With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, a monumental transformation occurred that has provided us with an advanced ability to reshape the very world that surrounds us. We have developed technologies, made major advances in modern medicine and propelled our species to a position of ultimate power over all others.
If you examine the foundation for this great success, you will find that it lies adherent in our discovery, exploration and use of fossil fuels as the lifeblood of our global economic engine. Holding the climate debate firmly aside, we are still positioned at the crossroads in our need to find a reliant and sustainable form of energy that creates a myriad of renewable energy jobs, diversifies energy generation and provides the mechanism by which we advance sustainability into the future.
The history of energy
For 150,000 years the human species has developed to live off of current solar income. That is, the sunlight fell on the fields and grew plants. The animals ate the plants, we ate the plants and animals and wore clothes made from both. The sun was our food, heat, and light supply, all resources made possible by current sunlight. In turn, the amount of energy that fell in a given period of time was the maximum amount of energy we could use. We then discovered small pockets of ancient sunlight, coal and oil. Since that time, we have invested our entire global economy in the use of ancient solar income.
The peak oil theory
M. King Hubbert is noted for accurately predicting the U.S. oil production peak in the 1970s, which we now know to be true. He later developed projections for global peak oil, which is estimated to manifest between 2000 and 2025. Hindsight suggests, however, that we will not know when global peak oil will occur until many years after the fact. That said, many experts agree that peak oil may already be underway. In 20 years, we might very well look back and ask ourselves why we waited to make the switch to renewable forms of energy.
The elephant in the room
The evidence is clear. We know that peak oil is rapidly approaching, yet we have made no significant investment in alternative forms of energy. So what happens when peak oil occurs and we do not have the means to transition to a reliable source of energy? Besides the harsh political ramifications associated with the onset of peak oil, the transition toward alternative forms of energy will be much more difficult once it is known that peak oil is in full swing. The elephant has been laying peacefully in the corner of the room for some time, but is now crowding a small room as it begins to move front and center. Making a transition steadfastly will help minimize the threat of peak oil before the problem exacerbates itself.
To say that we cannot shift toward true sustainability simply undermines the vast attributes inherent in our species’ ability to adapt to new environments. If it weren’t for the Industrial Revolution, we simply would not be in a position to develop this change, and for that I am grateful. We must therefore utilize the many positive outcomes of this age and blend it with solutions that help propel the next Sustainable Revolution. We must be resilient in our virtue to garner all that we have learned and advance ourselves in a direction that allows for proper management of energy, water and resources, thus incorporating systems thinking about social, economic, cultural and environmental sustainability at a global level.
The future simply cannot wait!
Tyler Hartrich is A City & Regional Planning Senior, Empower Poly Coalition Vice President and Mustang Daily Columnist.