March 9, 2014

Addiction to energy has costs

We use energy every day of our lives, a lot of energy.

We use energy to keep rooms at comfortable temperatures, to provide lighting and heat water. We use energy to cook and to power computers, copiers, games and appliances. By all estimates, more than 40 percent of the energy consumed in the United States goes into powering homes and commercial buildings.

Roughly 28 percent of the energy used in the United States is for transportation including cars, trucks, buses, airplanes, trains, barges and pipelines. In this sector, about 9 percent is used by aircraft and 3 percent for trains and buses. Personal vehicles consume more than 60 percent. 

We are less than 5 percent of the world’s population, but home to one-third of the world’s automobiles. Cars, motorcycles, trucks and buses drive nearly 3 trillion miles annually and the total number of miles driven is projected to grow by 40 percent over the next 20 years.

We use more than a quarter of the world’s energy, mostly for luxuries that weren’t available 100, 50 or 25 years ago. These accomplishments come as a result of consuming natural resources, mostly fossil fuels, which are finite and have an environmental cost such as devastated ecosystems or land stripped of its vitality.

What’s more, fossil fuels must be burned, which creates soot, smog and acid rain that is impacting our health and altering our climate.

Americans currently use nearly 100 quadrillion BTUs of energy annually. The people of the world now consume nearly one and a half quadrillion BTUs every day. A quadrillion is one with 15 zeroes. One quadrillion BTUs is about equal to the amount of potential energy in 45 million tons of coal, 170 million barrels of crude or 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

We need to reflect upon the implications of using such tremendous amounts of energy. And we must learn to recognize the connections between harvesting and burning fossil fuels and environmental degradation and worsening health and livelihoods.

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