The age old question of how will we power our homes and lives in general moving forward when all the oil runs out, and one day it will. The world needs to move in a direction that will lead to energy independence however businesses and society is slow to move because we cannot see the impacts until it hits home in that all of sacred places, our wallets. Changes need to be made but can we afford it or can we afford not to make the move that will ensure our future for generations to come. Fist let us look at why we chose fossil fuels. The fossil fuels we largely depend on today are coal, oil and natural gas. They are called non-renewable energy sources. That description is actually another way of saying we use them faster than they form. Over 100,000 times faster to be exact!
So how did we ever decide this would be the primary energy resource to power human development and progress? It all goes back to human mastery of fire to provide warmth, light and a means of preparing more palatable and easily digestible foods. To the early humans, fire was the equivalent of having a little sun with them wherever they needed or wanted to go. With this energy available at anytime and anyplace, humans could begin to spread about the world and thrive, regardless of the climate or amount of sunlight available. It provided the power for humans to begin their mastery of Earth as a species, less vulnerable to extinction than all other animal species, yet with a greater ability to bring about change — for good or bad.
There are many alternative energy sources that we can see and put our hands on but they all have pros and cons. Some are either too expensive or not viable as a long term source of energy in comparison to oil. Our infrastructure is built around coal and oil dating back to the industrial revolution. From our cars to the power that runs the microwave in the kitchen fossil fuels are a part of our lives but they are running out, killing the environment in more ways than one and becoming more and more expensive to produce due either war or scarcity. Then when we complain about the price or the consequences of drilling or burning fossil fuels the best our governments can give us is talk with little action because those in power are more about money which comes from the companies and people who spend money on their campaigns to get re-elected. When one thinks of alternative energies the first thing that springs to mind is solar energy and why not, we the sun is not going anywhere any time soon(at least we hope not) and there are very few places that don’t get sun for most of the 24 hours in a day.
So why do we not all have a solar panel on our roofs and cars? One reason is because it is not cost effective and cannot produce enough energy for most people to make it worthwhile. Our mind set is always going to be one of why should we invest in something that does not do what oil and gas can? With the economies of the world in jeopardy and more and more people out of work, asking them to do their part to help the environment is just not realistic. Until science and business can make solar power more viable we as average citizens will not make the change while we have oil and gas still. Unless we either just run out or we can no longer afford fossil fuels we as a society will not make our lives any harder by switching to an alternative energy source that is still not viable nor is it cost effective. Another disadvantage to continuing with fossil fuels is the continued and escalating tension in the Middle East. The cost alone of defending the oil that we use and take for granted is astronomical not to mention the loss of life which cannot be measured.
The thought that we as a society have not moved past killing one another for an inanimate objects is shameful. That we have no evolved morally past the point of killing for energy is a discredit to how far we have come as a race. If we would take the money that we spend on defense and guarding oil rigs and clean ups when things go wrong and put it toward improving solar and fusion nuclear power we might find yourself energy independence sooner rather than later. Wind is the next source of alternative energy that has people all a buzz with excitement but is it truly viable? This alternative can seem very attractive but again is the cost of a wind turbine and the land needed to build wind farms is substantial to produce enough energy. So then the question is just like with solar energy, we need so much space to make enough energy that it just cannot compete with fossil fuels no matter what the environmental impact. Alternative energy just does not have enough clout with governments to push their clean energy agendas that it just is not a short term solution.
The main problem that we all can see is that alternative energies cannot do what oil and gas do now. Wind will not let us drive 400 miles to where we want to go when we want to. Solar or battery power is unreliable because it takes time to recharge a battery with solar energy and no one has been able to come up with to date a viable mass producible car that uses solar power. Even hybrids and battery power cars just can give us the flexibility with which gas driven cars can. When something can’t make what we already have better and at an equil or lesser cost to us will not gain ground. We are a visual society and unless someone comes up to us and says that the earth is going to end in 50 years unless we all drive hybrids were not going to do it. It is not in our nature and thus it won’t make any difference what innovations businesses and science come up with. As for oil itself it is going to take something like nuclear fusion or a more advanced solar cell to move us away from oil.
Nuclear power has always been taboo or in simpler terms a ‘Not in my back yard’ energy source. Nuclear fission is a source of energy that is viable and being used to day however the need to increase nuclear fission sites has the environmental community in an uproar. It is a well-known fact that these types of reactions produce waste products that are extremely dangerous not to mention a nuclear fission plant can either be attached or have an issue that would cause an environmental catastrophe which makes the idea of building newer, safer plants an unrealistic idea. The consequences of nuclear fission just do not out way the ramifications of environmental issues that could come of a disaster like Chernobyl. Nuclear fusion is a far more environmentally safe way to produce nuclear power and produces no waste products unlike fission and if an issue were to arise the reaction of fusion just stops and no radiation is not leaked nor is there an explosion of any kind. The problem again with nuclear fusion is at the moment costly and cannot produce enough power to out way the cost and energy it takes to produce power.
This like solar power is where we need to be placing our faith in the future of power in our country and around the world because oil will run out or it will become too costly to produce or something is going to happen that will be so catastrophic that we as a race will say enough is enough but until that time comes were not going to change our ways. Despite nuclear energy’s role as a significant power supply source, it is highly unlikely it will survive past the 21st century, especially since the recent Japanese disaster. Many people are against it, storage of its highly radioactive wastes is difficult and costly. There are not enough ores available to maintain continued production of nuclear energy, and most of today’s nuclear plants will reach the end of their life span within the next 50 years. McLamb, Eric(2010). Just another reason for moving towards fusion and putting the money that we might use to build new fission plants which could again like the Japanese reactor disaster fusion will not have that problem.
There are many other forms of alternative energies such as geothermal and hydro power as well but again just like all the other sources, it is not producing as much power as fossil fuels and we are not spending our time and resource to improve these more available and attainable but again we sit with oil still. At the end of the day something dramatic is going to need to occur to push humanity towards a different source of energy but until we can see positive results on a massive scale we are never going to change our ways. As stated before if our planet were to end tomorrow I still don’t think we would change how we do things because we as a people are selfish and only care about what goes on in our homes as opposed to what is going on around the world.
Will alternative energy source replace fossil fuels and clean up the environment. The answer is yes but what is it going to take to push us over the edge. Will it be a major environmental disaster, a global shortage of oil, or a scientific advancement that will revolutionize our way of life in a way that oil did when we first started to use it for our day to day to day lives. We can only hope but we are going to have to do something because we cannot continue down this path of ruining our resources and our planet.
Berger, A.A (2008). Seeing is believing (J. Wetherington, Ed. 3rd ed), Boston: McGraw-Hill Mc,Lamb, Eric(2010). The Secret World of Energy(http://www.ecology.com/2010/09/15/secret world-energy//)