Modern human civilization is build on and continues to be principally dependent on large quantities of energy to sustain it. The primary source of this energy has been fossil fuels.
As early as the 19th century, fossil fuels were being used to power industries and to date; they continue to be the primary source of energy for man’s industrial efforts. However, as a result of the exponential industrial expansion and the population explosion that subsequently followed, these traditional sources of energy have been stretched to their limits as the demand for energy continuous to grow. In additional to this threat of exhaustion, it has in the recent decades been acknowledged that fossil fuels are largely responsible for adverse effects on the environment. A wider exploitation of renewable energy sources has been seen as the key to enhancing the energy security for many nations as well as mitigating environmental effects caused by fossil fuels. Governments have therefore begun to seek alternative energy sources such as wind, wave, ocean currents and solar energy. These sources are to act as alternatives to the use of existing oil and natural gas sources.
While alternative energy sources have been hailed by some as the only way through which man will be able to satisfy his energy needs, other people view these means as unfeasible. This paper will argue that renewable energy sources if fully utilized can lead to an end to the world’s energy need problems and mitigate the environmental hazards caused by fossil fuels. To reinforce this assertion, this paper will engage in a detailed discussion as to why renewable energy sources should be adopted and reliance on fossil fuels decreased.
The world cannot run on fossil fuels indefinitely since there is only a finite amount of fossil fuel reserves on earth. Issitt and Warhol reveal that according to a BP report, only 1,200billion barrels of crude oil remain in the world’s oil reserves (1). Bearing in mind that the current consumption rate is about 31billion barrels per annum, it can be projected that the world will run out of its reserves in the next 4 decades.
This is a bleak reality since most of the world’s technology is made to utilize fossil fuels (Issitt and Warhol 1). As such, governments must invest more in alternative energy so as to reduce the dependency on fossil fuels which are predicted to run out in the not so distant future. The overreliance on fossil fuels results in the increased dependency of the U.S. to the oil producing nations. While the U.
S. does produce some fossil fuels, The US department of Energy notes that the contribution of the US is only 3% while its consumption is up to 25% (Issitt and Warhol 1). These points to a high dependency on oil imported from other countries by the US. This inevitable places our country at the mercies of the oil producing giants which might be a risk. For example, following the 1967 Arab-Israeli way, the oil producing Arab states imposed an oil embargo on the US for its support of Israel.
With such realities in mind, it makes sense to be self sufficient. The only way that the US can move towards self sufficiency in energy is through exploiting renewable energy sources. Proponents of fossil fuels propose that measures can be taken to mitigate their adverse effect and ensure their sustainability. Rich and David assert that while such efforts at producing environmentally-friendly fossil fuels such as coal are praiseworthy, they are misguided and will not make a significant difference (1). This is because it is impossible to avoid the production of green house gasses when burning fuels regardless of the technology being utilized. Instead of focusing on ways to increase the environmental friendliness of fossil fuels, the available renewable energy alternatives should be pursued.
Rich and David argue that there are many feasible alternative energy sources which if properly researched could render the need for fossil fuels obsolete. One of the reasons why fossil fuels are favored over alternative energy sources is because of their relatively cheap cost. This edge that fossil fuel has over renewable sources is quickly being closed and it can be projected that in the near future, alternative energy sources will dominate the market. Witherbee suggests that one of the reasons why most alternative energy sources have failed to work out in the past has been as a result of lack of political and economic support. With the continued penetration into mainstream market of alternative energy sources such as solar power and heat pumps that work on geothermal energy, it is considerable that alternative energy sources will become cheaper as the market increases therefore becoming more competitive. Given the numerous advantages that alternative energy sources have over fossil fuels, most consumers will opt to utilize the cheap and renewable energy sources. The need for fossil fuel posses a threat to the natural environment and if the demand for fossil fuels continues unabated, it is likely that rampant drilling for oil will occur. An especially troubling reality is the proposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge which has been a protected wildlife site for decades.
Proponents of fossil fuel extraction claim that such a move would result in cheaper fuel as well as jobs for the American population. Issitt and Tom declare that the benefits from such moves would be minimal and only periodic and the authors blame corporate contributors and politicians for furthering the interest of the petroleum industry at the expense of the environment even though they know that it is non-renewable. Lizza demonstrates the role that politics play in determining the fate of the environment by documenting how politicians support drilling in protected areas just so that they can get political leverage. This is a very irresponsible behavior since the welfare of the people in the long run and the sustainability of resources should be the main determinant of the stance taken by politicians. Witherbee asserts that rather than expanding fossil fuel exploration while all the time knowing that it is a limited energy source, alternative energy sources should be sought out for a more permanent solution.
Proponents of fossil fuels assert that while alternative energy sources purport to be the solution to the problems that fossil fuels have caused, alternative energy sources can simply not cater for the huge energy needs of the world. Bowman and Marcus assert that while it is a fact that the world’s fossil fuel reserves are dwindling, alternative energy sources are incapable or replacing them and the only solution would be to use fossil fuels more efficiently by use of conservation techniques (11). To reinforce this claim, the authors demonstrate that all the current implementations of renewable energy sources are either inefficient or prohibitively expensive therefore making them unfeasible (Bowman and Marcus 13). Fossil fuels on the other hand continue to remain cheap and therefore attractive to consumers all over the country. To counter this claim, Rich and David demonstrate that there are numerous renewable energy source alternatives and if they are extensively researched on, they could rival fossil fuels and eventually cater for the energy needs of the world (1). One of the points that opponents of fossil fuels raise to deride fossil fuels is that they are detrimental to the environment and result in the proliferation of global warming. However, proponents of fossil fuels point out that renewable energy sources which are hailed by alternative energy lobbyists as environmental friendly are not only expensive to the tax payer but they also result in environmental degradation.
Bowman and Marcus argue that some renewable sources such as ethanol and bio-fuel result in deforestation so as to create more land for corn and other resources used to produce the fuels (3). Renewable energy sources such as solar power as obtained through Concentrating Solar Power technologies require huge amount of land that large scale production plants demand. The large scale installations of mirrors results in a negative effect on the ecosystem since deployment of these structures leads to the shading or complete coverage of large tracts of land. The ecosystem that exists on these shaded surfaces will therefore be affected by the lack of sunlight. This therefore negates the notion that renewable energy sources are favorable to the environment.
While it is true that some renewable energy sources do result in environmental degradation, they do not do so on the same scale as fossil fuels do. In addition to this, not all the renewable energy sources have adverse environmental effects. For example, wind power is a very environmental friendly alternative energy source. As such, not all renewable energy sources should be branded as degenerative to the environment.
Despite the US government having invested billions of dollars to alternative energy sources projects in the past 4 decades, there is still no sign of a feasible alternative to fossil fuels. For this reason, opponents of alternative energy sources argue that more effort should be directed towards increasing the efficiency of the available fossil fuels instead of wasting time and money researching on renewable sources which hold little promise of providing solutions. Pearson reveals that the US government has lost billions in revenue as a result of tax breaks designed to motivate renewable energy production (1). The US government has also made enormous contributions to alternative energy sources such as the Hydrogen fuel cell engine despite a lack of support for the feasibility of such technologies (Pearson 1). While this argument does hold true in that alternative energy sources are not yet matured and hence cannot compete with fossil fuels in terms of efficiency or pricing, this should not be used as the basis to stop research into renewable sources.
Only by extensive research and investment into alternative sources can renewable energy compete and ultimately replace fossil fuels which have been in use for over a century. Alternative energy sources result in some problems which are not present with fossil fuels. Roper documents that wind towers which are praised by renewable energy lobbyist for their environmental friendliness pose a risk to the aviation industry by disrupting the radar system. Solar power plants which are characterized by huge reflective structures that are used to concentrate the suns rays also interfere with air transportation systems. Aircraft operations in particular stand the risk to be affected if reflected light beams become misdirected into aircraft pathways. This may have catastrophic results on the airplane. While these dangers are real, they can be mitigated by placing the solar power plants and wind plants away from the path which airplanes take.
This paper has argued that renewable energy sources if fully utilized can lead to an end to the world’s energy need problems and mitigate the environmental hazards that have resulted from over exploitation of fossil fueled. It has been documented that fossil fuels are not only dwindling in supply but they also have an adverse effect to the environment as a result of the greenhouse gases they emit. Through a detailed discussion of the many advantages that can be reaped from embracing alternative energy sources, this paper has proposed that resources should be channeled into alternative energy sources research so as to eventually cause fossil fuels to lose their primacy as the chief energy source. However, this paper has recognized that there are some problems that are inherent in alternative energy sources. The major problem is the pricing which is the reason why most people still favor fossil fuels.
It has been suggested that with more governmental support, this problems can be offset therefore making alternative energy sources competitive. By embracing alternative energy sources, man will not only be able to survive favorably when fossil fuel runs out but he will also safeguard his natural environment.
Bowman, Jeffrey, and Marcus Griswold.
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