The sun gives out about 1.17x1031 kJ (kilojoule) energy every year. Only one and half trillionth of this energy reaches the Earth, 150 million kilometers away from the sun. 30% of that energy, in the form of short-wavelength radiation, is reverberated back to the space from the atmosphere and the earth crust, while the rest of that energy is absorbed and transformed into heat. The half of this energy plays a role in the hydrological cycle (evaporation of water and its turning into precipitation). For instance, in order to raise the heat of 1 gram water by 1°C on the earth, there is a need for 4.2 joule (1 cal) energy. Accordingly, every year 496,000 km3 water needs to circulate so that life can be maintained on this complex planet. The other half of the absorbed energy is used in meteorological events and in maintaining the average earth temperature at 15 °C. The great energy that emerges from the condensation of the evaporated water in the cold and higher parts of the atmosphere may lead to storms and tornadoes.
Only 0.15 % of the energy that reaches the earth is used by the plants and the algae as a source of energy for photosynthesis. The energy that is stored in the form of chemical energy within the photosynthetic plants establishes the source of energy for the food that is consumed by the creation. The past creation, as a result of the physical-chemical processes, was fossilized and solar power has been stored in the form of fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas).
Energy consumption and the environment
Energy consumption is viable for every form of work; the waste is what remains in the environment. This waste does not pose a problem as long as they do not damage the sensitive ecologic balance. However, rapid industrialization and urbanization, which lead to excessive amounts of energy consumption, result in environmental problems. Since industrialization-urbanization is directly related to energy consumption – particularly with fossil fuels – industrialized countries are more vulnerable to experiencing environmental problems. In today’s world, it is climatic change – a product of global warming – among these problems that is of the greatest global importance.
The increase in the proportion of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere is the main factor for global warming. This increase is directly related to the consumption of fossil fuels. The rays of the sun, which are reflected from the earth, are trapped by carbon dioxide gases (chlorofluorocarbon, nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gases, such as water vapor) in the atmosphere, and they can not return to space. This, in turn leads to the atmosphere heating up (the greenhouse effect), eventually leading to an increase in heat throughout the world.
The main reason for the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the consumption of fossil fuels (77%) and the decrease in the number of forests (23%). Coal gas is normally the last product of the anaerobic processes in nature. In recent years human intervention played the main role in this abnormal increase in gases. Playing an important part in this process is the expansion in rice fields (38%) in order to feed the increasing population, natural gas extraction and its transfer (16%), an increase in the number of cattle (14%), coal mining (12%), and the oxidation of produced biomass (6%). Chlorofluorocarbon is included in industrial products. As for the nitrous oxides, they are the by-products of reactions in the nitrogen cycle in nature. In recent years, as a result of the increase in the use of the nitrogenous manures (85%), forest fires and other fires (11%), and the oxidation of the produced biomass (7%) there has been a rise in nitrous oxide. Consequently, the rapid increase in greenhouse gases in the last years has lead to a 0.5°C increase in the average heat of the earth.
If the greenhouse gases continue to be accumulated at this speed, then by 2100 the average heat of the earth will record an increase of 2–4°C compared to the period before industrialization. Eventually, there will be a greater melting of the glaciers at the poles, which will lead to 0.5–1.5 % increase in sea level. Thus, residential areas by the seaside, agricultural areas, wetlands and industrialized areas will face the danger of being flooded. Moreover, the risks of climatic changes and desertification will become much more severe.
Some countries are investigating how to calculate the probable effects of a decline in water, food and energy resources and what precautions need to be taken accordingly as a result of global warming. In this sense, the problem was clearly indicated during the summit meetings in Vienna (1985), Rio (1982), and Kyoto (1997), however, they have not been sufficient to provide a solution.
Another important problem arising from the overuse of fossil fuels is the damage to the environment caused by air pollution and acid rain. During the consumption of fossil fuels, CO2, NOx, and SOx are emitted into the atmosphere and these, combining with water vapor, lead to the formation of carbonic acid (H2CO3), nitric acid (HNO3) and sulfuric acid (H2SO4). While normally the pH of rain water is 5.5–6, with these acids it falls down to 3.5–4. This and the resultant dissolution of the metals in the water pose a threat for both the land and the aquatic ecosystems (e.g. a decline in fish species in many lakes) and impair the ecologic balance.
The impact of alternative and renewable energy on the environment
The negative impact of fossil fuels on the environment and the decline in their reserves has accelerated the search for new energy resources. Even though nuclear energy is not a renewable resource, today it has come to be regarded as an alternative energy resource all around the world. Hydrogen, too, is another growing alternative resource. Geothermal energy is also a renewable energy resource, yet it is mostly restricted to the region where it originates.
With current technology, it costs us more to use solar energy rather than to extract fossil fuels. Moreover, there is a great need for the development of new technology that is aimed at producing wind, hydroelectric, bio-energy, tidal and wave energy in the most efficient way at the lowest cost.
Defeated by their ambitions, human beings, particularly in the last century, have destroyed the world and the environment that has been entrusted to them. Since the global impact and the cost of this process only emerged recently, it was too late before human beings realized that they needed to shift from energy systems based on fossil fuels. All the worries and concerns that have surfaced today is not because we have finally realized that the earth has been entrusted to human beings, but simply because the future seems to be promising nothing but destruction. Thus, the real solution to the problems is not related to acting to find a solution to the problems, but rather in being in compliance with the measures of the actual Owner of the world and the universe and avoiding form all types of extremism.
- Spiro Thomas G. and Stigliani William M. 1996. Chemistry of the Environment, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, USA.
- Godish Thad. 1997. Air Quality, CRC Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, New York.
- World Energy Outlook. 2004. International Energy Agency.