By LEAH STRATMANN
The monthly forum presented by the South Walton Community Council (SWCC) last week was on the topic of energy. Christian Wagley, environmental program manager for Alys Beach, presented the film “Energy Crossroads” to a small gathering.
The film dealt with all aspects of energy and how we use it, pointing out the biggest contributor to the worldwide energy footprint is in how we use it. The industrial revolution started the ball rolling and changed just about everything in modern industrial societies.
Until recently, most people have taken energy for granted, but the makers of the film pointed out understanding energy is crucial and to know that two thirds of all transportation fuels come from fossils and while previous generations saw natural resources as infinite, we now know they are not. It took millions of years to create fossil fuels, but only a little over 100 to extract half of the world’s fossil fuels. Inexpensive oils will soon be gone and they are not sustainable.
The filmmakers pointed out most Americans considered cheap energy to somehow be a birthright and while the United States represents only 5 percent of the population, we consume 25 percent of the worldwide energy used. Experts pointed out there was a kind of stupidity at play when the subject is energy because since is has been cheap, we have squandered it. Americans use 380 million gallons of gas every single day and each American is using the equivalent amount of energy as is found in a lightning bolt every day.
Much of the energy used is taken us in the growing and transporting of food. Landfills are saturated with vast amounts of petroleum-based trash and oil is being depleted rapidly while the peak of oil production also looms in the near future. The film pointed out the peak in oil discovery was reached in 1963.
Many industrialized nations run the country’s infrastructure on oil in one way or another. The United States Congress recognized an energy crisis more than 30 years ago, but little to nothing has been done to address it.
This occurred in 1973 when an oil embargo forced gas stations to run dry, factories to close and airlines to sharply reduce scheduled flights.
Today’s electricity is generated mostly from coal, which is still abundant, but not a particularly clean source of energy.
In the future, the world will have to learn to share the finite natural resources or fight for them. The U.S. and China might end up competing for the world’s remaining oil. It was noted that as a country, we are requiring more energy than we have in our country, which has a tendency to warp political relations.
The picture was grim, noting we have enough energy in the U.S. for only 40 percent of the people and we will never be energy-independent again.
Emerging industrialized nations are going to want their share of energy as well. In addition, there is no place to dispose of our waste.
Recognizing that humans are the biggest source of change on the planet, we are altering greenhouse gases, which affect global climates. Scientists have dug into the three-mile core of ice in Greenland and Antarctica, which reveals much about the past. Researchers can tell decade-by-decade how many greenhouse gases were in the air by taking core samples. The warmest years on record have occurred in the past 14 years and the melting of the world’s ice cap is happening right before our eyes.
As the planets warm, sea levels rise and currently they are rising two to three feet each year. Scientists predict by 2100, sea levels could be 21 feet higher than they are today.
“If we don’t change course in the 21st century, the U.S. as we know it could disappear within the next 100 years. The buffer has been used up and we have to act now. Americans are still in denial about this. Our current way of lie seems outdated and destructive,” one of the experts said. “World population and demand increases daily.”
While the forecast is not pretty, every expert felt the point of no return had not yet been reached. While our prosperity is at risk, the experts also said conservation is often the lowest cost investment and bio fuels will play the biggest part in our future. It was pointed out that solar energy is the largest source of energy and available worldwide, but a variety of energy sources including the relative cheapness of wind power should be explored.
The makers of the film and the experts were optimistic about the cleverness of people to find solutions to the problem of diminishing resources.
In the discussion following the film many noted the lack of political infrastructure in place to implement solutions and noted that had we mobilized 30 years ago, we might be seeing something happen now.
The ways in which individuals can reduce their energy footprints is to eat low on the food chain, forgoing meat and buying organic foods when possible. While recycling doesn’t make the list of the top 10 things one can do, it also doesn’t hurt anything. People should try to have better insulation and windows in homes, purchase energy saving appliances, and conserve in daily life by raising the thermostat a few degrees in the summer, and lower it a few degrees in the winter, drive less, take cloth bags when shopping, and conserve in every way you can as an individual.