned 50% waste figure, shows how much available savings are right in front of us (enough in the US alone to feed the world's hungry, Stuart reckons)
So we throw a lot of stuff out in the developed world, and there are a lot of efficiencies to be realized on the production side everywhere. Again, it's not the "peanut butter and jelly capsule" but it does seem like awfully low hanging fruit.