Why Is It Bad To Not Use Renewable Energy?

Fossil Fuels Are Finite

Why is it bad to not use renewable energy?

Fossil fuels like oil, natural gas, and coal are non-renewable resources formed from the remains of plants and animals that lived hundreds of millions of years ago. They cannot be replaced on a human timescale once they are used up. Fossil fuels take an incredibly long time to form naturally – generally millions of years – so we cannot recreate them quickly. At current consumption rates, global oil reserves are projected to run out in 50 years and natural gas in 54 years according to BP’s 2019 statistical review of world energy [1]. Coal may last up to 150 years longer, but it too is finite. All the easily accessible fossil fuel deposits will eventually be depleted if we continue to extract and burn them as our primary energy source.

Dependence on Foreign Oil

The United States relies heavily on imported oil to meet its energy needs. In 2021, the U.S. imported approximately 6.1 million barrels per day of petroleum from foreign countries, accounting for about 37% of total U.S. petroleum consumption [1]. This dependence on foreign oil creates several dangers and costs for the United States:

First, relying so heavily on imported oil makes the U.S. vulnerable to supply disruptions caused by political instability or conflict in oil-producing regions. For example, in 1973 OPEC declared an oil embargo against the U.S. in retaliation for its support of Israel, causing severe fuel shortages and price spikes [2]. Such events can damage the U.S. economy and threaten national security.

Second, sending billions of dollars overseas to pay for imported oil constitutes a constant drain on the U.S. economy. In 2021 alone, the United States spent over $150 billion on crude oil imports [3]. Reducing imports through greater energy independence could redirect some of those dollars into the domestic economy.

Finally, reliance on unstable regions for oil imports creates risky foreign policy entanglements as the U.S. seeks to secure favored access and supply. For instance, the U.S. has expended enormous military, diplomatic and foreign aid resources to maintain ties with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states [4]. Curtailing oil imports would allow the U.S. to disentangle itself from messy regional conflicts.

Environmental Damage

Extracting and burning fossil fuels comes with significant environmental consequences. Fossil fuel extraction often requires clearing land and fragmenting wildlife habitat. Oil spills like the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon have been environmentally catastrophic, harming marine ecosystems for decades.

The NRDC reports that burning fossil fuels is the largest contributor to air pollution, releasing smog-forming chemicals, toxic metals like mercury, and acid rain-causing sulfur and nitrogen oxides. This air pollution causes respiratory illnesses, neurologic damage, and premature death. The particulates also reduce visibility and cause environmental damage.

According to the EPA, power plants are the largest source of sulfur dioxide emissions in the US, contributing to acid rain. Nitrogen oxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion disrupts terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. The environmental damage from fossil fuels affects both human health and entire ecosystems.

Climate Change

The burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas is the primary cause of climate change. When fossil fuels are burned, they release large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide trap heat in the atmosphere, causing global temperatures to rise. This increase in global temperature is causing major changes to the climate, including rising sea levels, increased frequency of extreme weather events, and shifting rainfall patterns that can lead to drought and wildfires. The release of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion has increased the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by over 40% since pre-industrial times. This dramatic rise in greenhouse gases is overwhelming the climate system and driving rapid global warming. To prevent the worst impacts of climate change, there is scientific consensus that the world must transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources that do not emit greenhouse gases.

Health Consequences

Burning fossil fuels releases harmful pollutants into the air that have severe public health consequences. Fine particulate matter, ground-level ozone, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, mercury, and dozens of other toxins are emitted from power plants, refineries, and vehicles fueled by coal, oil, and natural gas.

These pollutants contribute to 4.2 million deaths annually worldwide due to outdoor air pollution, according to the World Health Organization. In the U.S. alone, over 100,000 premature deaths are linked to these emissions each year (Harvard School of Public Health). Leading causes include heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer, and chronic respiratory diseases like asthma.

Children are especially vulnerable to the health effects. Asthma rates have surged in recent decades, with coal power plants being a major contributor. Over 16,000 premature births in the U.S. annually are attributed to toxic air from burning fossil fuels (Environmental and Energy Study Institute).

The health care costs of treating diseases caused by fossil fuel pollution amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars per year globally. Transitioning to clean, renewable energy can save lives and reduce the disease burden caused by dirty fossil fuels.

National Security Risks

The United States’ dependence on foreign oil threatens national security in several ways. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, importing so much oil creates economic vulnerabilities, exposes the U.S. to unstable or hostile regimes, and overstrains the military by requiring it to secure global oil supplies and infrastructure. Reliance on imported oil means the U.S. economy is susceptible to price shocks and supply disruptions caused by political unrest or conflict in other countries. This could destabilize the economy and undermine U.S. power. Additionally, most foreign oil comes from regions rife with instability, extremism, and anti-American sentiment. This forces the U.S. to work with oppressive regimes and maintain a military presence in volatile areas just to maintain the oil supply. Protecting oil access strains military resources, puts troops at risk, and fans anti-Americanism. Thus dependence on foreign oil jeopardizes U.S. national security on multiple fronts.

Energy Poverty

Energy poverty, defined as the lack of access to modern energy services, affects approximately 2.6 billion people globally, according to the World Economic Forum. This predominantly impacts developing countries, where populations struggle to meet basic needs like lighting, heating, cooking, and powering appliances. According to Habitat for Humanity, insufficient energy translates to inadequate agriculture, manufacturing, and overall economic development for the poorest nations.

Research shows that energy poverty has far-reaching consequences. A study by Sy et al. in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews found that it can lead to indoor air pollution and associated health problems when people resort to burning biomass for their energy needs. Energy poverty also limits opportunities for education and income generation when amenities like lighting and electricity are not available. Additionally, women and children often spend significant time collecting traditional biomass fuels, reducing time for productive endeavors.

Overall, experts like Robic argue that energy poverty keeps developing nations trapped in a cycle of poverty. Access to modern, clean energy services is essential for powering economic growth, improving health outcomes, and raising standards of living. Overcoming energy poverty by increasing energy access should be a priority for developing countries and the global community.

Job Losses

The transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy is already underway, leading to job losses in the fossil fuel industry. In 2021 alone, the fossil fuel industry cut over 9,000 jobs despite continued growth in production (1). Major layoffs have occurred recently, including 345 unionized workers losing their jobs after the permanent shutdown of the Marathon oil refinery in California in 2020 (2).

As demand decreases for coal, oil, and gas, energy companies are downsizing their workforces. Employment in fossil fuel extraction and support activities fell by around 13,000 in 2021 according to a recent report (1). The economic shifts from fossil fuels to renewables are already underway, leading to job losses even if full transition is gradual. Workers in fossil fuel industries face uncertainty about long-term job security.

Proactive policies are needed to provide a just transition for displaced fossil fuel workers through retraining programs, economic redevelopment, and social support. The renewable energy transition should focus on creating new jobs to offset losses rather than abandoning fossil fuel workers.

Renewables Are Sustainable

In contrast to fossil fuels, which are finite resources that will eventually run out, renewable energy comes from essentially infinite natural sources like the sun, wind, and heat from the earth’s core. Renewable energy technologies harness these naturally occurring flows of energy to generate electricity, heat and fuel (EPA, 2023). The potential supply of renewable energy is enormous and can meet our energy needs indefinitely without being depleted. According to the UN, renewable energy has the ability to provide energy in a sustainable manner for the foreseeable future (UN, n.d.).

Some examples of renewable energy sources include:

  • Solar power from photovoltaic panels that convert sunlight into electricity
  • Wind power from turbines that generate electricity when wind turns the blades
  • Hydropower from dams that capture the energy of flowing water to produce electricity
  • Geothermal power from heat buried deep underground that can provide a steam resource for generating electricity
  • Bioenergy from plant materials and animal waste that can be used to generate electricity, heat, or fuel

Because these energy sources are constantly replenished in the natural environment, they are essentially inexhaustible and provide a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. Developing renewable energy can ensure access to clean, reliable energy far into the future.

Call to Action

The good news is that we have the technology and capability to transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower. This transition is urgently needed for the health of our planet and our citizens. There are clear environmental, health, and economic benefits to embracing renewables over polluting energy sources.

We must encourage businesses, governments, and individuals to invest in renewable energy infrastructure. The falling prices of renewables along with consumer demand makes this fiscally smart. Phasing out subsidies for fossil fuels can also help level the economic playing field.

Concerned citizens should contact their elected representatives and voice support for pro-renewables policies and legislation. Things like tax credits, rebates, and net metering make it easier for homes and businesses to install rooftop solar. Renewable portfolio standards ensure utility companies integrate clean energy in their mix.

With vision and commitment, we can transform our energy economy. The faster we transition, the quicker we mitigate climate change, reduce pollution-related illnesses, and create sustainable jobs. The solutions are here – we must act swiftly and decisively to embrace them. Our future depends on it.

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