Since the beginning of industry humans have been in search of fuel to power machines and generate energy. Fossil fuels, such as crude oil and coal, discovered beneath the Earth s surface were found to be an excellent source of fuel. These fossil fuels are burnt in order to generate the energy required to complete various tasks. However, we are now realizing the problems that are created by using fossil fuels to generate energy. These problems are so great that they will force humans to find an alternative source of energy in order to avoid the inevitable disasters that lie ahead.
Every day millions of people drive their automobiles to work where they spend the day in a well lit workspace. Yet, they never give a second thought to the source of the energy that their daily lives depends on. Over eighty-five percent of the energy that powers the planet is derived from the burning of fossil fuels (Information 16). Fossil fuels contain impurities and these impurities such as sulfur also burn and produce potentially dangerous oxides which are released into the air (Burning www 1). Releasing these oxides into the air has many consequences including smog, which is the most noticeable of these problems. The hazy smog that hangs over us in the summer is actually ground level ozone; the most harmful pollutant of our air (Information 59). Pollutants of the air we breathe are very dangerous and cause many problems especially to people with breathing disorders. For instance, the E.P.A. estimates that emissions of toxic material like these oxides cause some 2000 cancer deaths a year (Information 61).
The rainwater that falls through this polluted air also poses a major risk. Industrial plants and automobiles emit chemicals that mix with the moisture in the atmosphere and form acids that eventually fall to the Earth (Information 89). The same sulfur and nitrous oxides that cause the smog at ground level form nitric and sulfuric acids in the atmosphere (Burning www 1). Upon arrival to Earth this acidic rain damages everything that is falls on. The evidence of acid rain is extremely visible in the damaged forests, polluted soil, and the contaminated plants and animals that are spread around the globe. This acid rain is so damaging it is also blamed for destroying the ancient Greek structures that have previously remained intact (Burning www 2).
To add to the list of health and environmental problems associated with the burning of fossil fuels, global warming is also a major threat. Human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, are altering the chemical composition of the atmosphere (EPA 1). Carbon dioxide along with many other gases are building up in the Earth s atmosphere which, traps heat and is causing the Earth s temperature to increase (EPA 1). Since the industrial revolution the snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere and floating ice in the Arctic Ocean have decreased due to global warming. This melt-off has also caused the world s sea level to rise over four inches in the past century (EPA 2).
Besides the health and environmental problems caused by the burning of fossil fuel there are many other problems. One of the most pressing of these problems is the undeniable fact that fossil fuels are an exhaustible resource that will eventually run out (Cole 28). When the worlds supply of fossil fuels runs out there is no way to replenish this non-renewable resource and the world will be forced to find an alternative energy source. However, there is debate over how long we have before we exhaust our source of fossil fuels. The majority of all scientists in this field agree that there is a 95% possibility that the worlds remaining oil resources will last sixty-three more years at the current rate of consumption (Oil 1). In other words, in the near future the world must begin to rely on a new energy source to ensure our survival.
There are a number of renewable energy sources available to replace the problematic fossil fuels. Renewable energy is a term used to describe energy that comes from sources which can be regenerated, and are, therefore, virtually unlimited (Information 136). Sun, wind, water, vegetation, and heat from the Earth are all sources of renewable energy that can be used to generate useable energy. The most versatile and practical of these energy sources is wind energy. Using large windmills that are placed in areas in which they receive ample wind to produce energy generates wind energy. This type of energy is already in use in many areas; however, it is still only produces a small fraction of the energy used in the world (AWEA 1). As a global society we are headed in the right direction. During 1999 more wind energy generators were installed than in any other year in history (AWEA 1). These energy producing wind farms do not emit climate altering, acid rain forming pollutants, respiratory irritants, or nuclear waste (AWEA 1). Unfortunately many Americans do not believe that renewable energy can be deployed on a large enough scale to displace significant quantities of oil coal, or natural gas (Cole 1).
There is no real option for the world other than to develop the new technology needed to produce enough energy to displace a large amount of the fossil fuels used today. At the current rate that the world is consuming energy the problems that are occurring are only going to grow and cause further destruction (Cole 98).
Burning Fossil Fuels.
Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing Co. 1995.
Environmental Protection Agency. Global Warming.
Oil Supplies Are We Really Running Out? Http://www.ap.org.edu/oilsup.htm