Fossil fuels propelled the industrial revolution over the last two hundred years which has brought wonderful advantages, comforts, and life-enhancing amenities, and some challenges as well. Development can be exciting and beneficial. It is important to look comprehensively at the costs associated with different methods of development because of the numerous options available in this day and age, so that enterprise can serve the greatest good.
Until the 1960′s and 70′s with the Clean Air and the Clean Water Acts, policy makers in America were not too concerned about the human and environmental costs of development. Bigger, better, faster were the concerns. During recent decades pollution and deforestation have become more severe and weather patterns more erratic so that the damage we do to nature can no longer be ignored.
Modern urban human life requires energy. Modern conveniences demand it. Taking this need for fuel into account, where will we get it? Well traditionally we have gotten it from oil, coal, and natural gas aka the fossil fuels http://carbonnationmovie.com/. We owe so many of our modern advancements to fossil fuels, and yet we must begin to wean off of them http://permaculture-media-download.blogspot.com/2011/02/power-of-community-how-cuba-survived.html.
Gigantic hydroelectric dams http://www.internationalrivers.org/node/4292 built on rivers destroying regions upstream and down (for example the Three Gorges dam in China http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9aU43suUvg&feature=player_embedded which displaced more than one million people) have also been used to generate electricity. Side effects of dams can be refugees, increased landslides and waterbourne diseases, and decreased biodiversity.
In recent decades nuclear power has been part of the energy picture as well. Despite scientific genius, nuclear power poses a serious problemhttp://www.ratical.org/radiation/IntoEternity/. Its byproducts like Iodine-129 can remain toxic for hundreds of thousands of years. Cobalt-60, another byproduct, is dangerous for only 5 years, but during that time close exposure to just 1 gram for a few minutes can be lethal. And there are over 430 nuclear plants worldwide http://www.beyondnuclear.org/human-rights/. Three Mile Island in 1979 in Pennsylvania was America’s biggest national nuclear accident that cost $975 million and 14 years to clean up and remove radioactive material. Other nuclear diasters include Chernobyl in 1986 in Ukraine, and Fukushima Daiichi in 2011 in Japan.
A review of nuclear energy policy around the world occurred after the Fukushima accident. Italy banned nuclear power. Germany decided to close all its reactors by 2022. Switzerland also decided to phase out nuclear at the end of the lifetime of its existing reactors (nuclear power plants have a 40 year max lifespan). And in September 2011, German engineering giant Siemens announced that as a result of the Fukushima catastrophe it would withdraw entirely from the nuclear industry and would no longer build nuclear power plants anywhere in the world. Australia, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, New Zealand, Austria, Sweden, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Malaysia, and Israel are all opposed to nuclear power. Another drawback of nuclear is that it increases the availability of nuclear weapons material because uranium is used for both nuclear power and weapons. Uranium mining http://www.chiptaylor.com/ttlmnp2665-.cfm is hard on the environment http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhrWCGIlku4.
The US has created 70,000 tons of nuclear waste over the past sixty years, and no one can figure out what to do with it because it is so deadly. The most popular suggestion is to stick it in a mountain near Las Vegas called Yucca Mountain which would require 40 miles of tunnels. The US has at least 108 sites designated as areas that are contaminated and unusable, sometimes many thousands of acres, due to nuclear power.
In examining the fossil fuels- oil, coal, and natural gas- there are a number of reasons why they are not sustainable http://www.blindspotdoc.com/. They are all found underground and must be mined or drilled for which can be quite disruptive http://www.crudethemovie.com/trailer-and-photos/.Their supplies are finite, meaning there will come a time when we have taken all there is to take out of the earth http://www.postcarbon.org/. And getting them requires that we displace people (often not compensating them for the loss of their land) and demolish ecosystems http://www.globalissues.org/article/86/nigeria-and-oil.
In any endeavor there is always a margin of error, and when an error occurs with technology used to extract or transport these fuels, the results are devastating, like the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 in Alaska and the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. The Chilean mining accident in the coal mines of Copiapo in 2010, and the coal mine explosion in Montcoal, West Virginia in 2010 illustrate the dangers in mining for coal http://www.coalcountrythemovie.com/. Examples of natural gas accidents are the 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno, California and the 2004 pipeline explosion in Ath, Belgium http://www.gaslandthemovie.com/.
Countries are recognizing that they can address these problems by investing in renewable energy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DflgducmN4. Sustainable energy is the provision of energy that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Improving both sources of energy and energy efficiency are the goals, plus creating lots of green jobs, and more localized, small-scale power generation so there is less dependence on monopolies and less energy used in transport of fuel and electricity. Green jobs http://www.bootsontheroof.com/about-us are especially satisfying because people do not have to compromise their conscience, contaminate their environment, or sacrifice their health in order to work http://www.solarenergy.org/womens-program. Application of renewable technologies adds to the diversity of electricity sources and, through local power generation, increases the adaptability of the system and its resistance to central shocks.
Solar http://www.thesolarfoundation.org/ and wind power http://www.awea.org/ are the world’s fastest growing energy sources. Leading renewable energy companies include First Solar, Q-Cells, Sharp Solar, Suntech, Gamesa, and Vestas. There are economic, social, and environmental benefits to renewable energy http://www.siemens.com/entry/cc/en/#/newzealand. Also wave power from the coastal ocean is being developed by companies like Aquamarine Power and Pelamis Wave.
Over 400 manufacturing facilities across America make components for wind turbines, and 37 states now have installed at least some utility-scale wind power. The Roscoe Wind Farm in Texas is the largest wind farm in the US http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/solar-wind/4338280?page=2. Shepherds Flat Wind Farm in Oregon, which Google is helping to build, will be the largest wind farm in the world when completed in 2012. As of 2011, 83 countries around the world are using wind power on a commercial basis.
Solar Energy Generating Systems (SEGS) is the name given to nine solar power plants in California’s Mojave Desert, which were commissioned between 1984 and 1991. SEGS is the largest solar plant of any kind in the world.
More than 1.5 million homes and businesses currently use solar water heating in the United States. Compared to those with electric water heaters, Florida homeowners with solar water heaters save 50 to 85 percent on their water heating bills http://www.fsec.ucf.edu/en/index.php.
The global available solar energy resources are 3.8 YJ/yr (120,000 TW). Less than 0.02% of available solar resources are sufficient to entirely replace fossil fuels and nuclear power as an energy source. Solar cell production increased by 50% in 2007, and has been doubling every two years since http://cleantechnica.com/2011/05/29/ge-solar-power-cheaper-than-fossil-fuels-in-5-years/.
Sustainable biofuels are a great idea too, and can be made from things like algae http://www.oilgae.com/, sewage http://www.magnegas.com/index.html, and used vegetable oil http://www.lovecraftbiofuels.com/. Algae grows fast and has the added bonus of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere during photosynthesis. Finding a way to convert excrement into energy takes care of its disposal as well!
In airline news, more than 200 flights within Europe on Air France/KLM are expected to fly by burning used-cooking-oil biofuel. United Airlines launched its first flight, the ‘Eco Skies test flight’, powered with algae biofuel on November 7, 2011. Virgin and Alaska Airlines are also using jet biofuels, as is the US Military. The US Military has ventured into solar and wind as well http://cleantechnica.com/2012/03/21/u-s-army-gets-its-first-solar-powered-microgrid/!