Sunday, February 9, 2014

Week Four Post

Vaclav Smil's fairly pessimistic article about mankind's ability to transition from fossil fuels to a more efficient and environmentally friendly source of energy seems to fall more strongly into the ideological category of ecological sustainability. Smil argues that the humans have likely reached their capacity for technological innovation and thus are burning and consuming the most energy rich resources at the most efficient rate possible. Through his five main considerations of switching an energy source, Smil emphasizes mostly the lack of both space and alternative energy source that would be renewable and sustainable for both humans and the environment. All the possible options for alternative energy fall short of the power and energy density that is generated by the consumption of fossil fuels, as well as commanding far more space than society currently has available, let alone will have available in the future with an ever expanding population. While there are plenty of supplemental energy sources that are safe and renewable currently being used simultaneously with fossil fuels, a complete transition to these sources as our primary energy consumption is simply unrealistic due to the scale of the energy demand. Ecological sustainablity and it's importance is eluded to in the concluding paragraph of Smil's essay, in which he describes a non fossil fuel world as requiring "great determination, cost, and patience." By highlighting these as the main costs of alternative fuel sources, Smil is describing the average person as more than likely unwilling to sacrifice many of the luxuries they currently hold due to fossil fuels. He places much of the responsibility needed in order to achieve a fossil fuel absent world on the public and their use of energy, and while a final answer has not yet been discovered, there are sources of energy that will slow fossil fuel consumption, the public just needs to be willing to accept them.

When I tried to picture two future scenarios of humanity regarding whether or not we meet our energy needs, I had a very hard time determining a pessimistic view that did not involve some form of human chaos or destruction. If we do feel fail to meet our energy demands, the reserves and the resources that we have deemed absolutely essential to our existence will inevitably run out, leaving us with no alternative to power our society. When I consider not being able to meet our energy demands, I see a world in which we were unable to advance our technological efficiency, and thus when our energy requirement runs out, we will essentially be out of options to power ourselves. Before the resources are completely drained from the Earth, shortages will be recognized and predictions about future dissipation will be made, which will result in hoarding or available resources and unavoidable warfare and conflict over available resources and energy. Population will most likely drastically drop due to conflict as well as natural causes due to lack of nourishment and energy production. When envisioning a world where energy demands are not met, it is impossible for me to picture a scenario in which humanities population is not naturally reduced once earths carrying capacity is reached. On a positive side, if humans do find a way to meet their energy demand, I feel that it would have to be achieved with a substantial governmental regulation and technological advancement. Massive change and legislation would have to be enforced by authority figures and systems in order to slow consumption and redistribute resources in a sustainable way, as well as possible population regulation. However, according to Smil's argument, the current alternative fuel sources and changes could only take us so far in order to support the ever expanding human population due to lack of space and efficiency. New fuel sources would need to be discovered and developed in order to more effectively use the limited space available on the planet or elsewhere in order to reach the required level of energy output.

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