If you're living in a developed neighbourhood you may not see all of the effects of the various energy sources we use. But, a quick look at the gas station nearest you will reveal one undisputed fact: the prices of our traditional sources of fuel are tempermental at best, and it doesn't look like they will stabalize any time soon. This fact, in itself, is enough to make anyone wonder if there aren't other ways of powering the systems that have become so vital to our way of life; the machinery of industry, our vehicles, the energy provided to our homes.
Read the definition for fossil fuels here.
The energy sources that humans have relied on for about the last century and a half are known as fossil fuels. These fuels include gas, diesel, natural gas, methane, propane, and oil. All of these sources of energy are the product of millions of years of compression of what was organic matter, located in the first layer of the earth's crust. As such, they are considered non-renewable sources of energy; as they are used up they cannot be replaced, so there will definitely come a time when they run out altogether. This will effect everyone in the world, from the electrician in London and Strathroy looking for a condo downtown, to the stay-at-home mom picking her kids up from the bus outside her home in Tulsa, Oklahoma to those in third world nations without the technology to read this article.
Despite what many people in the energy industry say, it would appear that that time is drawing closer. Prices for all types of fossil fuels have risen steeply over the last decade; in fact, when at its highest rate, gasoline had tripled in price since 1999, affecting everything from the costs of shipping materials to new houses to riding municipal vehicles. The increased prices triggered a desire held by many people to make alternative sources of energy more cost effective and efficient.
Another reason for the continued expansion of our use and practical harvesting of renewable energy is the impact that the use of fossil fuels has on the environment. Each year, the burning of fossil fuels significantly increases the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, resulting in a greenhouse effect that has seen the temperature of the Earth increase. Many people fear that this may result in the loss of species, as well as liveable land, at some point in the future. Science's research and development credit a variety of areas that have contributed and will be affected by the climate changes.
The problem with utilizing renewable energy, up until now, has been that there is a lack of political and industrial will. We have a fairly straightforward system, and it makes everyone at the upper end rich, so why change it? There are a lot of people very comfortable in their condo. This lack of will has meant that less study has gone into making renewable sources of energy, such as wind, air, and geothermal sources, as efficient and powerful as the combustible energy found in fossil fuels.
Some forms of renewable energy are not without controversy themselves; nuclear power has long been lauded by many as the way of the future, but whether fact, fiction, or exaggeration, there are multiple reasons why the public is leery of accepting this type of energy as the main means of powering our society. Some are looking to areas like sewage treatment chemicals or simple conservation for other options.
One thing is clear, whether you want to believe it or not; the time of fossil fuels is rapidly drawing to a close, if for no other reason than that it is impossible to reproduce it. This means that humans have no choice but to find efficient ways of harvesting natural and renewable sources of fuel, a choice which will inevitably lead to cleaner burning energy (although no doubt in time there will be a new controversy surrounding the use of renewable sources of energy as well).