Sunday, March 30, 2014

Fossil Fuels are the Solid Rocket Booster of Humanity


Here's my take on fossil fuels - as of March - 2014.  

They have served humanity very well for over 150 years.  Personally, I am very thankful for the maverick madmen who built, promoted, and shared the internal combustion engine – and its fuel – with us.  We have used its power to go and do some pretty amazing things: double the amount of food produced per hectacre, design and build homes that can control light and even temperature -  we’ve even used it to travel outside our own biosphere all the way to the moon and beyond.

In fact, there are very few places back here on planet Earth that we humans cannot go these days, and that’s pretty much all thanks to the power that fossil fuels have given us.   

But, just like the solid rocket fuel booster that’s abandoned after it pushes the rocket off its earthbound launch pad, it’s time to jettison fossil fuels and transition to sources of energy that are renewable and sustainable. 

Here are the facts.  1. Fossil fuels take millions of years to make, and, 2. when burned properly, they always pollute the environment.  

It seems unlikely to me that the global economy will succeed in the long run if we continue on this non-sustainable energy path, because there's lots of evidence that its use leads to catastrophic weather events, global resource scarcity, social unrest, water pollution, and other bad stuff.

 The great news is that fossil fuels birthed our ability to use many other forms of energy.  These other forms can now do the fueling of humanity’s insatiable desire to “go and do.”  

They include solar, hydro, wind, geothermal, and bio-fuels.  Each of these sources of power is renewable.

If something is “renewable,” it means we DO NOT use it in a way that prevents future generations from being able to use the same resource.   

Fossil fuels are always gonna be a net loss.  

Use them, and you’ve reduced the ability of future generations to use them.  Using renewables does not do this.  

It seems to me, that now is the perfect time to capitalize on the boost fossil fuels have given us and continue our amazing human journey forward, but continue forward, using sustainability as our guide.

We’ve made some dumb mistakes - slavery, the Spanish Inquisition, the Kardashians - but as the eco-architect William McDonough says,

“The Stone age didn’t come to an end because humanity ran out of stones.  It came to an end because humans found a better way to use natural resources.   They found a better way to perpetuate the species.”

That’s right; they found a better way to perpetuate the species, and so have we.   

The path forward for the 9 billion people of year 2050 is crystal clear:  business and consumers working together can get us onto the sustainable highway.  And that path can be powered by Adam Smith’s invisible hand (the market) because renewable and sustainable technologies and methods create jobs, lots of jobs... sustainably.

But first - we as a society - must point our compass toward sustainability.  

The market always works to provide energy, food, clothing, buildings, entertainment, and transportation.  We simply need to demand goods and services from that marketplace that are sustainably made.  

This includes the energy that will drive humanity into the 22 and 23 century.