It is widely acknowledged that fossil fuels have driven our technological, economic, and social progress for many decades. So our dependence on them is natural and obvious. But before dreaming up a future world (a utopia if you will), powered by fossil fuels, we need to look at the world around us. Surely rising temperatures, melting glaciers, confronting images of ice sheets crashing into lakes and rivers, and the chaotic seasonal changes worldwide must have alerted you that something is amiss. And unfortunately these issues are not temporary – they are here to stay. And what is most upsetting is that we are responsible for these changes.
We are responsible for global warming
The alarming volumes of pollution caused by human activities have led to the formation of a layer of greenhouse gases over our atmosphere, which prevents the heat from dispersing. Thus, the environmental heat increases, causing climate change. Carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide are a few of the gases that cause this. And guess what? They come from burning fossil fuels. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, consisting of a board of the most eminent climate scientists from all over the world, detailed in their fifth assessment that human activities in the past 50 years are the most probable cause of global warming. Our industrial growth has further increased fossil fuel extraction rate ignoring any and all safety parameters. And due to global warming:
- glaciers are melting, raising the sea level;
- crop yields are falling;
- rain and snowfall have increased globally (on average);
- disasters like flash floods and cloudbursts have become rampant;
- hurricanes and other storms have also become stronger and more devastating;
- floods and droughts are becoming more frequent and long lived;
- increased contamination in the water is reducing fresh water supplies; and
- contamination in the air is increasing our vulnerability to diseases, especially in the lungs.
In one word, our planet is in peril. And so are we.
Our energy usage
Energy supply through fossil fuels rose from 6,100 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) in 1971 to about 13,700 Mtoe by 2014. And coal is still the second-largest energy source worldwide. Furthermore, an increasing world population (estimated to be 7.4 billion as of August 2016) will need more and more energy in the future.
If we continue to pollute our planet’s atmosphere, we will witness terrible natural consequences, and possibly extinction-level events. Moreover, we need to factor in that fossil fuel supplies are limited: If we depend on them to build our future, we will eventually run out.
We need to leverage our technological growth to sustain our environment. Simply planting more trees won’t do in light of the increasing population. We need to change our energy supply and shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy as soon as possible to avert catastrophe.
Our World can change
The effects of using fossil fuels are not subtle anymore, and we are at the position where we can make a positive decision to save our planet, or a different decision will be imposed on us by nature. Fortunately, the world has realised the importance of giving up fossil fuels and moving towards renewable energy. Countries are now promoting the fact that leaving fossil fuels won’t clip our wings or take away our wheels, and we can keep all we have achieved and continue to move forward with renewable energy. Countries like Germany, China, Brazil, USA, the UK, Japan, and India are racing to lead the global renewable energy revolution. Amongst the forms of renewable energy sources, solar has witnessed an incredible growth worldwide and continues to do so.
A massive 242 GW of cumulative solar energy was installed in 2015, which gives rise to the expectation of surpassing 300 GW in 2016. Countries like China, Germany, and India are proactively backing solar growth with supportive government policies and incentives.
For example, we can see that India, which had 18 MW of solar energy installations in 2010, ramped up to 8.06 GW in 2016! Collaborations between government departments dedicated to increasing solar installations as well as private players has made this happen. However, to make renewable energy a secure replacement for conventional fossil fuels, countries need to invest more in ‘changing the energy situation one home at a time’, which means focusing on rooftop solar growth. Although Indian rooftop solar grew at a CAGR of 98% in the last four years, standing at 1,020 MW (as of September 30, 2016), it is still not close enough to bring light to the farthest corners of the country.
So, although many countries have taken decisive action in promoting the renewable energy transition, they should not rest on their laurels. They need to invest even more for the sake of the common interest in minimising fossil fuel usage worldwide. And eventually we can eliminate the idea of using fossil fuels at all.