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Renewable Energy: Yes or No?

By joannatravis May 06, 2013 2467 Words
Renewable Energy: Yes or No?
Joanna Fain
Eng. 122 English Composition II
April 15th, 2013

Although fossil fuels provide an inexpensive form of energy, they have been shown to pollute ecosystems, endanger animals and humans, are not sustainable, and cannot provide nearly the amount of energy that can be obtained from renewable sources.

Fossil fuels do provide an inexpensive form of energy, but in contrast, they also pollute the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, thus contributing to climate change. Global warming is primarily due to increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the single most important source of this carbon dioxide is the combustion of fossil fuels” (Bostrom, Read, & Morgan, 2010). Oil is the energy source of our time. We refine the crude, extracted oil into different products like gasoline, jet-fuel, diesel and even plastics. Fossil fuels have promoted global commerce and are behind many of the greatest technological and social innovations of our day.
“Fossil fuel is made up of, oxidized and decayed animal and vegetable materials, specifically coal, peat, lignite, petroleum and natural gas” (Sica, 2011). We retrieve these fuels from under the ground and under water and then use this for electricity. The problem with this method is the over spill into the oceans and above ground. Some of the major oil spills that have occurred that have affected our environment are: Ixtoc 1 Oil Spill, Atlantic Empress oil spill, Arabian Gulf/Kuwait, and the Gulf oil spill, to name a few. There are many more but, with just the ones mentioned in the above oil spills are equal to around 956 million gallons of oil spilled out into our oceans and land (Live Science article Top Ten Worst Oil Spills of Our Time). This alone kills all the animals and mammals living around it.

Not only is drilling for the oil dangerous, but burning the fuel is as well. Fossil fuels are bad for the environment because they create greenhouse gases, which go up in to the atmosphere, magnifying the sun's heat and can cause ice caps to melt. This is turn leads to the sea level rising, causing flooding, and if too much ice melts, animals in the Arctic could die. With the rate the glaciers are melting the earth will become warmer in this century. This warming will accelerate natural disasters with sea levels rising and causing coastal areas to flood. Other climactic changes will bring more natural disasters with stronger storms.

The environment is paying a serious price for our unbridled consumption of fossil fuels and our climate is warming at a rate that may cause irreversible consequences. Oil spills, ecological damage, pollution and human health risks are just some of the negative impacts of oil exploration, development and use. Water pollution, acid rain, and lung disease in humans are often found in industrialized areas. The overhang, or smog as we call it, is carbon monoxide gas created from fossil fuels. This gas is released into the environment, primarily from vehicles, and accumulates in the air (Kaufman & Cleveland, 2008). People breathe in the gas and it enters into the bloodstream through the lungs. When this happens, it prevents the blood from delivering enough oxygen to the body's tissues and organs. It can cause headaches, impaired vision and learning disabilities. It is particularly dangerous for individuals suffering from heart conditions and it can also cause lung disease.

While health impacts from fossil fuels are being seen in humans, fossil fuels are remaining to be the main source of energy worldwide. China and India, both of which have very large coal resources, now burn about half of all coal mined annually in the world (BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2011). Both of these countries plan to increase coal production greatly in the next few decades to fuel their rapidly growing economies. If so, we could have a run-away global climate change due to the enormous amount of CO2 they will emit.

Not only are fossil fuels detrimental to the environment, but likewise, they are a non-renewable source of energy. According to Cayo, “Given growth predictions based on current trends, "then the oil resource would last under 150 years, natural gas under 300 and coal less than 400” (Cayo, 2005). Fossil fuels take millions of years to form. The world’s energy resources may already have peaked in production and are exceeded by demand, causing skyrocketing oil prices and leading the world into a new recession. As the oil is decreasing daily our prices will rise with need. The probable effect will be high prices flowing on into every walk of life, especially the cost of food with its huge embedded fossil fuel energy costs. This will inevitably increase financial instability and produce more recessions.

Depletion of finite resources such as oil, gas, useable water and minerals is likely to impact our world well before the worst impacts of global warming. Fossil fuels are being depleted faster than can be replenished. The approaching oil crisis will have global reach, impacting the economic and cultural health of every nation. First, alternative energy sources create several benefits. Renewable energy development can create quality jobs as well as promote economic development. According to analysts, renewable energy and energy efficiency deployment costs would be revenue neutral or better, as the costs associated with energy efficiency ends up saving the country more money than the costs associated with deploying renewable energy technologies. Almost 4.5 million jobs could be created in the United States by 2030 if the government gets serious about tackling climate change (renewableenergyworld.com). Also, not only will the environment benefit, but jobs can be created through less outsourcing to foreign countries. Many renewable energy jobs would not require extra training or education. Finding new ways of making energy means encouraging new attitudes about fuel production and consumption. The idea of the oil depletion protocol is an agreement that will enable nations to reduce their dependence on oil. This will help mitigate the negative consequences of an over-reliance on cheap oil and help prepare for a global decline in the world’s oil supply. America needs more and more energy every year, whether it is fuel to create electricity or fuel for our transportation vehicles. We have all heard the debates raging in the political realm about whether or not we should drill offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to help America become more energy independent. While politicians debate over this issue, they lose sight of alternatives to oil, like wind, solar and geothermal. America will not be energy independent if all resources are used to exploit every last drop of oil on American soil. Non-renewable resources do not provide for America’s long-term energy. In years to come, people may no longer have the luxury of “pulling up to a pump” and getting gas. Humans may have to step up their commitment to environmentalism; they will have to find better solutions to save resources. If we want to live sustainably, we need to reduce the size of our environmental footprint that we are currently making. We will need to find new sources of energy to power our lives without hurting the air that we inhale.

One form of energy that can be harnessed at an almost infinite amount is solar energy. Solar energy is a renewable type of energy that is produced by the Sun. When the Sun is directly over-head, it can produce about 700 watts per square meter. Added up, the Sun can produce approximately 700 megawatts of power to an area of around 1000 square kilometers. Just 40 minutes of the Sun’s light can produce the same amount of energy we get from a year’s worth of fossil fuel use (Wright, 2008). With the majority of earth’s population focusing on fossil fuels as the major form of energy, the energy that can be obtained from renewable resources is unlimited in comparison. Just the tiny fraction of the Sun's energy that hits the Earth is enough to meet all our power needs many times over. For example, as stated in “Environmental Science, “The amount of solar energy intercepted by Earth every minute is greater than the amount of fossil fuel the world uses every year” (Kaufman & Cleveland, 2008). Like the Greeks and the Egyptians have been thought to be harnessing the power of the sun to heat whatever they wished to by concentrating on its radiation. Energy received from the sun is free and harmless to Earth and living things.

Although the sun is limitless to the places it touches, dependence exclusively on solar cells in not yet realistic, for if there were to be a cloudy day it could decrease the amount of electricity produced and that would be devastating for those individuals absolutely dependent on that power. There’s more than enough renewable energy sources to supply all of the world’s energy needs forever; however, the challenge is to develop the capability to effectively and economically capture, store and use the energy when needed. While giving incentives to renewable energies, we are benefiting from a cleaner environment and taking advantage of a resource that will not run out. The government will now give you incentives if you build a building that uses renewable energies. You can also get money back on your taxes if you buy a car that saves on gas.

Solar Thermal Technology is not the only form of renewable energy. Also, we have the technology of using wind turbines as a form of recycled solar energy. When sunshine reaches the earth, it heats the surface at different rates, and this uneven heating creates wind. A small increase in wind speed creates a large increase in wind energy. Wind turbines convert this energy into electricity. “The potential energy in the winds that blow across the United States each year could produce more than 4.4 kilowatt-hours of electricity, more than one and one-half times the electricity consumed in the United States” (Kaufman & Cleveland, 2008). North Dakota alone was shown in 2000 to have the potential to create one-third of the energy consumed in the lower forty-eight states (Kaufman & Cleveland, 2008).

Among the wide array of renewable energies, there is also geothermal energy. Geothermal energy can be used for heating and cooling. Even in northern climates, the soil maintains a temperature of around 50 degrees at about four feet beneath the earth's surface. Heat pumps move this heat energy from the soil to the house in the winter and operate in reverse in the summer, pulling heat out of the house and to the soil. Heat pumps installed in energy-efficient homes can use dramatically less electricity than conventional electric heating and cooling systems (nyserda.ny.gov). Homeowners that would want to invest in any kind of energy efficiency and renewable energy ways of heating and cooling their home should look into the return investment, and the tax cuts they would receive. These abundant and sustainable energy sources can be used to curb our need for fossil fuels. This will ensure energy independence and protect the great American outdoors that we all enjoy.

With oil prices higher than ever, alternatives to these fossil fuels make renewable energy ever more appealing. The production and use of renewable fuels has grown more quickly in recent years due to higher prices for oil and natural gas, and a number of State and Federal Government incentives. The use of renewable fuels is expected to continue to grow over the years; however, we will still rely on non-renewable fuels to meet most of our energy needs. Oil, coal, and natural gas companies acknowledge renewable energies pose a serious threat to their economic future and are taking measures to reduce this impact. They do stand to lose if global warming is said to exist without a doubt. ExxonMobil, who is the world’s largest publicly traded company, at $339 billion, its 2005 revenues exceeded the gross domestic product of most of the world’s nations, is taking making drastic steps in curbing the “green revolution” (Easton, 2009). ExxonMobil is the most profitable corporation in history, and is the biggest player in the world’s oil and gas business. ExxonMobil is also one of the largest producers of global warming pollution (Easton, 2009). ExxonMobil exerted unprecedented influence over U.S. policy on global warming from successfully recommending the appointment of key personnel in the Bush administration, to funding climate change deniers in Congress. "ExxonMobil has manufactured uncertainty about the human causes of global warming just as tobacco companies denied their product caused lung cancer," said Alden Meyer, the UCS' Director of Strategy & Policy (Melville).

Until our renewable energy sources become more viable as major energy providers, the only alternative for our global population is for these companies to continue tapping into the fossil fuel reserves to meet our energy needs. Perhaps the best solution to our growing energy challenges comes from The Union of Concerned Scientists: “No single solution can meet our society’s future energy needs. The solution instead will come from a family of diverse energy technologies that share a common thread — they do not deplete our natural resources or destroy our environment” (arizonaenergy.org). While not being able to provide nearly the energy, last as long, or operate as clean as renewable energies, fossil fuels still provide a “cheap” form of energy.

References
BP Statistical Review of World Energy (2011). BP Report Retrieved April 12th 2013 from http://www.bp.com/assets/bp_internet/globalbp/globalbp_uk_english/reports_and_publications/statistical_energy_review_2011/STAGING/local_assets/pdf/statistical_review_of_world_energy_full_report_2011.pdf Cayo, D. (2005, Nov 24). Fossil fuels not running out any time soon, argues sustainable energy advocate. CanWest News. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/460889532?accountid=32521 Cunningham, W., Cunningham, M. (2009) Principles of Environmental Science. P287 Easton, T.A. (2009). Taking Sides: Clashing Views On Environmental Issues (13th Ed.) McGraw-Hill Kaufman, R., Cleveland, C. (2008) Environmental Science. p234 Liang, J., & Fiorino, J. (2013). The Implications of Policy Stability for Renewable Energy Innovation in the United States, 1974-2009. Policy Studies Journal, 41(1), 97-118. doi:10.1111/psj.12004 Melville, K. (January 4th 2007). Scientists Slam ExxonMobil's Global Warming "Disinformation". Retrieved April 15, 2013 from http://www.scienceagogo.com/news/ 20070003212319data_trunc_sys.shtml Pompeo, M. (2013). Should Congress Extend the Production Tax Credit for Wind Energy? CON. Congressional Digest, 92(2), 19-23. Sica, A. (2011). How Fossil Fuel Effect the Environment. Retrieved April 12th 2013 from http://www.academia.edu/1204331/How_Fossil_Fuels_Effect_the_Environment Smith, Z. (2009). The Environmental Policy Paradox. P266

Tietenberg, T., Lewis, L. (2010). Environmental Economics & Policy p168. Wright, T. (2008).  Environmental Science (10th Ed.). Upper Saddle River:  Pearson    Prentice Hall www.arizonaenergy.org retrieved April 15th, 2013 from http://www.arizonaenergy.org/Data/renewable_energy__no_single_solution.htm

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