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ONE WORLD. ONE CHANCE.
Humans rely on fossil fuels for transportation and heat. Fossil fuels are coal, oil, and gas. They are called “fossil fuels” because they are made of plant and animal remains from millions of years ago. Burning fossil fuels is the main contribution to global warming. Fossil fuels contain carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. CO2 remains in the atmosphere for 100 years, so even if we could reduce our reliance on them tomorrow, it would not reverse the damage already done by the years and years of fossil fuels burned. Someday, these fossil fuels upon which we fully rely, will run out—what will we do then? Well, not many people know, but there are alternative fuels and energy sources that DO NOT release any CO2, and they are entirely renewable resources unlike fossil fuels. Solar power, wind power, hydroelectric (hydro) power, geothermal power, biodiesel and ethanol gas----all of these come from nature, they are the energy that the Earth intended for us to harvest, unlike the ones that were buried beneath the ground for millions of years. When fossil fuels run out, these healthier and natural renewable resources will become more dominant, but by then, the damage to our atmosphere will be nearly irreversible.
According to National Geographic’s December 2009 issue, 9.1 billion metric tons of carbon enter the atmosphere yearly! Only 5 billion of that leaves the atmosphere leaving behind 4.1 billion tons that will continue to cause damage. 4/5 of these CO2 emissions are caused by burning fossil fuels, the other 1/5 comes from deforestation. CO2 is released into the atmosphere twice as fast as it is removed. Plants and soil absorb around 1/3 of CO2 and surface water absorbs about ¼ but the rest remains. 45% of CO2 emission remain in the atmosphere each year and that level continues to build in build, 45% stay this year, stayed last year, will stay next year, and being that it remains in the atmosphere for 100 years, that is A LOT of carbon dioxide! CO2 causes global warming by way of the greenhouse effect. When CO2 mixes into the atmosphere, it lets radiation from the Sun pass in but doesn’t let the infrared radiation found on Earth’s surface, come back out. The CO2 gets trapped in the atmosphere and overtime, rises the overall temperature of Earth. A higher temperature means the polar ice caps and other glaciers will melt, melting such massive amounts of ice means higher sea levels, and higher sea levels means coastal areas and small islands will soon be underwater. Once those areas are underwater, it will force people to move to other states and countries that are further inland, which will increase congestion and cause overpopulation EVERYWHERE. This is called the greenhouse effect because, like a greenhouse (where plants are kept) the Sun coming through the glass, creates heat inside the greenhouse, and this heat is not released.
Each year when the Earth is tilted toward the Sun and Northern Hemisphere experiences Summer and Spring, plants bloom and grow. As they follow through with photosynthesis, they absorb the CO2 and create clean oxygen. It’s almost as if they filter the air of carbon and release oxygen. This lowers the level of CO2, but the reverse occurs during the plantless months. During Winter and Fall, CO2 level rise again. Most of the land in the world is located above the equator, thus the surplus of CO2/greenhouse gas is in the Northern Hemisphere. More CO2 means a higher temperature because more of the Sun’s heat is in the atmosphere of the Northern Hemisphere.
Coal is formed from dead plant remains that collect on the floor of swampy areas. They build up and harden into a thick layer of peat—this takes years to occur. The peat layers are buried under deposits of sand and minerals. These sediments press the peat and form more and more layers of peat. Some of these sediments turn into rock called lignite. The pressure from the rocky layers eventually turns the peat into coal. Oil was formed from the remains of animals and plants also known as diatoms, which lived in a marine environment millions of years ago—before the dinosaurs. Similar to the formation of coal, layers of animal and plant remains as well as silt and other sediments over millions of years combined with heat, creates a pressure. This pressure turns into petroleum which means “rock oil” or “oil from earth”. Gas is a product of methane which is a compound made up of 1 carbon atom and 4 hydrogen atoms. Similar to oil and coal, gas is formed from diatoms (plant and animal remains) that build up into thick layers. Over time the organic material (decayed matter) changes to rock. The pressure and heat turn some of this into petroleum oil, and the rest into natural gas.
A major environmental impact we are currently facing in relation to fossil fuels would have to be the BP oil spill in the Gulf. Since April 20th, 2010 oil has been spewing into the ocean nonstop. The entire gulf is being affected by this irreversible damage. According to Oceana.com over 320 sea turtles, 11 people, and tons of other sea animals (including dolphins) and plants have been killed by this oil spill. “Our use of oil and gas is causing climate change and making our oceans more acidic. As if that was not bad enough, it’s now killing endangered species. Americans can never be fully compensated for their loss of national treasures like sea turtles, caused by unnecessary and careless offshore drilling.” Says Jacqueline Savitz (Senior campaign director of Oceana). It has been 3 months of constant oil flowing into the ocean. Oceana started a petition to end offshore drilling, I gathered a few signatures, but so far there aren’t nearly enough people on board to ban this useless destruction.
If people truly want to make a difference and save the environment, there are a few big things that need to change. First, fossil fuels must be banned. If they are considered illegal, then everyone would be forced to convert their car to ethanol or biodiesel, or they would have to get a hybrid (energy/ethanol) car. Whoever does not make the switch and is found driving a car filled with fossil fuel will be fined a high amount of money. No one likes being fined, so then everyone would switch over. Another thing is, fossil fuels should not be sold, instead of gas stations, open ethanol stations. Ethanol is hard to get nowadays, if they were on every block like gas stations are, then perhaps people would switch over their car’s gas tanks to be ethanol compatible! Finally, new cars should not be made with fossil fuel tanks, they should be made hybrid or to accept only ethanol gas. Those 3 things go hand-in-hand, its all about forcing the citizens to make the change, providing the resources, and excluding all avenues for fossil fuels from the equation. The only way to try and reverse our damage to the world is the cut off the things that hurt it most---starting with CO2! National Geographic released an article comparing electric cars to cars that run on fossil fuel in their November 2009 issue. It says that the average American car gets 21 mpg and emits 1 pound of CO2 PER MILE. An electric car runs cheaper and cleaner, it costs more up front to buy an electric car than to buy a car that runs on fossil fuel, but in the end, electricity is cheaper than gas and is better for the environment. 1 mile driven in a gasoline powered car costs 12 cents and emits (as I said) 1 pound of CO2 whereas 1 mile driven in an electric powered car costs 2 cents and emits NO greenhouse gas! In June 2010, National Geographic reads, “The drop in greenhouse gases for the “what-if” day in Pittsburgh would equal taking 370 cars off the world’s roads for a year. And cars would burn 213,700 fewer gallons of gas. At $2.50 a gallon, that’s $534,250 in Pittsburgher’s pockets.”-Marc Silver. The “what-if” day was the idea; “What if no one drove for a full day in Pittsburgh?” Imagine if the entire world did not drive at all for just 1 day? That would save so much money and would reduce the emissions by so much.
There are new innovations in technology and discoveries that are being explored by some and used by others to help decrease our dependence on fossil fuels. Five types of alternative energy include:
Geothermal Energy: The words geo and therme are Greek for earth and heat. Geothermal energy is heat from inside the Earth. This is a renewable resource because heat is continuously produced inside Earth. In Earth’s core, temperatures hotter than the Sun’s surface are constantly being produced by a slow decay of radioactive particles. Geothermal reservoirs are found deep underground with no indication of their being there from above ground. Sometimes geothermal energy can be seen above ground in volcanoes, fumaroles, hot springs, and geysers. Most reservoirs are located near plate boundaries. Most of the geothermal activity in the entire world is located in the Ring of Fire found along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Geothermal Energy is used for heat systems, heat pumps, and power plants. California (located within the Ring of Fire) has 34 geothermal power plants which produces 90% of U.S. geothermal electricity. Following that is Nevada with 16 power plants then Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, and Utah each have 1 power plant. The most famous example of geothermal activity would be the geysers of Yellowstone National Park.
Ethanol Gas: Is an alcohol fuel made from sugar found in grains including corn, sorghum, barley, potato skin, rice, sugar cane, and sugar beets. It is a renewable fuel source because it is made from plants. To make ethanol, yeast is used to ferment the sugars and starch found in corn which is then fermented into alcohol which can also be referred to the illegal alcohol of 1919 called Moonshine. Many cars in Brazil run solely on ethanol gas. As a fuel source, it can be mixed with regular gas, ethanol can be called E10 (10% ethanol, 90% gasoline) or it can be called E85 (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline). FFV (Flexible Fuel Vehicles) can use any mixture of ethanol and gasoline up to E85. Many people have cars that are considered FFV and do not even know it, thus they use gasoline which is harmful to the environment. In 2008, it was recorded that there were 450,327cars and trucks using E85---that compared to the billions of cars on the road today is not nearly enough to lead a revolution. Ethanol is nontoxic and biodegradable. If only the BP spill had had something to do with ethanol instead of fossil fuel! Ethanol can actually reduce pollution the same way a plant can. Instead of releasing carbon dioxide, ethanol releases oxygen. If every car that released CO2 were replaced with ethanol, we wouldn’t be facing a global crisis! Similar to ethanol, is biodiesel which is made of vegetable oil or soybean oil.
Wind Energy: Wind is caused by uneven heating of Earth’s surface from the Sun. The air above land heats up quicker than air above water. The warm air over the land expands and rises. The cooler air rushes in to take its spot which creates wind. At night, this is reversed. Wind is a renewable resource because wind will blow as long as the Sun shines! Wind mills and turbines generate kinetic energy, the blades are connected to a shaft that turns an electric generator and produces electricity. In 2008, wind machines in the U.S. generated 52 billion killowatthours or 1.3% of the total U.S. electricity generation. That is enough to power 4.6 million homes of the entire state of Colorado! Wind turbines generate electricity in 31 states, most generation comes from Texas, California, Iowa, Minnesota, and Oklahoma.
Solar Energy: Is used to heat water (in homes, buildings, and swimming pools) or to heat spaces (homes, greenhouses, buildings). Solar energy has two forms of conversion into electricity. First is photovoltaic (PV) devices also known as solar cells. This includes an array of panels that can charge small things like watches and calculators as well as big things like entire houses. Some large PV power plants contain acres of paneling and can harvest energy for full states. The second conversion of solar power is concentrating solar power plants. These plants generate electricity from the heat gathered by solar thermal collectors which then heat a fluid that produces steam that is used to power a generator. There are 11 of these concentrating solar power generator units in the U.S., 9 are in California, 1 in Arizona, and 1 in Nevada. The drawback of solar energy is that the sun shines to different extremities in different areas at different times so there is no set guarantee to the amount of electricity you will be able to gather from a given location at given time. Using solar energy produces no air or water pollution and no greenhouse gas, however there are some toxic materials and chemicals used in the manufacturing on photovoltaic cells. But the toxicity is very minimal, especially in comparison to that of nonrenewable resources.
Hydropower: is energy from moving water. Though most U.S. dams are built for flood control and to supply water to surrounding areas, some dams were built solely for hydropower generation. Hydropower may be a renewable resource, and a good alternative to fossil fuels, but creating a dam may obstruct migration of fish to their upstream spawning areas and can also change the temperature, chemistry, flow characteristics, and silt loads of the body of water which can significantly change the ecology of that area. Tidal Barrages, fences, and turbines are used to generate energy from water. Being that water is 800 times denser than air, tidal turbines have to be built much sturdier than wind turbines, thus making them heavier and more expensive to build and install. Waves can be channeled toward a tidal turbine to help increase its harvest of energy.
In conclusion, renewable energy sources are much better for the environment than nonrenewable resources such as fossil fuel. Renewable resources emit little or no CO2, some can even reverse the effects of CO2! The few drawbacks would be expense and some minor manufacturing toxicity, regardless of these things, we as a nation should demand clean energy now. After all we only have one world, and one chance to ensure that it is around for future generations.