By Chitra Esther Chelladurai
Supply and demand go hand in hand. And, so it is with oil and coal. Long considered the bane of any self-respecting environmentalist’s existence, some experts believe that the days of cheap coal and oil are numbered. Many countries are looking at a cap time of 2020; some estimates are as early as next year.
According to the Environmental News Network, after the peak, production will decline because supplies are being depleted and no new sources are to be found. For peak oil, the rate of production will come to an end when maximum extraction is reached. After that, production is expected to decline. Predictions vary as to when we will reach our peak. But one thing is clear: The peak will come at some point.
As prices ebb and flow, consumers have seen oil and coal steadily climb. The top coal producers are China, the U.S., India, and Australia. Each of these four largest coal-producing countries is experiencing significant increases in coal production—which ultimately means that each country will have a different peak production date.
For example, Canada seems to have peaked in 1997 while the U.K. peaked way back in 1913! According to World Coal, coal mining raises a number of environmental challenges, including soil erosion, dust, noise and water pollution, and impacts on local biodiversity. Steps are taken in modern coal mining operations to minimize these impacts.
What’s the best way to minimize the environmental effects of coal and oil? Alternative energies--conservation, solar, hydropower, wind, biomass, geothermal, and nuclear power--are all big on the renewable energy hit list. (Conservation is listed as a source because getting the same result with less energy without using the same methods is just as good!)
Solar may be on the expensive side. But, there are hopes that it may become more affordable in the future. Hydropower plants produce electricity so the energy can be used at a distance from its source. Innovators now are exploring capturing energy from tides and waves as well. Wind energy turns turbines to generate electricity on scales ranging from individual homeowners using small turbines to meet some of their energy needs to large-scale wind farms. As for biomass, the simplest form is burning wood for heat, but that’s just the beginning. Other crops such as switchgrass are proving very practical, and technologies such as biodigesters reduce pollution, provide valuable products as well as produce some energy. I’m mentioning nuclear power for completeness. It’s an alternative energy in the sense that it’s not a fossil fuel and that there hasn’t been a new plant built in the U.S. in decades.
Though it is not popular now, I think it will have a big future if they harness it in much the same ways the French have. They have been able to make and sustain effective nuclear plants without harming its citizens. Simple steps like conservation and taking some initiative are all that is necessary to wean yourself off of oil and coal. Remember, it doesn’t take much to make a big difference.
Image courtesy of ETFTrends.com.