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SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. 1989 Sep; 261(3):136-43.The industrialized nations of the US, Japan, and West Germany can attribute their high standard of living to access to energy. 20% of the world's population uses >70% of its commercial energy. Between 1973 and 1985, the US gross national product increased 40% yet energy consumption did not change due to energy conservation measures. In this time period, energy consumption grew most rapidly in developing countries (22%) while they tried to improve living standards, industrialized, and adjusted to rapid population growth (11%). The increase in energy demand endangers our environment as well as our health. The burning of coal and oil yield acid rain destroying lakes, forests, crops, and buildings in Europe and North America. It unloads >5 billion tons of carbon into the air annually. Nuclear fission generates radioactive wastes. Even though technology has greatly decreased energy driven problems and energy demand without reducing the level of goods and services, energy efficiency and finding alternatives to existing energy sources in both developed and developing countries holds the greatest hope for preserving our planet and maintaining and improving our standard of living. The dependence on Middle East oil strains the economies of both developed and developing countries and sets the stage for international conflict. Potential alternative energy sources include solar energy, fusion, hydroelectric power, geothermal energy, and biomass. Some examples of energy efficiency measures are use of building materials which reduce heat loss, cogeneration (combined production of electricity and heat), aeroderivative turbine for electric power generation, and continuously variable transmissions. Neither energy efficiency or development of energy alternatives can occur fast enough to preserve out planet without political will, however. This political will needs to start with the US--a world leader in energy consumption and global carbon emissions.