Here’s an unpopular opinion. Please hold on to your torches and pitchforks until the end. I’m not convinced that global warming is a result of human action on the environment. Or that it’s necessarily even a Thing. I’ve seen a considerable amount of data that indicates our planet’s average temperatures are rising, but not enough to convince me it will be a permanent increase. I personally believe that we don’t have nearly enough information over a long enough period to say for sure. I find it to be entirely possible that our inherent humancentric view of the universe is leading us to blame ourselves for what may very well be completely natural.
Now, here’s the thing. I don’t think it matters. If there’s a possibility that our actions are causing our entire planet to heat up, why wouldn’t we take action? Especially if those actions make sense for our long-term welfare.
The most widely recognized cause of global warming is energy production through the burning of fossil fuels. Predictive models have indicated that our atmosphere will absorb the byproducts of all that burnt fuel and, effectively, cook the planet. Personally, I believe that there are far more variables than we could possibly account for and any predictions generated are incomplete. The closest we have to a solution is to find alternative energy sources.
Whether carbon emissions will have an enduring effect on global climate or not, we should be searching for new ways to generate power. The burning of oil, coal, and natural gasses is dirty. So is their collection, literally poisoning the ground and water where they are mined or tapped. Were we able to come up with a way to extract them from the ground in a 100% safe way there would still be the problem of the limited supplies. These things occur in nature, and we can’t create more for use in power generation. Creating synthetic versions requires energy, which needs to come from somewhere.
When I was a kid, nuclear fission was going to power the World of Tomorrow, at least until we figured out how to sustain a fusion reaction. But, thanks to a few disasters (who could have predicted that building a nuclear power facility in one of the most seismically active areas of the world could end poorly?) public sentiment has turned pretty strongly against the nuclear option.
The other option we heard a lot about was hydro-electric power generation. The problems with this have a lot to do with viability being based on local conditions; you need consistent running water to make it work. Large projects were commissioned and more than a few dams were built, causing new and exciting unforeseen ecological disasters. They’re also extremely expensive both to build and maintain. Anything that’s constantly exposed to water tends to be difficult to construct and rarely lasts very long.
Nowadays we’re hearing almost exclusively about solar and wind as the power sources of the future. Both generate “clean” energy. I use quotes, because the manufacture of the systems, and necessary power storage units, are anything but clean. Batteries wear out. What will our landfills look like in 50 years with half a century’s worth of spent batteries that powered our homes and vehicles buried in the ground? I struggle to think that they’ll be anything but toxic deadlands.
All this negative stuff I’m writing about shouldn’t lead you to believe I support continuing down the path we’re on. Far from it. I just get concerned when I hear people talk about these things like they’re solutions. They’re really not. They’re new stopgaps that will gain us more time to find truly sustainable methods of harvesting power.
Why bring up my doubts about global warming? Because, though I personally feel that current scientific leanings toward carbon emissions being a factor in climate change are correct, it doesn’t matter whether it’s the case. While I remain unconvinced, the greatest reason to move to something other than fossil fuels is the simplest. We’ll eventually run out. If you look at your refrigerator and see you’re running out of food, you don’t wait until it’s empty before going to the supermarket. At least you don’t if you’re a capable adult.
Our economic reliance on fuel, oil in particular, is not to be discounted. An overnight shift to an alternative energy source would shatter the world’s economy into a billion tiny pieces. Make no mistake. That’s not an argument against moving, it’s an argument to plan for that move. It’s an argument to wean ourselves off the teat.
It’s time to change what we’re doing. It’s time to pick up the pace. It’s time to stop arguing about the effects of our current energy usage on the environment and face up to the fact that even if burning oil cured leukemia and smelled like flowers WE DON’T HAVE AN INFINITE SUPPLY. It makes no difference if there’s a 10 year supply, 100 year supply, or 1000 year supply. It’s finite. We are going to run out. Reducing dependence will help, but it’s untenable. Particularly since we use oil for more than just fuel.
Petroleum distillates are used in a variety of applications as solvents and lubricants. In the United States, natural gas is used in the production of plastics instead of oil. The device I’m writing this on and the one you’re reading this on are both made largely of components that contain oil or natural gas. The wires carrying the data from my device to yours were coated in it. Hell, if you’re not concerned about pollution, or think we should wait to find an alternative way to power our world until after we’ve actually run out of our current fuel choices, just think about all the stuff you’ll be missing out on!
“But, gas prices are going down!” you cry, oh hypothetical reader. That has very little to do with how much oil is available in the ground. Actually, it has next to nothing to do with it. Oil prices have to do with how much is available right now along with current production levels, versus how much is being consumed. It doesn’t account for tapped out wells, because it can’t. We don’t know a well’s capacity until it stops producing, and by then it’s a little late. The professionals just make educated guesses, and the good guessers are paid very handsomely. (Yes, I know that’s an oversimplification, but I’ve gone 1000 words without being overly hyperbolic. Cut me some slack.) For all we know, every single oil well on the planet could run dry within 5 years. That’s remarkably unlikely (like, holy crap is that unlikely) but possible.
Can we please stop arguing about whether burning oil is effecting the environment? Please? We all admit that it’ll eventually run out. We all know it’s messy and destructive when we pull it out of the ground. No one wants to live next to a power plant and none of us like the smog produced by automobiles. So, let’s just table the human-caused climate change debate. Because it doesn’t matter. We’ve got enough reasons to move on.