Sustainable energy can be defined as producing and consuming energy in such a way that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Starting with the Industrial Revolution in the 1880s, the world has been using fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) as the main source of energy. This has brought tremendous benefits to much of the world including technological, economic, and social growth. However, it has also left other parts of the world behind and has had terrible environmental consequences which must be addressed. For the world to establish energy sustainability a few things need to happen:
- We need to switch to forms of energy that do not release greenhouse gases (clean/renewable energy such as solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower) but we must remember that this cannot be done overnight. As fossil fuel plants come to the end of their lifetime, they can be replaced with or retrofitted for clean energy production. As technology advances we can produce and store more from these clean energy sources.
- Energy is necessary for economic growth and there are still areas of the world that need this growth for their survival, but there is a fine balance that must be made in allowing for energy production and consumption while doing it in a way that is sustainable. We need to help these parts of the world through the sharing of knowledge and development of infrastructure for clean energy so they can “piggy-back” over fossil fuels. Helping them skip the use of fossil fuels prevents additional greenhouse gas emissions while providing energy for their economic growth.
- The land and oceans act as huge natural carbon sinks (meaning they store excess carbon for us, removing it from the atmosphere). As trees are cut down, they release the stored carbon back into the atmosphere. As soil is tilled, it releases the stored carbon back into the atmosphere. We need to develop sustainable land use practices that take this into account and allow the land to store as much carbon for us as it naturally can.
This is a huge undertaking and one that cannot be done in the next year or two. But there are things we can do in our community to help, such as:
- Installing solar panels on our homes.
- Driving electric cars and/or using energy-efficient transportation (or save gas by combining errands and driving less).
- Purchasing energy efficient appliances. But to truly be sustainable, this needs to be done as your non-efficient appliances break down beyond repair. Otherwise we are just adding to the waste problem by throwing out something that is still usable.
- Planting trees, practicing sustainable agriculture and landscaping, and generally taking care of our land.
- Pushing our government to pass policies that support clean energy. And VOTE!
If you would like to learn more about sustainable energy, check out these websites:
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