Alternate energy – the solution to our depleting natural resources. A viable way to counter the effects of global warming. But is it really so? Every argument has its own pros and cons and we need to study both the sides before reaching on a hasty conclusion.
As with all other discussions, the discussion centering around alternate energy sources has its own handful of proponents and opponents. Alternate energy sources are hailed the most due to their inexpensive and less polluting nature. Alternate energy sources are those which can be substituted for fossil fuels and include biofuels.
Biofuels include among them vegetable oils, ethanol and methanol. As against fossil fuels, non renewable energy sources do not have a limited supply and hence their usage is not feared to bring about a rapid exhaustion of the resources. Careful studies of nonrenewable sources have made scientists to predict about possible exhaustion of these resources in coming century. The Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources puts an the lifetime of conventional oil to be only 32 years more, while its estimates about natural gas show that it will last 65 years more.
This is one of the reasons that renewable resources are so much sought after now since the continuance of our work processes depending on these resources, is not threatened by their diminishing supply. Scientific studies have already revealed how the use of non renewable sources has proved to be hazardous to not just the environment but also the health of the population. This paper will discuss multiple sides of the issues of using these alternate energy sources. These issues are economic, ethical, social and environmental. We will discuss how the use of alternate energy sources will lead to less of global warming.
In the environmental context, fossil fuels have been proven to be hazardous to nature and health. The environment is at great stake if we continue to use these fossil fuels. The combustion of fossil fuels leads to a number of pollutions ranging from water and land pollution to air pollution. It is held today that the highest amount of environmental pollution can be attributed to none other than the combustion of these fuels. The smog caused by the combustion of these fuels can not only cause human sickness but can also be dangerous to the sustainability of crops.
Similarly, the release of carbon dioxide in environment form the burning of these fuels is a major cause of global warming. Many climate changes are a result of this global warming. Continued use of these fossil fuels will only aggravate the situation. The conversion of fossil fuels is another environmental problem as it results in solid waste accumulation. Another threat posed by fossil fuels is that of spill offs in seas and oceans during their delivery. This proves to be a menace to the marine life and very difficult to clean up. Biofuels in contrast do not have any such hazards attached to them.
Burning biofuels releases carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide in lesser quantities. A model by Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) shows that neat biodiesel form soya beans cut down the global warming pollution by more than 50% in comparison to conventional petroleum based diesel. Some other sources for biofuels such as algae have the potential of providing up to 90% reductions in global warming pollution. Biodiesel is also made form recycled food oil and waste products. Use of advanced technologies in future will see that the waste streams are being converted to diesel fuels.
This will result in production of low carbon diesel. Biodiesel has got an edge over petroleum diesel fuel when it comes to low pollution emission. Biodiesel emit less of hydrocarbons as compared to conventional diesels and thus are environmentally safer. In environmental context then, biofuels seem to be a more viable option, by being less harmful and detrimental to environment and health. The issue of energy sources is such that now it has even got mixed with politics. In evaluating the viability of alternate energy sources, we also have to consider the political context relevant to the situation.
Governments are now more than ever concerned about the dwindling supplies of fuels and hence are pushing for alternate energy sources. Before using an alternate energy source then, the political issues that need to be considered are many. One of the many aspects considered by a government before venturing into the development of any alternate energy source is the jobs and the growth provided by the fuels industry. The renewable industry is a newly developing one and has potential for growth in future. This is what the Canadian government has in mind and is one of the reasons why it is pursuing a greater use of renewable energy sources.
Governments like Canada seek alternate energy source such as biofuels because they offer immense reductions in greenhouse gases (Susanne, 2007). They also provide an economical energy source for governments in the face of increasing petroleum prices. The basic reason however governments may consider alternate energy fuels such as these is the wish to support farming and rural communities. Hence, political issues such as consideration of population and growth and job opportunities in the alternate energy industry are some of the political aspects a government considers before opting for such a resource.
The Canadian government has opted to go for biodiesels which shows that this form of energy is being sought after readily by governments and they think it as a feasible option to not only counteract the effects of global warming but also be beneficial in terms of providing job opportunities to the farmer population. If we consider the socio-economic aspect of this issue, we would see that alternate energy sources are being seen by governments as a lucrative option since governments have seen an increase in farm-products and thus that this could boost rural incomes (FAO, 2008).
Hence, all the more reason to support the alternate energy source. Economically, the biofuels could prove to be fruitful for farmers in developed countries. The FAO report 2008 states that farmers of the developing countries could be supported and aided to reap the benefits of its production. If biofuels is produced in developing countries, not only will it be economically profitable for the local population but it will be a major cause for reduction in pollution. Todaro, in his book Economic development states that the most cumulative environmental degradation has been caused by the developed world.
However, this trend is very much likely to reverse because of decreasing income patterns and high population growth rates in developing countries. Thus, providing the population of developing countries with a cheap substitute to fossil fuels will ensure lesser pollution created in the developing world. Keeping all these points in view, I opine that alternate energy sources are indeed the need of the day and promoting their use will reduce pollution and combat global warming. However, some contrasting views have also been found related to the use of biofuels.
These present some problems in deciding whether to promote the use of biofuels or not. Producing biofuels requires more fossil fuel energy than is gained by the consumption of the fuel (Pimentel, 2001). Hence, it contributes to global warming and pollution too. On the political forefront, biofuels, particularly ethanol is being opposed against by the environmentalists on the grounds that promoting the use of biofuels might encourage farmers to abandon food crops and plant cash crops instead, which could then be used in producing fuel.
Europe is one such region which has pursued in the past for policies favoring biofuels. However, the policy decision made in 2008, has met with strict criticism from lobbyists, citizens and environmentalists. Ethanol, one of the biofuels, then does not appear to have a strong foothold when it comes to political grounds. Policies to promote biofuels in regions such as Europe and U. S have met with censure and disapproval as it does not seem to be such a feasible source. Political and environmental arguments however are not the only ones to be considered.
The social aspects have to be considered too. One may argue that producing biofuels will be good for society. More cash crops will be grown, with better return to society and less production of pollution. However, a study shows how the production of biofuels is actually a social tragedy for humans. To sum up, the report declares that producing biofuels is not a feasible option as it will only be disastrous for farmers, the environment, and citizens, particularly, the poor ones (Altieri & Bravo, 2007). The report gives example of U.
S that how even the utilization of all soya bean and corn crops will not be enough to meet more than 12% of its gasoline’s needs and 6% of diesel needs. One-fifth of corn harvest in U. S has already been dedicated to biofuels but this too could meet only 3% of its domestic energy demands. Is it then ethical to pursue this option when it seems to have a plethora of arguments opposing it? Apparently, there is a trade-off between the economic and environmental benefits to be reaped from the production of biofuels, against the social costs of getting the food crops being replaced by cash crops.
Cheap fuel to source the industries of a country or food for feeding the population? These are the two precarious questions waiting to be answered. Through the course of the discussion of paper, we have seen how alternate energy source may prove one of the ways to combat pollution and be beneficial for the environment. However, to do so at the social cost of hungry population would be a crucial mistake. The key to this problem is maintaining a balance between the two. In the face of food crisis and rising food prices, priority should be set on solving the problems of food security.
Developing countries, hence must not seek out so actively to promote the use of alternate energy source. Rather, their focus should be on getting the food crisis resolved. One of the FAO’s recommendations with regard to this aspect says that “policies should be developed with appropriate international coordination to ensure that the international system supports environmental sustainability goals as well as social goals for agricultural development and poverty and hunger reduction”.
Hence, to achieve the goals environmental sustainability, alternate energy source i. e. biodiesels must be sought keenly but only if the social costs of doing so are not greater than the economic profitability. References: FAO report, (2008), The State of Food and Agriculture, Part I: Biofuels: Prospects, Risks and Opportunities, pp 88-90. Retrieved August 17, 2010 from http://www. foodfirst. org/node/1662 R. S. , Susanne (2010, February), Canadians backing biofuels.
Retrieved August 17, 2010 from http://www. biodieselmagazine. com/article. jsp? article_id=3993 Pimentel. (2001), The limitations of biomass energy, Encyclopedia of Physical Sciences and Technology. San Diego: Academic Press,159–171 Altieri, M. A. , & Bravo, E. (March 2007), The ecological and social tragedy of crop-based biofuel production in the Americas. Retrieved August 17, 2010 from http://www. foodfirst. org/node/1662 Todaro, M. P & Smith, S. C, Economic Development, 2002, Prentice Hall