Why swap to renewable resources?

Andrew Hsu – Year 7 Student (7EAC)

Editor’s Note: Andrew went well above and beyond what was required as part of his current work in geography looking at the provision of energy and the move towards a low-carbon future. Andrew has produced a generally accurate and very coherent, well-structured essay that also incorporates topics that are not formally studied in geography until Year 8 (sustainability) and Year 9 (population). For this remarkable effort Andrew was presented with the department’s ‘Geographer of the Week‘ award. CJW/CPD

The Earth is getting polluted by the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the use of fossil fuels. Also, fossil fuels are running out. The usage rate is also increasing because there are more and more people on Earth. If we do not swap to renewable energy sources such as geothermal, water and wind, there will be a major problem in future generations. Here are some reasons why we need to use renewable alternatives:

It is expected that by the year 2050 the population on Earth will be around 9 billion people. This means Earth will need to accommodate 2 billion more people. From 10 thousand years ago until around 1800, the population had been stable at around 1 billion people because the birth and death rates were similar, but since the 1800s health care has become more advanced, reducing death rates. Therefore, the birth rates will be higher than the death rates and the population has grown. Since the last 200 years, the population has increased 7x, causing resource consumption to be way higher than before. If everyone used only 2 global hectares (GH) of resources, there will be enough resources for over 10 billion people. The problem is that on our average resource usage rate, we have 50% too many people as the Earth can carry. Here are the usage rates for some places on Earth (on average): Africa uses 1.37GH per person, India uses 0.87GH per person, China uses 2.11GH per person. If everyone lived like the average African, Indian or Chinese, the Earth would have enough resources for 15-18 billion people. The problem comes in Europe and USA. The average European uses 4.45GH of resources, the average British uses 5.33GH of resources, but the average American uses 9.42GH of resources. That is over 4x the amount they should be using. To summarise, we are over the Earth’s carrying capacity (calculation of how large a population any given environment can support). Therefore, resources are running down quicker than they should be.

Fossil fuels are running out. There is a finite amount of fossil fuels and every tonne we use today is a tonne less for the future. They are a non-renewable source of energy and it is said that the amount of fossil fuels we use each year is the same amount as what is formed in a million years. In other words, the amount of fossil fuels we use a year is equal to a million years of formation. There are three types of fossil fuels: Coal, Natural Gas and Oil. Coal is most damaging to the environment (because it releases most carbon dioxide) whilst natural gas is the least. Coal is formed when plants such as trees died millions of years ago. They got pressurized by layers that formed above them and they became coal. Today, we extract them from that layer and burn it to create energy. This is the reason why coal releases most carbon (plants breathe in carbon dioxide). Oil and natural gas are formed when animals died millions of years in the past. They decomposed then layers also formed above them and compressed them to create the oil and natural gas we use today. Fossil fuels are the main source of global warming. They are non-renewable resources so they will eventually run out. It is expected that oil will only last us another 45 years, which is less than half a century, natural gas will last us only another 70 years and the most damaging one coal will last us another 240 years. In total, that is only 315 more years of fossil fuels and then we will run out of them. This is a major reason why we need to swap to renewables NOW.

When used, fossil fuels also release carbon (element with 6 protons per atom), which reacts with oxygen in the air to create carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas. This also leads to air pollution. The main gasses that cause air pollution are smoke; carbon monoxide (CO), which is a toxic gas; sulphur dioxide (SO2), which is the main gas that causes acid rain; and carbon dioxide, which causes global warming (being a greenhouse gas). The biggest source of air pollution is burning fossil fuels. A greenhouse gas is a gas that causes an effect called the greenhouse effect. Heat coming from the Sun ‘bounces off’ Earth and back into space. Greenhouses gases trap the heat and prevent it escaping into space. This is called the greenhouse effect.  Before the 1800s, there was the right amount of greenhouses gases in the atmosphere to keep the Earth at a temperature where it is not too hot and not too cold. Since the 1800s, the amount of greenhouses has increased due largely to fossil fuels. Today, the average temperature around the world is 1 degree higher than it was 200 years ago. The main greenhouse gases are water vapour (H2O), methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide. Another thing that proves coal being most damaging to the environment than any other fossil fuel is that gas-fired power stations produce 500 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, oil-fired power stations produce 750 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year and coal-fired power stations produce 1000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. This reveals that coal is twice as damaging to the environment than natural gas. All three of them contain carbon because they are made up of dead organisms. Life requires carbon because carbon can bond with many elements (including itself because its outer electron shell is half full). This means it can create complex molecules, required for life.

Currently, we do not have sustainable development. We are using non-renewable resources too quickly, which means there won’t be any left for future generations. If we swap to a renewable source of energy, there will be some non-renewables left for the future. Sustainability is improving the quality of life we have today as well as not damaging that of the future. Right now, we are certainly not doing that. We are improving current life, but we are heavily damaging that of future generations. We are being way too selfish and we do not think about the future before doing the actions we do. If we make a change and use renewables instead, future generations will not get damaged and our current lives will not be harmed either. We have responsibility to protect the environment and small amounts of people are protecting it. Furthermore, many religions see the Earth as ‘sacred’ and humans need to look after it. That isn’t coming true without swapping to renewable resources either.

That was four good reasons why we need to swap to renewable sources instead of using fossil fuels. We can use great alternatives. We can use geothermal energy in volcanic areas, water energy in areas near the sea or any natural water source or wind energy, which can be used in any windy area. Solar energy can power small things, items like calculators. To sum up, fossil fuels are the main current source of energy, but not the best source of energy. There are many alternative renewable options that we can use.

Andrew Hsu (7EAC)

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