The need to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels has been driven by at least three distinct considerations: the impact of fossil fuels on the environment, the geopolitics of oil, and the increasing scarcity of fossil fuel resources.
The effects of carbon emissions on the climate have become undeniable and the need for action grows ever more apparent. Nevertheless, there are still many forces that stand in the way of decisive action on climate change.
In the meantime, diminishing fossil fuel resources is increasingly less of an issue. Coal, which is used to generate over 80% of the world’s electricity, is plentiful in many countries. Gas, with the advent of shale gas extraction techniques such as hydrofracking, has become an abundant resource in many parts of world.
Even oil, for which dire warnings about “peak oil” have often been sounded, appears to be more plentiful than earlier thought. It will cost more, but enhanced recovery techniques, unconventional sources such as tar sands and shale, and even coal liquefaction, all may result in no real reduction in our supply of oil in the near future.
From the standpoint of economics and geopolitics, this fossil fuel abundance appears to be good news. But from the standpoint of the environment and the climate, it presents a real problem.
Making the transition away from fossil fuels is a difficult thing for an energy-hungry world under any circumstances. With plentiful fossil fuels, individuals will have to make a deliberate choice to forgo their use and become responsible stewards of the environment.
The Age of Fossil Fuels is Far From Over
Photo, taken on March 31, 2010, courtesy of Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio. Support for Earth Wise comes from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, NY, with partial support from the Field Day Foundation.