But now the energy industry itself - or the thinking parts of it - have challenged this gloomy analysis. Governments can make a solid start on tackling the threat of man-made climate change and sustain economic growth.
Two years ago the World Energy Council set up a commission on the subject. It has just produced its draft report for the council's 15th triennial congress in Madrid.
The commission produced three scenarios for global energy consumption in 2030. Two came up with hefty increases in energy demand and large increases in emissions of carbon dioxide - the most important of the greenhouse gases.
But the third scenario assumed economic growth of 3.3 per cent a year combined with much greater energy efficiency and a switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy resources. While energy demand rises by 29 per cent, emissions of carbon dioxide in 2030 remain at today's level.
The commission says this could happen only if electorates are sincere about the environment and willing to embrace energy saving and new technology. But when the energy industry itself suggests that global stabilisation of carbon dioxide emissions is attainable, then there are grounds for hope.