Can we keep on with an energy system based on fossil fuels?
According to BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy, 86 % of the world energy consumption came from fossil fuels (oil, coal and natural gas) in 2014.
Fossil fuels were formed through the decomposition of living plants and animals. The science daily website thus define them as buried combustible geologic deposits of organic materials, formed from decayed plants and animals that have been converted to crude oil, coal, natural gas, or heavy oils by exposure to heat and pressure in the earth’s crust over hundreds of millions of years (https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/fossil_fuel.htm).
The oil, coal and gas that we consume (heavily and at increasing rates) today therefore started to form even before any humans walked on the surface of the planet!
And for most of our history, we did not make any use of them. Their exploitation started only very recently (on a geological scale of time) with the industrial revolution and the invention of the steam engine (and later on the development of transports, electricity, etc.); But in just 150 years we already burnt an enormous amount of it.
Inevitably, this leads to a rapid depletion of resources and, if the estimates vary from one study to another, the perspective of running out of oil and gas within this century is real.
Climate change : a real menace, not only for the planet
The depletion of fossil fuels is, however, not the main concern when we speak about energy. Burning fossil fuels has been and is still responsible for a massive release of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, especially carbon dioxide (CO2), as well as as for important air, soil and water pollutions.
Enhanced greenhouse effect leads to rising temperatures but also to sea level raising, significant changes in precipitation and wind patterns, intensification of extreme climatic events, ice caps melting and disruption to ecosystems, among others impacts.
These in turn have negative effects on our societies, especially as vulnerable urban settlements develop near coastlines, as heat waves and droughts occur more often in already water stressed areas, as water reserves are depleting due to increasing use, pollution, saline intrusion near the coasts and melting of glaciers and ice caps, as some islands may disappear under rising oceans, as extreme climatic events lead to considerable damages, as new climatic conditions impact agricultural production, etc. A surge of food insecurity, climate-related diseases, mortality due to natural disasters, as well as massive population migrations are also to be expected.
The energy transition is not an option… but is full of opportunities
All projections show that these impacts will get stronger in the future, to levels that could rapidly become unsustainable. It is with this in mind that the International community gathers every year, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to find an international response to this global issue. The first universal agreement on climate was established during the 21st Conference of Parties of the UNFCCC (COP21) in Paris in 2015, setting the objective to contain global warming as far below 2°C by the end of this century. This agreement has since then be signed and ratified by a high number of countries and is now into force.
In order to reach the 2°C objective and avoid dramatic consequences, and according to the estimations, we should leave at least two thirds to three quarters of all known fossil fuel reserves in the ground. But far from moving towards this direction, consumption of fossil fuels keeps growing, and new reserves are discovered and looked for on a constant basis.
In these circumstances, our remaining “carbon budget”, i.e. the amount of CO2 we could still emit without crossing the 2°C threshold, could be consumed in just over 2 decades (it is important to underline here that a carbon dioxide molecule has a lifespan in the atmosphere of around 100 years).
In the light of the serious threat posed by climate change and pollution, and regardless of the depletion of fossil fuels, we have no choice today but to change our energy model. While some still talk about the future of our children when addressing this issue, many dramatic events around the world remind us that it is very much already on the table… And that we should act now, for the planet but also and mainly for the sake of our societies.
On the positive side, alternative paths exist, with enormous opportunities in terms of renewable energy and low-carbon development, with solutions that are already effective and competitive. But, in all cases, energy wastage and overconsumption must be cut off.
As citizens, we have the power to change our habits and influence our relatives and friends, politics and companies to take on this new and sustainable path to development. And to start acting, or continue the action, the project C4ET will provide you with materials that will guide you through all the steps of the process.