Energy, the number one global issue!
We all use energy in one form or another to cook, to keep warm, as a substitute for powering machines. These activities contribute to and signify economic development.
Energy also has another face. It is the face of environmental degradation. Environmental damage results when energy is used, due to the wastes that result. Some, such as coal, leave huge scars when they are extracted. They also contribute the majority of pollutants that affect the air. One consequence of fossil energy being burned is the release of greenhouse gases.
Non-fossil energy is not free from environmental consequences either. Nuclear power raises concerns about disposing of radioactive waste. Vast areas of Europe were affected when a fire occurred at the nuclear power station at Chernobyl in the Ukraine in 1986.
Other sources of energy also present environmental risks: hydroelectric dams flood the landscape, changing habitats, and altering river biosystems. Dams constructed in areas subject to earthquakes require engineering safeguards that greatly increase costs. Even windmills used to power electric generators stand out in the landscape changing greatly the natural appearance of large areas.
We rely upon energy in any discussion of economic issues surrounding the use of global resources, environmental issues, including atmospheric pollution and global change. Energy fuels the economies of countries. People respond to the benefits of energy use, rarely do they predict the negative consequences of increased energy consumption.
Two very basic questions must be asked when studying the geography of energy. First, where does energy come from at the global scale? Second, what purpose does energy serve us as individuals and groups of people?
CASE STUDY - Energy targets and harnessing the waves
The UK could generate all the electricity it needed from around its long coastline. However, there are enormous hurdles to overcome, not least being able to construct a viable generator. But the race to bring renewable energy to our homes and businesses is on: by 2010, 10% of electricity provided by the electricity supplier must come from such sources. It is thought that this requirement will help many small rural communities to initiate and run their own renewable power plants.
Islay in the Inner Hebrides may be one of the first communities to benefit; as they now have what is believed to be the world’s first commercial wavepowered generator. No doubt other island outposts will watch this project with interest.
Part of the reason for the 2010 10% renewable energy requirement is bound up in the government’s pledge in its report, Energy – the changing climate. That is by 2010 CO2 levels will be cut by 20%.
The commission offered four ways in which these targets could be reached. Britain is embarking on a pathway that leads to a sustainable energy policy that protects the interests of our children and grandchildren and the generations after them.
Recklessly causing large-scale disruption to climate by burning fossil fuels will affect all countries. It is the poorest that would suffer most. We cannot expect other nations to do their part in countering this threat – least of all if they are much less wealthy – unless we demonstrate we are really serious about it.
The commission recognised the value of nuclear power in providing carbonfree energy but did not believe it was indispensable.
The report confirms that fossil fuel economies such as the UK’s are on the wrong path, but it also shows that wind and solar power can break our addiction to oil, coal and gas. It makes clear that tinkering around the edges, which is what all governments are doing now, won’t stop climate change wrecking our lives and economies in places like Mozambique, or prevent sea level rise flooding large parts of the UK.
Energy demand varies in different regions of the world. The greatest and most obvious variations are between the developed and developing countries. The greatest responsbility for reduction in energy use will fall on the industrialised countries. They are also the best equipped to develop alternative energy sources.
The predicted curve for the industrialised countries would have to be reduced by the equivalent of approximately 30 million barrels of oil per day between 2000 and 2010, to permit a stable world demand, and to provide the developing countries with the energy they will need.
Energy is a resource that has many different forms and, depending on the kind of energy, it is distributed across the earth in a variety of geographical patterns. The way energy is used affects the lives of people and makes it an issue of political, economic, and social importance. World primary energy resources, oil, wood, coal etc. are diminishing. Energy must be used wisely – both for the present and for the future.