Related: (’07)Is it possible to protect the environment when many countries require increasing amounts of energy to progress?
(Introduction) A popular Saudi Arabian proverb runs: “My grandfather rode a camel, my father drove a car, I fly a jet plane, my son will ride a camel.” This saying is reflective of mankind’s current energy situation; we, as a species, have already consumed 1.5 earth’s worth of resources. If we continue to consume at our current level of energy consumption, earth’s resources will not last us for long. In view of this, some say that every possible energy source should be fully exploited, to get as much energy possible out of the limited resources. But, I feel, this should not be the case. This is because, exploitation of certain energy sources, such as fossil fuels, will actually fuel the sustainability problem and cause many environmental problems. Hence, instead of exploiting every energy source blindly, we should focus on developing alternative energy sources, namely, renewable, nuclear energy, while cutting back our reliance on fossil fuels, and also use energy more efficiently and conservatively.
(Refute 1) Some argue that every possible source should be exploited. This is because, even at the present, people in some places do not have enough energy to sustain their daily livelihoods. Reports estimate that one person in five still lacks electricity (1.3 billion people). Nearly forty percent of the world’s population (3 billion people), still rely on traditional sources of energy, such as wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste for cooking and heating. Given that the present energy needs are still not met, and that future needs are going to increase (International Energy Agency’s annual World Energy Outlook forecast that global energy demand will increase 37% by 2040), the world does not have leeway to slow down exploitation. Every possible energy source needs to be exploited to solve the current, more urgent problem of bringing these people and countries out of their energy shortage situation first. Developed countries, with higher technology, should start using more renewable energy sources, leaving developing countries with more fossil fuels to meet their basic energy needs. As developing countries become more affluent and technologically advanced, they should also use more renewable energy. As seen, there is no possible way for exploitation of energy to slow down. If the world still leaves some energy sources untouched, the current energy shortage problem will only compound, and future will be even bleaker. Hence, exploitation of all possible resources is justified.
(Supporting 1) However, I beg to differ. Energy sources, especially fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, should not be fully exploited, as this method is unsustainable. On the surface, exploitation may seem to reduce the energy problem, but the issue of sustainability worsens. Fossil fuels are limited and are expected to vanish soon. The world could still have oil reserves that would fill 800 million barrels. But it is getting scarcer, and current estimates suggest we will run out between 2025 and 2070. Current natural gas deposits fill around 6000 trillion cubic feet that could, with the current level of usage, last for about 50 years. Coal has the greatest reserves, spread all over the Earth. If we carry on using coal at the same rate as we do today, we could have enough coal to last well over a thousand years. However, as other fossil fuels run out, particularly oil, the use of coal may increase, reducing that time span considerably. As shown, energy sources are depleting, and will all not last long, being substitutes of each other. Once exploited, there will be even less remaining, causing people to be even more frantic in their exploitation of the remaining few deposits, creating a vicious cycle that will only drive up the prices of these scarce resources and prevent people who really need energy from getting it. Hence, exploitation is unjustified.
(Supporting 2) Furthermore, energy sources such as fossil fuels create environmental damage, so they should not be fully exploited. From exploitation of fossil fuels, there has been a huge damage to the environment. Extraction process for oil destroys natural habitats, while its refining process requires the use of toxic chemicals. Mercury contamination, ozone pollution and acid rain stem from the burning of coal. The burning of such fossil fuels also contribute to global warming, as carbon dioxide, a gas that traps heat below the earth’s atmosphere, is emitted, causing a greenhouse effect. Hence, exploitation is unjustified.
(Alternative 1- use more carefully) Alternatively, they could be fully exploited, but exploited more carefully to protect the environment. Instead of selfish, careless exploitation of these resources, more care could be taken to make sure that the process is more environmentally friendly, either by capturing the harmful by-products, or by eliminating them altogether. For instance, Carbon Capture and Storage, a process that captures the carbon dioxide generated from fossil fuel power stations and other energy intense industrial processes and stores it underground, stops it from entering the atmosphere. Fracking, the process where rock is fractured apart by the high pressure water mixture to extract oil and gas, can also be carried out more carefully, to prevent potentially carcinogenic chemicals from escaping and contaminating groundwater around the fracking site.
(Alternative 2- target use of alternative sources) As such, instead of exploiting every possible energy source (fossil fuels), alternative energy sources such as renewable energy, nuclear energy should be made to better use. This is because, these energies are cleaner and more sustainable compared to fossil fuels. Sources such as strong winds, heat within earth, moving water, and solar energy can provide a vast and constant energy supply, without greenhouse gas and net carbon emissions. They do not generate waste products such as carbon dioxide and other more toxic by-products, dramatically reducing toxic air pollution. Nuclear energy is similar, and the amount of energy released is about 60,000,000 times as much as when a carbon atom burns. As seen, these energy sources have great potential (in generating energy), and are better than fossil fuels in the sense that they do not face the problem of scarcity, and pose less of a threat to the environment. However, they are still not used extensively. Still, about 80% of energy comes from fossil fuels. Hence, I feel that more targeted effort should be put into the usage and development of these energy sources, instead of traditional resources.
(Alternative 3- change consumer habits) Lastly, we should not exploit every energy source, because, ultimately, to sustain our energy, a reduction in energy demand through improved energy efficiency and conservation is the best (and only) solution. While energy sources provide solutions to the world’s energy woes, it is but a neutral force that requires people to utilize in meeting the goal of energy sustainability. Hence, it is pertinent to instead correct our use of energy sources. Specifically, we should use energy more efficiently and conservatively. However, since many have become used to using energy wastefully, there is a need for government coordination to change our consumerist behavior. This will involve stricter product regulations as well as public education programmes to encourage people to think differently about energy. Governments should also address the issue of financing, providing cheap loans to households and small businesses with which they can carry out the necessary improvement works. For example, Cleantech, a division of the Economic Development Board Singapore that offers assistance to businesses that specialize in clean technology is a good example of what government can work towards.