How Fossil Fuel Alternatives Can Reverse Climate Change for Future Generations
230 years from now, we may run out of fossil fuel reserves at the rate of the world’s fossil fuel consumption today.
I’m not making this up. Nor did I conjure that number out of thin air.
This number emerged from the bp Statistical Review of World Energy 2020 using global data from 2019. It is based on the reserves-to-production (R/P) ratio which is defined in the report as — “if the reserves remaining at the end of any year are divided by the production in that year, the result is the length of time that those remaining reserves would last if production were to continue at that rate”.
Two centuries is still a long way to go. We won’t even be around anymore to witness that crisis. But what if by 2050, Earth will get so warm that the Arctic won’t be surrounded by ice year-long round? According to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, sea levels rise at an average of 3.3 mm per year.
Cities could disappear from the map. Researchers say that parts of Jakarta, Indonesia will be underwater by 2050. That does sound more urgent and critical. We have to act fast. Now.
But before that, let’s understand first why fossil fuels are painted as the antagonists to the 21st-century climate crisis.
What are Fossil Fuels?
Fossil fuels come from dead marine plants and animals from hundreds of million years ago. Due to natural decomposition, pressure, and heat within the Earth’s crust, they are slowly transformed into coal, oil, and natural gas. These are carbon-rich materials extracted by humans from deep in the Earth’s crust.
Fossil fuels are a potent energy source, providing about 80% of the world’s energy demand. We have established technologies that harness this energy efficiently so people have access to it anytime. But there’s a big problem — fossil fuels are not sustainable. They are finite energy sources and they damage the environment.
How Fossil Fuels Cause Global Warming
To harness electricity and power from these fossil fuels, they are burned, giving off carbon dioxide as a by-product in the process. Carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere absorbs the Sun’s heat and prevents it from leaving the Earth. On top of methane and nitrous oxide, these greenhouse gases (GHG) keep the planet warm to sustain life.
The problem is when there are too many GHG emissions from human activities. More heat gets trapped in the Earth resulting in global warming. Long-term effects of global warming lead to climate change. You know it — stronger hurricanes, flooding from heavy rains, rising sea levels, sinking cities, cold winters, and the like.
So it doesn’t matter if we still have a long way to go before fossil fuels will run out. Because even before that, we may have done too much damage to the planet already. But that damage can still be reversible if we turn to more sustainable solutions.
Sustainable Solutions with Fossil Fuel Alternatives
As a global effort to address the effects of climate change, the United Nations spearheaded world climate policies like the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement. The goal is to reduce the rise of the mean global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius (preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius). As such, countries around the world are looking for sustainable energy solutions.
With renewable energy resources, we don’t have to drill and dig deep underground to collect them — perhaps except for renewable geothermal energy. They’re abundant in the environment through the Sun’s heat, the wind breeze, water bodies, plants, and underground heat. These resources are naturally replenishable without waiting for millions of years!
Yet the challenge lies in establishing green technologies. There are still gaps when it comes to energy efficiency, storage, and grid distribution for large-scale use. But with investment in research and technology, renewable energy can power the world. It isn’t far from impossible — Iceland is a model of the world that sustainable energy is achievable.
In our own way, we can contribute to this movement by being retail investors through green investments. We can help responsible companies by funding their research so they can further improve their innovations. It will also provide the poor communities cheaper alternatives to electricity. Statistics from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in 2020 showed that prices for renewable energy get cheaper with increasing capacities. That’s one of the reasons why green technologies are worth the investment.
Low-Carbon Resources (Biomass and Nuclear Energy)
Biomass and nuclear energy are debatable when it comes to clean sustainable energy.
Nuclear energy does not contribute much to GHG emissions. But radioactive raw materials are non-renewable resources and radioactive wastes are hazardous. If you’ve seen the HBO series Chernobyl, you’ll realize it takes a lot of corporate responsibility when it comes to running a nuclear power plant.
Meanwhile, biomass and biofuels are renewable but they still have GHG emissions. Hence, bioenergy is a renewable low-carbon energy resource. Biodiesel, for example, releases significantly lower CO2 emissions compared to petroleum-based fuels. But then, there are already electricity-powered cars that cut the GHG factor. Another example is making use of agricultural and human waste through biomass energy. These organic materials are also rich in carbon which contributes to GHG emissions.
Even so, these fossil fuel alternatives are still good options that will supplement the global energy demand.
Climate Change Mitigation Projections
There are estimated projections that with the current climate policies, we’re still far from the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming below 2oC.
But these are just estimates from historical data. It won’t be a surprise when the world will make breakthroughs. We produced COVID-19 vaccines in less than a year through global effort, research, and technology. We can do the same with the climate change crisis.
Reversing climate change takes time and global effort. It’s never too late. Green technologies are already here making a difference. And before Elon Musk makes commercial flights to Mars possible, we only have one planet Earth. Let’s not take her for granted. Let’s take care of her as much as she nourishes and shelters us. Let us all take our part in slowly restoring the balance.