Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



Fossil Fuels - The End of an Era

by David Yarian, Ph.D.

We are in the late afternoon of the long, smoggy day of fossil fuels. In the eighteenth century, coal was the energy source that heated the boilers and fired the forges of the Industrial Revolution – and it remains the (dirty) fuel of convenience for the generation of electricity today. Petroleum and natural gas first appeared in commercial quantities beginning in the 1850s, supplanting whale oil as the source of illumination and lubrication.

In the twentieth century oil has been the premier source of energy, used for gasoline and other fuels, heating, production of plastics and other synthetic materials, and lubrication. Petroleum makes up 40% of total energy consumption in the U.S. Oil production from the top 15 producing countries in the world exceed 64,000,000 barrels of oil per day.

There is a finite amount of fossil fuel that can be extracted from the Earth.

Although coal deposits are predicted to last another 250 years or so, oil is in much shorter supply. Even as new fields are opened and new technologies wring more oil out of established fields, oil production has already reached its peak.

Fossil fuels have been cheap -- easy to find, extract and to use. This efficiency has come at a high, though long-ignored, price. We have befouled the entire planet with air, water and ground pollution, and, by filling the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, tipped the finely-tuned climate of the Earth into slow but inexorable warming. The glaciers are melting and ocean levels are rising. Droughts and floods and extreme weather conditions are increasing.

As global warming intensifies and supplies of fossil fuels diminish we must increasingly turn to energy sources that are clean, renewable and sustainable.

Clean energy sources do not release the greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane) that transform the earth’s atmosphere into a vast lens focusing solar radiation on the Earth’s surface, slowly heating it.

For renewable, sustainable sources of energy we must turn to natural forces as primary sources of energy generation – wind, tidal and wave power, flowing water, geothermal heat, and solar energy. Photosynthesis creates organic materials that may be cultivated and processed into fuels.

The potential of these renewable energy sources is enormous. Wind energy alone is estimated to be capable of delivering 40 times current global electricity demand. The amount of solar energy intercepted by the Earth every minute is greater than the amount of energy produced by fossil fuels in a year! Geothermal energy available from the heat within the Earth’s core is approximately 35 times that of solar energy.

The selected books in this section on Fossil Fuels: End of an Era offer history and analysis of our current energy dilemmas and make the case that concerted action is necessary - now.

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