While coal and other fossil fuels were taken for granted as being inexhaustible, an American geophysicist M. King Hubbert predicted, back in 1949, that the fossil fuel era would be very short-lived and that other energy sources would need to be relied upon. Hubbert predicted that fossil fuel production, oil in particular, would reach it’s peak starting in 1970 and would go into steady decline against the rising energy demands of the population. Indeed, if you recall from Part 1, one of the results of the Industrial Revolution was an increase in population. Kudos to Hubbert because, as it turns out, the decline in production started in the United States in 1971 and has spread to other oil producing nations as well.
Industrial Revolution to Renewable Revolution
The principle of environmental unity is that a change in one system will cause changes in others, kind of like a domino effect. As we move toward renewable energy sources, the environment will follow. We are not saying that it will happen overnight, but it will do much to make up for the harm done to the environment by fossil fuels.
For this new revolution, we have clean(er) energy options. Despite nuclear energy's role as a significant power supply source, it is highly unlikely it will survive past the 21st century, especially since the recent Japanese disaster. Many people are against it and storage of its highly radioactive wastes is difficult and costly. Some of the most popular and prominent sources are solar, wind, hydroelectric, and thermal sources of energy. Hydroelectric is perhaps the most commonly used, but other renewables are catching up.
Walking on Sunshine
The Sun holds the greatest potential to meet the world’s energy demands, but it will take a change in the technological, political, and economic landscape for it to be realized. Technology and economics are moving along, but there are still politics to contend with. Climate change, rather than being presented as scientific fact, is being used as a hot-button “issue” in partisan politics. But there is always hope! According to Neil deGrasse Tyson:
[t]he good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.
Rooftop solar, as well as other forms of solar energy, are becoming more and more popular, especially as advances in technology are making it more efficient. But the solution is not necessarily JUST solar. The most reasonable answer for our indefinite energy needs lies in a cohesive, sensible, and ecologically sustainable combination of the green resources available to us. Success can be achieved only through the use of renewable energy in ways that will ensure the healthy sustainability of Earth’s life systems.