My last two columns described the slow accumulation of carbon dioxide in the earth’s lower atmosphere and how significant that is in accelerating global warming.
Since the onset of industrialization roughly 250 years ago, it has been man’s burning of fossil fuels (wood, coal, natural gas, oil) that has released astounding amounts of CO2 into the air. To grasp the magnitude of carbon gases exhausted, just consider all of the automobiles, airplanes, trains, ships, factories, power plants, homes, buildings, towns and cities across the globe — running every day for two centuries — burning fuel and injecting waste gases into the air.
Now that CO2 has reached a level — and still rising — that most climate scientists believe is causing dangerous warming of polar ice formations, Greenland’s ice cap, and other glaciers around the world, there is a growing consensus within the scientific, political, and lay communities that mankind must adopt energy systems, economies, and societies that can dramatically reduce the burning of fossil fuels.
To transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy will be incredibly difficult. It is a task so enormous and overwhelming as to be nearly impossible. With relatively rare exceptions, every machine, every engine, every highway, every corporation, every piece of infrastructure, every building, every appliance and every job across the world is designed to rely either directly or indirectly on one fossil fuel or another.
The renewable energy technologies — utilizing fuels that don’t emit CO2 — of wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal and tidal start out at a tremendous disadvantage — they are being introduced into an entire world that is already almost completely organized around, and dependent upon, fossil fuels.
And as if actual, tangible machines and organizations designed to rely on (and support) fossil fuels were not obstacles enough for the assimilation of green technologies, there is a large range of financial structuring, political interests, and attitudinal frameworks that work against the adoption of new types of energy.