Remember a few years ago: before the 2012 election fury, before the Euro debt crisis, before the Occupy movement, before the global financial crisis, there was a period during which global warming was the supposed issue of the century. Carbon emissions as a result of factory pollution, gasoline usage, fossil fuel burning and, frankly, a lack of concern for the environment, led to the depletion of the ozone layer, and eventually, global warming causing a plethora of repercussions threatening the livelihood of the planet and its inhabitants. However, the recent lack of media coverage of the issue does not prove that the issue has subsided — in fact, it is on the rise.
The twelve hottest years on record have come in the past 20 years, the hottest being 2010. More countries have set high-temperature records than ever before. The Arctic sea ice was the lowest it has ever been as of November 2011, when all the media was covering was Herman Cain’s sexual allegations scandal. Temperatures in northern Canada have been a whopping 20 degrees Celsius higher than normal in the past month — the same month that was clogged with Republican candidate debates and the subsequent hour-long analyses of each one. What is even more shocking is that all these changes are happening despite a year with the lowest levels of solar activity in a century, which should be making countries colder rather than warmer.
The sad truth is that we are now suffering from two very big problems: the lack of energy and the rise of global warming. History has shown, however, the habit of ignoring the latter for the former. Countries have continued to practice environmentally unfriendly acts in order to secure the most oil, including war, political maneuvers and brute force, neglecting to use renewable energy for time and cost reasons. If the US can have cheap access to the most oil, either from the Middle East, South America or domestically, they have no reason to invest in the renewable industry. This decreases the global oil supply as well as increases CO2 emissions, furthering global warming. Luckily, the solar, wind and hydroelectric industries which has grown significantly over the last few decades (with the U.S. having a renewable energy penetration level of over 16 percent — three times higher than global standards) have provided financial and employment incentives for many Americans. However, the U.S. does not nearly represent the majority of the countries in the world, which display much weaker levels of clean energy.
Let’s face it, renewable energy is an industry with an assortment of ingenious ideas that has transformed the way individuals think about gathering electricity. Having an infinite amount of energy to draw from should easily take care of the world’s energy problems, right?
Wrong. Solar power generates less than 0.5 percent of the world’s energy, and is estimated to rise to a lowly 2.5 percent by 2025. But don’t wind and water-turbine systems produce a significant portion of the global energy supply as well? Wrong again – wind accounts for less than 3 percent of the world energy market (estimated to rise to only 8 percent by 2030), and hydroelectric power accounts for only 8 percent of the U.S. market and significantly less overseas. Moreover, hydroelectricity requires the use of a dam, which has very high fixed costs, and requires a large water source. Wind power needs an environment with very windy conditions as well as a complex and expensive set of equipment to gather, manage and transport the energy. The same is true for solar power.
By 2025, we should expect about a 15 to 20 percent reliance on renewable sources for the world’s demand of energy. That is, a 75 to 80 percent reliance on nuclear power and fossil fuels, which is estimated to run out by 2060. This leads us to the question we should be asking ourselves: whether or not renewable energy can reach an 80+ percent penetration level by 2060. By most estimations, the answer is no.
So, in this struggle to meet the demands of global energy, what needs to be done? Two strategies come to mind: either, (1) attempt to eliminate the dependence on nuclear and fossil fuel energy by using renewables by 2060, or (2) decrease the global demand of energy and consumption in order to allow for more time to bring renewable energy to the market. So far, countries seem to be ignoring the effects the average consumer has on energy consumption and relying on the economic incentives of clean energy to whisk away dependence on fossil fuels. The fact is that clean energy is expensive, and until the price of oil rises to a high enough level (after which it may be too late), the industry will have a tough time incentivizing a global initiative.
How often do you judge your actions based on their level of environmental friendliness? An American’s average CO2 emission level is tied very closely to his or her age. Spending, eating, living and transportation habits all account for how friendly one is towards the environment. At 20 years old, the average American emits around 8 tons of CO2 per year, at 40, 12 tons and at 60, an American peaks at 15 tons. A recent study shows that an individual can reduce his or her carbon emissions by nearly half by simply making environmentally-conscious decisions: changing their eating, spending and consumption habits. However cliché it may be, the “carbon footprint” is a reality.
The global climate change and energy crisis is daunting to say the least. The pressure that the world will face in the coming years will be immense. The lack of energy has created wars and galvanized conflict, causing genocide and oppression. Sadly, it may only get worse. Still, the rise of renewable energy is astounding. China has recently expanded its solar industry despite economic losses and the US continues to develop its clean energy industries. However, the issue may still require additional attention from the media, illiciting action from average individuals like us. After all, it is our world that we live in, enjoy and prosper from; it is not a stretch of the imagination to say that we “owe” planet Earth.
Harshil is a first-year. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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