So here we are, one foot on the bow of the sinking ship Fossil Fuel, the other on the bow of the U.S.S. Renewable Energy. We've spent centuries dependent on the black blood of the Earth, on mountains of coal and warrens of tunnels sunk deep into the buried remnants of a prehistoric past. Science and technology have blossomed under the glow of its burning brilliance. Can this momentum -- and the civilization it supports -- really continue by relying solely on renewable power sources such as sunshine and wind?
Indeed, it's one thing to supplement energy production with renewable sources, quite another to replace fossil fuels entirely. In 2007, fossil fuels accounted for nearly 72 percent of the United States' electric power production, while hydroelectric power supplied only 5.8 percent and other renewables supplied a mere 2.5 percent [source: Manhattan Institute]. Those are daunting numbers, especially when you factor in Energy Information Administration estimations that fossil fuels and uranium will still provide 85 percent of the nation's electricity in 2030.
But just as it would be unreasonable to think renewable sources could take the reins now, it's equally unreasonable to think they can't eventually facilitate an end to fossil fuel dependency. There's only so much oil and coal in the Earth, after all, and global warming concerns only punctuate the need for a new direction.
No one is arguing that a solar-powered bra will save the planet, but again, it's one small step in an effort to spread a message and promote an emerging technology. Likewise, any given renewable energy source, be it based on the sun, wind, tides or biomass, is essentially just one part of a larger effort to curb fossil fuel dependency. When possible, cleaner methods of harvesting and using fossil fuels should play a role in the effort, along with better power management and reduced consumption.
The transition from the sinking ship to the vessel of the future may take longer than we'd like. We might have to live with both for a while, no matter how much we'd like to see the oil age vanish beneath the waves. Even more challenging, we may have to let some of our cherished possessions and ways sink with it.
Explore the links below to learn even more about renewable energy and the possibilities for a sustainable future.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
More Great Links
- "Dirty Coal Power." The Sierra Club. 2009. (July 24, 2009)http://www.sierraclub.org/cleanair/factsheets/power.asp
- GE Energy Consulting. "The Effects of Integrating Wind Power on Transmission System Planning, Reliability and Operations." New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. March 4, 2005. (July 24, 2009)http://www.nyserda.org/publications/wind_integration_report.pdf
- "How much does the Federal Government spend on energy-specific subsidies and support?" Energy Information Administration. Sept. 7, 2008. (July 24, 2009)http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/energy_in_brief/energy_subsidies.cfm
- McDermott, Matthew. "Five Dire Green Myths Causing the Greatest Global Harm." Treehugger. Dec. 3, 2008. (July 24, 2009)http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/12/five-dire-green-myths-causing-the-greatest-global-harm.php
- "Most Popular Wind Power Myths." WhrilyWInd.org. 2008. (July 24, 2009)http://www.whywind.org/pb/wp_a1b4e1bf/wp_a1b4e1bf.html
- Silverstein, Ken. "Behind the 'Clean Coal' Blitz." Harper's Magazine. April 21, 2009. (July 24, 2009)http://www.harpers.org/archive/2009/04/hbc-90004823
- "Solar Energy Technologies Program: Learning About PV: The Myths of Solar Electricity." U.S. Department of Energy. July 15, 2008. (July 24, 2009)
- Thornley, Drew. "Energy & The Environment: Myths and Facts." The Center for Energy Policy and the Environment at the Manhattan Institute. 2009. (July 24, 2009)http://www.manhattan-institute.org/energymyths/myth2.htm
- "Unmasking the truth behind 'clean coal.'" Green Peace. 2009. (July 24, 2009)http://www.greenpeace.org/seasia/en/campaigns/climate-change/climate-impacts/coal/the-clean-coal-myth
- "Wind Energy Myths." U.S. Department of Energy. May 2005. (July 24, 2009)http://www.windpoweringamerica.gov/pdfs/wpa/wpa_factsheet_myths.pdf
- "Wind Energy: Top Myths About Wind Energy." BWEA. 2007 (July 24, 2009)http://www.bwea.com/energy/myths.html
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