Our Reliance on Non Renewable Energy Sources

Damaging the environment, our children, our economy and our national energy security

What are non renewable energy sources?

Global Fossil Fuel EmissionsCredit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Global_co2_emissions_graph.png

Fossil fuels, thus named because they are derived from plant and animal matter that have been compressed in the Earth under layers of mud for millions of years, include coal, natural gas, nuclear power and petroleum.  The energy extracted from fossil fuels are what, for the most part, powers our homes, our cars and other means of transportation, the manufacturing of products and foodstuffs.[1718]  In the U.S. today, we are woefully dependent on fossil non renewable energy sources.  Here is a look at the ones that we use the most:

Coal is a combustible sedimentary rock that is extracted from the Earth.  Humans have been mining coal as an energy source for almost a millennia.  Today we burn coal for electricity and/or heat in addition to its industrial use in refining metals. Coal adversely affects the environment in many ways.  In particular, it is the largest single man made contributor to carbon dioxide/greenhouse gases and continues to exacerbate the effects of global warming.[1717]

Natural gas can be extracted from oil fields or from natural gas fields and historically was almost always a by product of oil.  We use natural gas today for power, transportation, fertilizers, etc  and the process for extracting and transporting natural gas is lengthy. The primary gas found in the mixture of gases we call natural gas is methane which is oxidized in the atmosphere and, while not as potent as carbon dioxide (nor does it get as much attention as CO2), is a threat nevertheless since it affects the atmosphere for a much longer period of time.[1717]

Nuclear power refers to the energy extracted from nuclear fission to generate electricity, create heat and propulsion.  The process is always a controlled nuclear chain reaction and the heat derived from nuclear fission in turn makes nuclear power an attractive energy commodity and constituted nearly 16% of the world’s electricity in 2004.[1721]  The problem with nuclear power is that it is a potential volatile energy source that, under the right conditions, can leak radiation.  Think of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of March 2011 as the most recent example of that ongoing overexposure to radioactive materials.

Petroleum is a flammable crude oil which must be refined (like in an oil refinery) and separated for use in a variety of consumer products, plastics and/or pharmaceuticals.  Because it was a readily available resource with high energy density and is fairly easy to transport, petroleum was the fossil fuel of choice for the U.S. in the second half of the twentieth century.  Petroleum is easily extracted from its reservoir although the countries with significant oil reservoirs can profoundly affect the global economy due to limiting available petroleum reserves or controlling oil prices.  Petroleum produces greenhouse gases when burned.[1722]

Non Renewable Energy Source Life CycleCredit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bc/Fossil_fuel_life_cycle.svg

The burning of fossil fuels generates nearly 22 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year and only half of that can be safely and naturally reabsorbed by the earth, leaving 10 billion tons every year of carbon dioxide contributing to radioactive forcing (negative shifts in electromagetic radiation in atmospheric levels) and accelerating global warming by heating up the earth's surface temperature.[1718]

We are consuming fossil fuels at a speed far exceeding the rate at which they can be replaced or renewedCarbon Emissions by RegionCredit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Carbon_Emission_by_Region.png (thus the blanket term for these power sources is non renewable energy sources).  Fossil fuels are bad for the environment as they pose risks to humans primarily through greenhouse gas emissions contributing the global warming.  They pose risks for our children and our children's children who will inherit the negative environmental, economic and other effects of our voracious fossil fuels use.  Finally our reliance on non renewable energy sources keeps us tethered to global fluctuations of petroleum prices or availability, putting our national energy security at risk.  It is time to wean ourselves from fossil fuels.