Today America and the world as a whole are approaching a set of problems that we all will inevitably have to deal with. We have an overpowering addiction to energy and most of that energy we currently use comes with many problems. The United States has, for a long time, enjoyed some of the cheapest and most abundantly available energy. Some figures show that a typical household of three in the United States averages a consumption of 6,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy per year (Silverman, 2007). Fossil fuels, such as coal, natural gas and oil, make up the majority of what we rely on. In 2011, fossil fuels provided 87% of the world’s energy (“Renewable energy —," 09). Fossil fuel supplies around the world are dwindling as demand is increasing (US Senate, 2010). It is estimated that there are 10,800,000 terawatts (TW) of nonrenewable energy (nuclear and fossil fuels) left in the world today (Brenner Information Group, 01). As our fossil fuel supplies dwindle and we are forced to increasingly look overseas for further supplies, and especially as their supplies dwindle, we can expect two things to happen; costs are going to skyrocket and we are going to see dramatic increases in risks to our national security and economy (US Senate, 2010). Even worse are the major contributions to global warming. For every 1 kWh of electricity produced from fossil fuel plants, there are 1.2 to 1.4 pounds of CO2 added to the atmosphere (Brenner Information Group, 01). Just this month some very sad news hit headlines, including National Geographic:
Climate Milestone: Earth’s CO2 Level Passes 400 ppm, Greenhouse gas highest since the Pliocene, when sea levels were higher and the Earth was warmer.
America’s current reliance on oil poses significant economic and national security obstacles for us today and they are only expected to get worse (US Senate, 2010). Oil also endangers our environment through the steps that we must take in collecting it, transporting it, refining it and even in its use. Today, the Gulf Coast is still dealing with the negative impacts of the BP Oil Spill. For every mile of oil pipelines we build we escalate the likelihood of another major tragedy.
Coal is cheap and domestically available, but has many of the same environmental hazards, plus the hazards faced by the miners who mine it. There is really no such thing as “Clean Coal” and there are many unintended consequences that come with the mining of coal.
Natural gas is plentiful and cleaner than oil or coal, but it still has environmental hazards and, as its use is becoming more popular, the efforts to collect it are raising new concerns in the environmental sense. Fracking will inevitably infiltrate our drinking water with the fracking chemicals and other contaminates from the ground. There are also national security implications with natural gas and there is evidence that switching to natural gas would provide the United States with the same, if not worse, situation as we have with oil (US Senate, 2010). Iran is actually a large holder of natural gas reserves, as well as other nations with similar relationships with the United States. If we end up invading Iran, it would be interesting to see how quick we move to “secure” the areas with high natural gas concentrations. This could likely be a repeat of the Iraq quagmire.