Can a Switch to Renewable Energy Sources Help Combat Global Warming?
Global warming has emerged as one of the most important problems facing the international community in the 21st century. For decades, human beings engaged in intensive industrial activity will little consideration for the environmental consequences of his actions.
These activities have led to changes in the climate due to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the upper atmosphere, a condition known as global warming. Global warming has led to many adverse effects including storms, frequent flooding due to a rise in sea levels, heat waves, devastation of plant life, and the spread of diseases.
The global community has therefore singled out global warming as an environmental issue that needs to be addressed promptly. One of the solutions proposed has been to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources. This paper will argue that since fossil fuels have been the primary contributors to the global warming problem, a switch to renewable energy sources will help to mitigate global warming and possibly even reverse the damages done so far.
Fossil Fuels and Global Warming
There is unanimous agreement that global warming is a problem that requires a universal solution. Carbon dioxide has been earmarked as the Green House gas (GHG) most responsible for this phenomenon. This implicates fossil fuels since CO2 is the main byproduct of fossil fuel combustion.
Ferrey reinforces this statement by documenting that burning fossil fuels contributes 81% of CO2 emissions in the world (73). Arguments have therefore been made that reducing fossil fuel use will result in lower CO2 emissions and therefore mitigate global warming. However, this argument faces opposition from proponents of fossil fuels who claim that renewable energy sources will not offset the global warming problem.
A Case for Renewable Energy Sources
Renewable energy sources will provide clean power and therefore reduce the amount of GHGs emitted by the present power generation technologies. Reliance on fossil fuels for power generation has caused a notable acceleration in carbon emissions since 1990.
Ferrey documents that the reliance on coal resources for power generation in developing countries has led to an in CO2 emissions by about 40% (70). Electric power generation is projected to be the main contributor to GHG emissions in the near future, as developing countries turn to fossil fuels for their power generation.
Alternative means of producing electricity will therefore have positive environmental outcomes. A substantial change to renewable technology will have a marked impact on the environment since it will significantly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions emanating from the power sector. This is a critical point considering that the (IEA) has forecast that the world demand for energy will grow by 60% by the year 2030.
Renewable energy sources for vehicles will improve the air quality in all countries and therefore mitigate global warming. The growth in has been responsible for the high CO2 emissions experienced in many parts of the world (Rich and David 1). Renewable energy sources such as hydrogen can be used to power vehicles and reduce the negative environmental impacts, including global warming, that carbon emissions from automobiles cause.
Renewable energy sources will enable countries to continue enjoying industrial success without causing further harm the environment. The current state of the environment is the result of industrial action by the developed countries in the world. Dimitrov asserts that the aggregate GHG emissions from developed nations since the 18th century are to blame for the global warming problem (801).
If developing nations continue to rely on fossil fuels to stimulate their economic growth, the world will suffer significantly. A shift to renewable energy sources will assist the counties to enjoy industrial growth without increasing global warming.
Some renewable energy sources such as wind turbines and solar panels contribute directly to the reduction of global warming by reducing the amount of heat energy scattered in the earths atmosphere. Jangra et al. theorize that when wind energy is used to turn turbines, some of the heat energy contained in it is converted into electric energy (39). The air released back into the atmosphere is cooler because of the energy transfer taking place in the wind turbines.
Solar PV cells convert some of the heat coming from the sun into electrical energy therefore reducing the rate at which the earth is heating up. Instead of having the heat energy absorbed by the earth or reflected into space, absorb the energy and convert it into electricity. In addition to this, the wind turbines and solar PV cells create electricity, therefore reducing the need for fossil fuels.
The current effect of wind turbines and solar PV cells on global warming is negligible since the two technologies are not prevalent. However, the effect can be made significant if the number of wind farm installations and solar energy generation plants is increased dramatically.
Rebutting Arguments against Renewable Energy Sources
Opponents of the global warming theory declare that there is no proof that reducing fossil fuel use will mitigate global warming. Spencer claims that the supposed scientific consensus that human action is to blame for recent global warming is mostly a statement of faith made from a position of relative ignorance about natural variability in the climate system (45).
The common assumption that humanitys use of fossil fuels is to blame for global warming has not been proven beyond doubt. In addition to this, the future impact of the global warming caused by fossil fuels cannot be predicted accurately. While some computer climate models estimate that the global climate will increase by about 10C late in this century, others predict warming levels of four times this magnitude.
Spencer asserts that the catastrophic global warming predictions are based on a myriad of assumptions and should therefore not be taken as gospel truth (50). While the exact impact of the greenhouse gases produced by fossil fuels cannot be accessed, it is clear that burning fossil fuels exacerbates the situation. Lack of definite predictions should therefore not be used as a basis for refusing to tackle the problem.
There are alternative methods that can be used to deal with the carbon emissions from fossil fuels. Ferrey reveals that large tracks of forests can effectively absorb and convert CO2 to various sugars and oxygen during photosynthesis thereby reducing the carbon concentration in the atmosphere by a significant factor (68). The UN Climate Change Negotiations confirmed that forestry provides a cost-effective way to ameliorate climate change and should be an integral part of new climate agreements (Dimitrov 802).
Policy makers should therefore focus on these methods to mitigate the emission of CO2 instead of focusing primarily on renewable fuel sources. While it is true that there are other methods for reducing CO2 concentration and therefore mitigating global warming, renewable energy sources are the only means through which the catastrophic effects of global warming can be avoided.
The other CO2 limiting methods will only result in a decrease in the GHG emissions. However, scientists assert that the sharp reduction in GHG emissions to near zero by 2100 can only be achieved through a shift to (Ferrey 71). The sharp reduction is only possible through a shift to renewable energy sources that do not emit GHGs.
Some opponents of renewable energy sources argue that the atmospheric concentration of GHGs is already too high for any abatement actions to mitigate the effects of global warming. This argument is reinforced by the fact that the pace of reform by most countries has been too slow.
According to these cynics, the level of warming is going to keep rising regardless of the switch to renewable energy source because of positive feedback that occurs when the direct warming tendency of the CO2 is amplified by changes in clouds, and water vapor (Spencer 45). Switching to renewable energy sources will therefore be a costly project that will not yield a positive impact on global warming.
This deduction is strongly refuted by Ferrey who documents that a sharp reduction in GHG emissions will limit the increase in Earths surface temperature and therefore help avoid the catastrophic effects of global warming (71). All efforts should therefore be made to mitigate CO2 emissions and help mitigate global warming.
Proponents of fossil fuels argue that it is possible to use these energy resources in such a manner that the environmental impact is significantly reduced. Technological advances have made it possible for fossil fuels such as coal to be produced in an environmentally friendly manner.
Engines can also be designed to minimize vehicular CO2 emissions and therefore reduce global warming. Rich and David assert that while these efforts are commendable, they will not be able to make the monumental reductions in CO2 emissions that are necessary for global warming to be mitigated (1). Using fossil fuels will still lead to the production of GHGs and the ideal goal is to stop all GHG emissions.
Global warming is a real problem facing the international community and all solutions must be pursued to try to mitigate the problem. Fortunately, global warming has not yet reached an irreversible level and steps can still be taken to avoid the consequences associated with global warming.
A switch to renewable energy resources will mitigate and even stop global warming at the same time providing for the energy needs of human beings. Renewable energy resources can contribute to the reduction of global warming by directly reducing the amount of heat in the environment, and indirectly by reducing the use of fossil fuels that increase global warming.
This solution is going to take time and involve significant finances. Climate mitigation policies are an expensive affair with the World Bank estimating that the cost of preventing a 2 degree temperature rise will require 140 to 175 billion dollars of financial contributions to developing countries over two decades (Dimitrov 802).
However, this is a small price to pay for the rescue of the earth. Although renewable energy sources still constitute a very small part of energy consumption, they are rapidly expanding. As the total clean energy investments increase annually, these technologies can be projected to make a positive impact on the environment.
The world is largely dependent on vast amounts of energy to sustain it. The paper set out to argue that the overreliance on fossil fuels to provide energy for man has been detrimental to the environment and a fundamental shift to renewable energy resources is necessary to mitigate the adverse effects of global warming. Renewable power sources are available today and they will be the basis on which a sustainable power infrastructure in the world will be built.
The paper notes that in addition to the environmental benefits of renewable energy sources, these sources offer compelling economic incentives. Many technical and economic hurdles will need to be overcome before renewable energy sources can completely replace fossil fuels. The arguments made in this paper prove that renewable energy sources are the best means through which man can mitigate global warming at the same time satisfying his energy needs in a sustainable manner.