Saturday, 5 April 2014

Feature Article

Fossil Fuel Futility

The goal of sustainable development is to meet current human needs while ensuring the sustainability of natural systems and the environment for future generations (Government of Canada, 2013). The creation of sustainable communities only happens when the economy, society and environment are considered collectively and recognized as being intricately intertwined (Sustainable Measures, 2010).

The largest global non-sustainable practice in our word today is the production and use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels include coal, oil (gasoline and diesel), and natural gas and are used by industries, vehicles, heating and cooling systems, and electricity (British Columbia, n.d.). Continued fossil fuel use is an example of how social, economic and environmental factors contribute to unhealthy development practices, and steps to reduce consumption must be considered with all three of these factors in mind. The damaging results of fossil fuel production and use are well documented. According to the Ecology Global Network (2011), fossil fuel use is the number one contributor to global warming and air pollution (para. 9). As of 2011, 93% of the worlds energy needs were being met by fossil fuels (para, 5). In the United States 93% of the energy needed for electricity is obtained through burning coal, which results in “40% of pollution causing CO2 emissions to come from electricity production” (Planet Save, 2014, para. 2). The negative impacts of fossil fuel production and use are already extensive, ranging from destroyed ecosystems, melting ice fields and changes in sea level to decreased health for people and plants due to air pollution (Ecology Global Network, 2011).

So what is maintaining fossil fuel production and use? The people who are using fossil fuels. The continual global increase in population and material needs leads to an ever increasing demand for fossil fuels for transportation, manufacturing and amenities. Reducing current fossil fuel production and use is only going to happen if the consumers of this energy source change their consumption levels. As of today the conveniences offered by fossil fuels seems to outweigh the negative environmental impacts for many people. There are some activists and concerned groups forming organizations that attempt to deter multi- billion dollar fossil fuel producing companies such as Shell, BP, and Exxon from doing business. However, consumers are speaking louder than these organizations and the message is clear…keep producing. Activist groups may find that they achieve better results redirecting their resources towards making sustainable energy sources more feasible and/or educating the public about how important sustainable sources are, thereby empowering consumers to make individual decisions about energy use that can affect change on a global level. Educating community members on the importance of increasing alternate energy sources, and decreasing fossil fuel use such as the use of solar panels, buying locally from sustainably sourced materials and decreasing individual transit needs are all good examples of sustainable practices. For example, if I million Canadians worked from home for just one day every year we could eliminate about 250 million kilograms of emissions and 100 million litres of fuel (Parliament of Canada, 2010).

So what are the alternatives to fossil fuels and why don’t we use them? Although no energy source is without impact, some alternate options are sun, wind, water, bioenergy and nuclear power (Ecology Global Network, 2011, para. 17). Although the Ecology Global Network (2011) states that developing these options is a growing practice, the biggest reasons for alternate energy sources current small contribution towards global energy use is cost, demand and availability. Consumption of energy has continued to rise steadily since the Industrialization Era due to the convenience that it has provided society. The comfortable lifestyle offered to people through the use of fossil fuels as an energy source may account for the seeming lack of interest in developing alternate energy sources over the years. With the recent increases in technology, individuals are becoming more aware of the damaging environmental effects of fossil fuel production and use and are starting to look for more sustainable practices, albeit slowly.

For example, solar energy technology is ready for mainstream commercial and home use; however, the cost of solar energy is prohibitive for most community members (Ecology Global Network, 2011, para. 20). Although not without some environmental effects, wind and hydroelectric power are another sustainable energy option and can be used to produce much of a community’s electrical needs. (Energy Resource Center, 2011). Bioenergy is also a rising contender for a sustainable energy source. Bioenergy is derived from agriculture products and forestry or livestock waste and is now being used in small amounts for fuel (British Columbia, n.d.). Another powerful, sustainable and controversial energy source is nuclear power. Many countries, including Canada which currently sources 15% of its electricity from nuclear power, were planning to expand their nuclear capacity, but due to the volatility of this energy source, have put these plans on hold (World Nuclear Association, 2013).

Although no energy source is 100% renewable and non-polluting, increasing diversity in available energy sources would decrease the large negative impacts from the use of one primary source. With increased consumer interest and demand, alternate energy sources can contribute to sustainable development. Progress can be slow when structural changes are required; however, consumer decision making and community pressure on world leaders to develop policies requiring the use of sustainable energy sources may result in slowing fossil fuel production on a global level.

British Columbia. (n.d.) Fossil Fuels and Energy Use. Retrieved from

Ecology Global Network. (2011). Fossil Fuels vs. Renewable Energy Resources. Retrieved from

Energy Resource Center. (2010). Hydroelectricity. Retrieved from

Government of Canada. (2013). Environment Canada. Retrieved from

Parliament of Canada. (2010). House of Commons Debates Number 103: Work from Home Day. Retrieved from

Planet Save. (2014). Global Warming Effects and Causes: A Top 10 List. Retrieved from

Sustainable Measures. (2010). Introduction to Sustainable Development. Retrieved from

World Nuclear Association. (2013). Nuclear Power in Canada. Retrieved from

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