Climate change is caused by increasing levels of certain gases in the atmosphere widely known as the greatest environmental threat facing the world today. Climate change is used to be called Global Warming. It is not just about the earth getting hotter. It is about severe weather events; the hottest, the coldest, the driest and the wettest weather. It is also about rising sea levels which will make large parts of the earth uninhabitable. And it’s happening already.
According to the assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last 2007, they concluded that beyond any reasonable doubt, Earth is nearing the stage of irreversible change due to rising of carbon dioxide.
Recently, nine out of ten climate scientists concluded that global temperature will be exceeded for up to 2 degrees. Such rise could result in extinction of species for up to 20–30%. In order to prevent the severe effects of climate change, we need to curb emissions of CO2 and other harmful gases today. Electricity generation from conventional sources is responsible for over 41% of worldwide carbon emissions making it the single largest contributor.
The graph above shows carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations (in parts per million) for the last 1000 years.
Fossil fuels, as the name implies, are very old. Much of our coal began to form over 300 million years ago. Although people in Ancient time probably used fossil fuels, it was the Industrial Revolution that led to their wide-scale extraction. Since then, we’ve consumed an incredible amount of fossil fuels leaving almost nothing and the climate seriously impacted. Fossil fuels are incredibly dense form of energy, and they took millions of years to become so. And when they’re gone, they’re gone pretty much forever.
Clearly fossil fuel reserves are finite – it is only a matter of time when they run out, not if. Every year, we consume the equivalent of over 11 billion tons of oil in fossil fuels globally. Crude oil reserves are vanishing at the rate of 4 billion tons a year. If we carry on at this rate without any increase in our growing population or aspirations, our known oil deposits will be gone by 2052.
Still, we have gas and coal left. But if we increase gas production to fill the energy gap left by oil, then those reserves will only give us an additional eight years, taking us to 2060. But the rate at which the world consumes fossil fuel is not stagnant. It is increasing as the world's population grows and as living standard rises. Fossil Fuels will therefore run out earlier.
It is often claimed that we have enough coal to last for hundreds of years. But if we commence the production to fill the gap left through depleting our oil and gas reserves, the coal deposits will only give enough energy to take us as far as 2088. Without even thinking of carbon dioxide emissions from burning those coal.
Does 2088 mark the point that we run out of fossil fuels? The simple answer is NO. Some new reserves will be found which will help extend this deadline slightly, but this can’t last forever. New reserves of fossil fuels are becoming harder to find, and those that are being discovered were significantly smaller than the ones that have been found in the past.
Take oil production for example, from which we are likely on a downward slope. Sixteen of the world’s twenty largest oil fields have already reached their peak level of production (the point from which they are producing their largest annual oil yield), whilst the golden age of oil field discovery was only 50 years ago.
Renewables offer us another way. A way to avoid this fossil fuel energy reach its peak, but we must start now. As the Saudi Oil Minister said in 1970s, “The Stone Age didn’t end for lack of stone, and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of oil.”