|Illustration by: Britannica.com|
Today global warming phenomenon has rightly reached its important place in public discourse. Already Earth’s global temperature reached a record hot since the earliest records, which was 0.87 °C last year (Nasa, 2015). In response to this environmental concern, representatives from 195 countries around the world have gathered at the Paris climate conference (COP21) in December 2015 and signed a universal, legally binding agreements formulated to combat global warming. The agreement, among other important points, stressed the need to limit the average global warming level to 2 °C while also "pursue efforts" to limit climate increase to 1.5°C. In order to reach the agreed target, experts argued that we need to move from fossil fuels to the more environmentally friendly renewable energies by 2050 (Sutter, 2015). Fossil fuels are formed from the organic remains several million years ago. It is used as the main source of energy. To understand how renewable energies are better in many aspect, we need to compare it with fossil fuels.
Fossil fuels might cause more harm to the environment than renewable energies. A report by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that fossil fuels are one of the two main contributor of CO2 emission, with the other one being industrial process (IPCC, 2014). Furthermore, fossil fuels pollute the atmosphere more than renewable energies. Experts estimates that fossil fuels and industrial process that use them generated 69% of global GHG emissions (Blanco et al., 2014). Renewable energies, on the other hand, does not produce GHG emissions because they rely on replenished resources such as tidal or wind power. The process that fossil fuels have to undergo are riskier than renewable energies. Fossil fuels, in order to be produced into energy, needs to be extracted and transported. Such steps are actually very unsafe because they are rife with accident. For example, safety negligence of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico caused the catastrophic 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The 4.9 million barrels of oil spill (Repanich, 2010) threatened 15,700 species of sea life (Biello, 2010). Unlike the dangerous process of fossil fuels, renewable energies do not possess any such risks.
Fossil fuels are actually more expensive to process compared to renewable energies. A study by International Monetary Fund shows that global use of fossil fuels costs taxpayers and consumers $5.3 trillion year (Wernick, 2015). The dubbed ‘true cost’ include externalities such as damage to public health and the environment and the potential investment in other public goods. On the other hand, renewable energies did not generate those externalities. Recent trend shows that despite the current low price of fossil fuels, the cost for renewable energies are plummeting. While oil prices fall sharply, the latest figure being 2% negative (Davies, 2016), a report by International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) shows that the cost for renewable energies are either competitive or cheaper than fossil fuels, with the figures stand at 75% for solar modules (IRENA, 2015).
Fossil fuels are less sustainable in the long run contrary to renewable energies. Prolonged use of fossil fuels might threaten Earth’s environment, unlike renewable energies. Fossil fuels combustion, which produces carbon dioxide, is the largest contributing factor to the release of greenhouse gases (National Geographic Society). If not mitigated, this might cause environmental anomalies such as the rising of sea level (NRC,2011). Renewable energies, meanwhile, are much more sustainable since they did not have much negative impact towards the environment. Fossil fuels take up to millions of years to form since they are made from remains of organism that died eons ago, while renewables are naturally replenished. It is practically non-renewable and will be depleted. In fact, latest figures suggest that with our current rate of consumption, fossil fuels reserves will be depleted in 2088 – with oil gone first in 2052 (CIA, 2014). Renewable energies, however, can be naturally replenished within human timescale.
By comparing fossil fuels and renewable energies, we can see that renewable energies are a viable alternative to face both the increasing demand for energy and the threat of climate change. The high expenses of fossil fuels usage – both economically and environmentally – might prove too high to be kept as it is. Climate change is not an inevitable event, but to prevent it, we need to act fast with a sense of urgency. To ensure the survival of human race, we must strive for the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energies as soon as possible.
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