Energy Needs and Environmental Constraints


As countries grow economically their need for energy consumption shoots up. Energy is an essence of today’s civilization. With society’s progress increases the requirement of power and empirically more developed countries are the largest consumers of energy. With heavy dependence on available nonrenewable sources of energy such as coal, oil and natural gas that emit carbon dioxide, the world environment is becoming more polluted. The fundamental reason for damaging the environment is the greenhouse-gas released from the massive use of fossil fuels.

As opined by S. Julio Friedmann, global energy consumption is projected to double by 2035 based on 2004 estimates which is likely to triple by 2055. This consumption pattern is least likely to undergo substantial change in the foreseeable future although new technologies are being developed for efficient use of energy resources. There is no matching between growing demand for energy and the simultaneous innovation made in vital clean energy technologies.

The world is changing for worse environmentally for which mankind is solely responsible. Climate change, a consequence of global warming i.e. rising temperature causing distortion in weather patterns, is the result of excessive use of fossil fuels that emit carbon oxide in the atmosphere. Since industrialization necessitates continued use of power, which is not going to be supplied adequately from renewable sources like wind, solar and nuclear power, there is hardly any viable alternative to be dependent on carbon dioxide-releasing fuel. In 2010 the world emitted 35 billion tons of man-made carbon dioxide to the atmosphere about 70 times weight of all human beings on earth, a contention made by S.Julio Friedmann.

The Fourth Assessment Report issued by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the latest available scientific document on the subject, has shown overwhelming consensus on the role of greenhouse (GHG) gases on bringing about climate change with attendant adverse effects on human civilization. As per that finding of the scientists, GHG is the major component of observed climate change. The report enumerates a few notable consequences emanating from rising temperature globally.

The acceleration of the shrinking of the Greenland ice cap, the loss of Arctic sea ice are some of the demonstrable effects resulting from climate change.

Energy technology has not evolved in commensurate with the intensity of the problem of carbon dioxide. New nuclear reactor research has continued nonetheless. Nuclear power is cleaner as it does not emit carbon dioxide but its viability as a credible source of power has recently been questioned in the aftermath of Fukushima nuclear plant accident, which is tsunami-induced. Consequently, Japan has delayed the deployment of new nuclear technologies. Furthermore, nuclear power is associated with possible security risks because of radioactive waste it produces. From such waste plutonium can also be extracted through scientific process which again may be used by terrorist to make dirty bombs.

No single source of energy offers a viable solution to the mounting problem of environmental degradation. Solar energy is estimated to be 3-8 times more expensive than coal or gas power. Nuclear power is almost twice as expensive as fossil fuel energy. Wind energy like solar energy, poses a power-density problem, and it supplies power only intermittently, when the wind blows. Therefore, both on a global and national basis, the fossil-fuel fraction of energy supply has not changed substantially and emissions have continued rising even with much more renewable supply.

Against this worrisome backdrop the news that an emerging economic power like China, now considered to be the world’s second largest emitter of carbon dioxide, is demonstrably focusing on promoting renewable energy is encouraging. Interestingly, China has been seeing its economy grow over 50% in seven years with more than 250 million people moving into the cities. Undisputedly, growth and urbanization trends have been driven by energy supply in the country, which is planning to produce 100000 megawatts of wind power, 50000 megawatts of nuclear power and 20000 megawatts of solar power investing $400 billion with no emission of carbon dioxide. Nevertheless, as pressed by her industrial energy needs, China continues to rely on coal, a pollutant source of energy that is enviously cheaper than all the aforementioned sources of renewable energy.

Being fully aware of environmental risks posed by climate change which is carbon dioxide-induced, China is also showing immense interest in developing Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology, which is a way to store carbon dioxide in a benign form and in a safe place , allowing the continued use of fossil fuels without the dreadful effects of climate change.

Considering the value of CCS technology and the compulsion of present world having to continue to rely on fossil fuels like coal, S. Julio Friedmann further argues that with the right economic incentives and regulatory framework sequestration can be made attractive to investors and accordingly developed more widely. In this regard the remarks made by Lord Ox burgh, the Chairman of the British arm of the Royal Dutch/Shell group back in 2004 are relevant. He then said,” Sequestration is difficult. But if we don’t have it, I see little hope for the world”.

Scientists contend that greenhouse gas like carbon dioxide can be sequestered like trash. Cost-wise this form of technology to mitigate or defer global warming is cheaper than developing wind and solar power. This has been proposed as a way to slow the atmospheric and marine accumulation of greenhouse gases which are released by burning fossil fuels.

While economic prosperity is inconceivable without the adequate use of energy and also in view of higher costs involved in developing different sources of renewable energy such as wind power, solar power and nuclear power, the most viable option available to fight the mounting challenge of climate change will be CCS technology, to develop which world’s leading emitters of greenhouse gases should follow the footsteps of China, which is presently investing heavily on this innovation, and the proposed technology, if fully deployed, could  manage 25-50% of global carbon reduction needs. As most of the contributors to carbon dioxide are seen shying away from binding commitments to emission reduction, they need to focus on the development of CCS technology.

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