The smartphone has drastically changed our
lives since its advent 10 years ago. Loaded with more computing power than what
the NASA super-machines had in 1969, this small device has become so much a
part of our lives that we feel lost without them.
Technology is changing at a rapid pace and
this is having a profound effect on society. These are times of technological
innovations and living amidst jet planes, satellites, computers, organ
transplants, stem cells, cellphones, copiers and birth control pills. There is
no denying the fact that change is the only constant. Products are changing sizes and capabilities
by the minute, they are becoming faster, efficient and cheaper and thus
becoming more accessible to larger numbers of people.
Despite this refinement of technology in
various fields including communications, transportation and energy systems in
the last decade, we still depend on extracting and burning fossil fuels for most
of our energy needs. There have been evidences of burning coal/gas for heat in
China as far back as 3490 BC. The growth of the Industrial Age was fully
dependent on the use of fossil fuels in different ways. Fossil fuels are thus very useful, very
valuable and fuel deposits have important geopolitical implications. However,
in the present times of green technology, polluted air, consumption levels and
population growth, it is time that we left the fuel where it belongs to, in the
ground, and look for cleaner energy sources.
The naysayers are already here. They are
the ones that said that computers would never work and would lead to
unemployment, ships would never sail across the seas and there would not be any
flying machines at all. They never
believed that streetlights would work. On the contrary they were fearful that they
would increase illnesses. They were negative about telephones, radios, trains,
computers, automobiles and nuclear power. Most technological innovations and
ideas were met with unfounded fears, those that made them believe that the
welfare of mankind would be at stake.
Fossil fuels are those that we derive from
fossils of living matter from the past. Fossils are those from the times before
the dinosaurs lived, predominantly plant matter that grew in swamps. Without
enough air to completely decompose, when they sank to the bottom of the swamps,
they turned into peat. These were buried under layers of sand and silt, the
moisture was squeezed out and they turned into fuels. What the plant captured
during photosynthesis and stored as carbon and hydrogen bonds during all these
years form the source of energy of the fossil fuels.
The best thing about fossil fuels is that
they are inexpensive, if you do not take into account the catastrophic change
in climate that burning of fossil fuels has brought us to. Fossil fuels are of
limited supply, that is, they will eventually run out of stock. They are easily
accessible now, but all that will change soon. These have also led to other
unconventional methods of tracking fossil fuels such as drilling in the deep
seas, fracking and treating oil-sands. These can damage ecosystems and cause
increased imbalance. Another important fact is that fossil fuels are used for
other purposes including manufacture of medicines, lubricants and plastics.
Therefore, in more ways than one, it does not make sense to burn the limited
supply fossil fuels away.
Renewable energy sources have expanded
dramatically across the globe in the last couple of decades. This has been made
possible by technological innovations and reducing costs. Solar, wind and
energy storage systems have improved in terms of technology and come down in
cost. Biomimicry and other new ideas are shaping sustainable design. Smart grid
systems are used to supply electricity to homes using automation and remote
control methods. Therefore, it is important to note that our energy choices
today will have massive consequences on our climate, health and economy for
many years to come. It is our collective responsibility to reject destructive energy
generation methods in favour of clean energy sources.
This means we have to understand how
science works so that we are able to use its tools with mastery. For this we
have to change and understand that there are better options available to lead a
good life on planet earth.