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Fossil Fuels and the Future

Fossil fuels power our society. They are responsible for the production and consumption of nearly every single thing we use and enjoy in our daily lives. Most people know at this point that carbon emissions and the use of fossil fuels are drastically affecting our planet’s climate, but there are currently no energy alternatives that can support our society like fossil fuels do. What is the solution?

Fossil fuels are natural resources found in the Earth that we burn for energy and power. Coal, petroleum, and natural gas are all examples of fossil fuels, which are responsible for powering our homes and buildings, generating electricity, and sustaining the production of goods and services. Because these resources are burned to create energy, they are non-renewable. It takes hundreds of years for fossil fuels to form inside the Earth, and “they cannot be regrown at a scale compared to their consumption,” as stated by BYJUS, an online education organization. Our consumption of fossil fuels is entirely unsustainable at the rate with which they are generated in the Earth.

Other possible energy sources have been researched for years, but none of them so far can be expected to sustain the amount of energy we require to uphold our current level of consumption. Wind and solar energy are high-cost, low-efficiency types of energy that have no chance of effectively replacing fossil fuels. Nuclear energy plants are a slightly better alternative, but are not financially sustainable for most countries. How Stuff Works declared that if nuclear power plants were to be responsible for 100% of our energy needs, “meeting the world's energy needs would cost about $24.7 trillion,” as each plant costs about $5 billion to build and we would need over 4,500 more than we already have. Even if most countries could afford to build more nuclear energy plants, there would still be the question left of how to power mass transportation. These plants provide electricity, but not the gas and oil we need to drive vehicles or coal to power trains. As of now, there are no promising energy alternatives to fossil fuels.

So, what do we do? Right now, our only option is to continue mining for fossil fuels while we search for alternatives. The issue is that the ratio of our fossil fuel consumption and its availability is drastically unstable. Our mining technology must become more advanced and efficient if we want to sustain an economy that runs on fossil fuels. Unfortunately, as reported by How Stuff Works, “surface coal and the most accessible oil reserves are already going or gone.” Mining deeper is the next step if we continue on this path, but there are many consequences to this practice. Hydraulic fracking is a newer technology that allows us to access sources of natural gas that were previously too deep inside the Earth to reach, but this process has various cons. To start, it requires large amounts of water, which is not recyclable once it’s used. Secondly, there are many environmental consequences like earthquakes and contaminated groundwater. Even this practice would need to be replaced or improved upon to become sustainable and healthy. 

We as a society are facing a serious question: how do we find an energy source that can sustain our consumption needs without destroying the planet in the process? As of now, there have not been any energy sources discovered which are able to replace the fossil fuels we burn constantly to support society. We must continue to research alternatives to fossil fuels and until we find one, advance our mining technology to keep up with our pace of consumption before it’s too late.

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