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Can we stop burning fossil fuels? What are the realistic alternative? Can we combat excessive atmospheric CO2?

We started this site in 2008. At that time our younger brains wrote a few articles that provoked a measure of vitriol from the good willed and so-called green community. I say, “so-called” because their non-solutions can so often be counter productive. In the years of examining why this is, it has become my view that there is simply a lack of awareness of scale. Simply put, there is a lack of comprehension of how much bang for you buck you get with fossil fuels compared to a renewable energy source like a windmill or a heat pump. To be clear I have no issue with renewable energy sources, they are great, but thinking that we will ever meet the world’s energy needs with renewables is fanciful.

With fusion energy in place we should reserve fossil fuels for aviation and my trips to the Mediterranean; it is a medical need!

The articles in 2008 were based on a simple premise and that is as long as there are economically recoverable fossil fuels someone around the world will be recovering them and ultimately burning them. We showed that in spite of the plethora of “renewable schemes” that fossil fuel consumption would increase and that it would continue to increase until at least 2050, with the consequent increase in CO2 emissions and the problems these will cause the planet. This has proven to be the case. There was one caveat to this premise, once a true alternative to fossil fuels becomes available, then this paradigm will immediately shift. The only likely alternative on the 30-year horizon is fusion energy.

Since 2008 rather a key event has happened to extend the predicted increase of fossil fuels way beyond 2050 and that is that the previously unrecoverable shale gas and oil is suddenly becoming recoverable and in huge volumes, especially in the USA. Proving that if there is an economic will there is a way. They may one day regret the environmental damage they are causing, but the rush for cheap energy dashes these concerns to one side. In the UK our government is equally dashing for these resources in spite of concerns. It is likely that plugging the UK energy gap and tax revenues will sweep concern, legitimate or otherwise, under 11 Downing Streets carpet.

With world economies competing for prowess, the cost of energy has to be kept down in each country or a country becomes uneconomic and cannot compete. Moreover if energy prices soar in a country the populations face financial hardship, get too cold, get too hot or cannot feed themselves. One should remember energy resources are a key part of food production and as populations continue to grow, more energy will be required to prevent starvation. This is one key reason never to use agricultural land to grow fuels, it is energetically and emissions counter productive.

People who read this will quite correctly say…. “what do you suggest then!?”

My answers are simple ……………

In my view the damage is done with CO2 emissions, we as a planet will not stop burning fossil fuels, we cannot, no matter who bangs on about it. World economies would collapse if we did and billions would starve. Even with concentrated effort on renewable technologies the rate of fossil fuel use will increase not decrease, if only because world population is increasing.

So what to do globally ……………

  • Develop technologies to capture CO2 (ideas are out there), this is not a defeatist stance it is realistic.
  • Pump even more money into Fusion research, this has to be the long term world solution, but it is still probably 30 years away with current funding resources.
  • Keep going with renewable technologies like solar and wind. Be nice to be Libya for example and build solar power stations in the Sahara! But remember we will not be able to replace fossil fuels with renewable sources in time to significantly affect climate change, even if the whole world could suddenly agree to do it.
  • Certainly do not use agricultural land to grow biofuels, we as a world need to eat. Rich countries should not put the cost of food production up in poor countries to meet their emissions targets, its just plain wrong.
  • If required develop technologies to screen the planet (again, ideas are out there). These ideas are a bit of a last resort but having them ready in your tool kit is useful, perhaps for deployment in 30 years time as required.

Finally as a local UK initiative and perhaps a bit too radical for UK government, legislate (with grants) to compel homeowners and landlords to insulate their lofts and walls (mind you, they would not be able to get in mine for all the junk, must deal with that one day). Energy wise this makes much more sense than sticking a solar panel on the roof of a house in a rain blessed territory like the UK.

Comments and Questions

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