Environmental Science 1136
Do you think we can develop renewable energy resources to replace fossil fuels without great social, economic, and environmental disruption?
The transformation from fossil fuels as our main source of energy to renewable sources of energy will be a gradual and slow process. Societies and economies will be changed, but with positive results, as the access to renewable resources such as solar and wind are available to everyone. As technology progresses up the steps of Moore’s law1, the required hardware necessary to harness the free energy of the sun and wind will become cheaper and more efficient. Entire economies will be transitioned from needs based to provider, however environmental destruction will remain flat or worsen as the world continues to grow and consume natural resources for food.
What steps would we need to take?
As Americans we lead the world in innovative technology. But we also consume the most energy. This means we alone have the greatest opportunity at present to change how the world uses and gathers energy. To do so means funneling government funds towards research, innovation incentive programs and grants, and providing people with an understanding that fossil fuels damage our present environment, and our children’s future environment. As of today the challenge is not convincing Americans we should use less fossil fuels, it’s how to make the change more convenient. Americans are only afraid of one thing and one thing only – inconvenience.
Will market forces alone suffice to bring about this transition, or will we need government?
There are more and more people enrolled at colleges and universities across the country, learning about technology and innovation and the human impact on our shared environment. These educated consumers continue to innovate new technology based on the knowledge they gained in school and build companies and energize our energy industry with new ideas and potential. Since the introduction of environmental movements of the 1970’s, technology and the quest for renewable resources has progressed hand in hand. Market forces will continue to drive innovation and efficiency because corporations drive towards efficiency.
However, corporations are built to drive efficiency to build profit at all costs. This means if there is no cost to polluting, then the corporation can continue polluting. In microeconomics there is a term “negative externality” whereby the net effect a polluting industry has on it’s bottom line is both negative and outside of it’s direct control. This term and understanding is somewhat new however, and so the market forces responsible for creating the majority of these negative externalities are slow to change.
International governmental treaties will need to drive a greater understanding of the effects fossil fuels have on our shared planet, while social media will bring about an awareness of the terrible toll air and water pollution takes upon our “free markets”.
Governments are already responsible for impacting and changing our energy usage by providing tax breaks and incentives to fossil fuel industries such as oil, natural gas and coal. For some to argue that government cannot or should not take a role in providing these same incentives to “green” technologies while at the same time feeling comfortable with heavily subsidized $3.50/gallon gas is hypocritical and predictably moronic.
Do you think such a shift will be good for our economy? Why or why not?
The American economy is already benefiting from the transition away from dirty pollutants as energy sources. Every day more and more technology companies are inventing new ways to use renewable and sustainable sources of energy in our everyday lives, and exporting it. In fact, several environmental disasters due to oil or coal slurry spills in the last 10 years have very negatively impacted the local economy. People are starting to wake up and realize the way we made energy 150 years ago is no longer viable, and hasn’t been since the 1950’s.
1. Moore’s Law – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore’s_law