The greatest achievement of the century is the acquisition of a vast quantity of scientific and technical knowledge and the application of that knowledge to the improvement of our lifestyle. Most of us see the progress of civilization as it has been in our lifetime and assume that it will continue as it has in our experience. Our civilization is powered by fossil fuels.
We are confronted with a society built on high-quality energy, dense forms of energy, fossil fuels especially. Could you have the same standard of living with renewable? I don’t think we really know. Things might have to change very fundamentally. The ever increasing costs of oil and gas are due to the ever increasing cost of recovery from reserves of ever decreasing productivity. Within the next few decades air and sea travel and transport will decline as costs go up. Industrialized agriculture will be phased out with rising costs of fertilizer, farm machinery operation, and transport of agricultural products. Manufacture of products that require chemical feed stocks from oil and gas will decline. The growth in Gross National Product is a measure of the increase in energy consumption. The GNP cannot continue to grow as the availability of oil and gas decreases. There will be increasing, permanent unemployment.
Given the swift methods of transportation, increased need for electricity, and development of advanced technologies, it is apparent that fossil fuels, which currently supply 85% of our energy needs, are crucial to the survival of our modern world. However, energy use is commensurate with rapid modernization and urbanization, and our fossil fuel supplies are being depleted at an alarming rate.
By the end of the century the fossil fuels that sustain our civilization will be depleted. Past civilizations built on a single resource have not survived. Past civilizations depleted their resource in a region. Ours has depleted it essential resource from all the earth, a resource that can never recover. By the end of the century energy resources will total only ten to twenty percent of the amount needed to provide the current lifestyle for the large population. The world’s ten billion will face daunting problems;
Any population that is unable to afford agricultural machinery, fertilizers and medication will start a painful decline. Men of the present age assume, in ignorance, that science and technology will provide all the energy necessary to replace fossil fuels, from renewable sources. They will not, for one simple reason. Essential materials like steel, concrete and plastics are plentiful and cheap today because we produce them using plentiful and cheap fossil fuel energy. But when renewable electricity is the only energy we have, they will be seriously scarce and expensive.
With possibly only few decades left of fossil fuel usage in the worst case scenario, it grows ever urgent to find a solution to the energy crises, for the sake of the modern world as we know it and for that of our planet’s survival. Imagine a world with no cars, no planes, no electricity, and an uninhabitable environment—this is the world that will become reality if we do not strive to find a sustainable, effective, environmentally-friendly form of energy as replacement for fossil fuels. Fossil fuels have contributed to the development of modern society; it is now up to us and our increased scientific knowledge to maintain it.
If people of the 21st century can apply ingenuity to a declining lifestyle as they did to the improving lifestyle of the 20th century, perhaps the inevitable changes can be made in an orderly way. Otherwise, man in spite of having enjoyed the luxuries of modern life, will be deprived of them in a brutal way. Life without fuels will not be less then a living hell on earth.