Energy production: Is short-termism damaging our planet?

Lydia White

Lydia White ponders whether the very nature of our democratic societies stands in the way of a genuine move to a renewably-powered world.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that about only 11% of global energy consumption is from renewable sources.

Under increasing pressure politicians will soon have to address the imbalance between renewable and non-renewable energy sources. Difficult questions will have to be answered, key among them are:

What alternative energy sources exist to replace our present great dependency on petroleum?
How much longer can fossil fuels meet demand for energy production?
Can renewable energy be derived across the globe?
If renewable energy is viable, why is uptake slow?

Does the very nature of our democratic societies stand in the way of change? Political representatives are elected for short terms, offering little motivation to adopt initially costly, but sustainable energy policies geared to counteract the inevitable energy crisis.

This article explores some of the potential implications this is having on the environment and how renewable energy sources could offer the balanced solution where demand is met and environmental impacts are reduced.

Highlighting the problem

  1. Rise in global energy demand
  2. Finite supplies
  3. Carbon imbalance

Impact of fossil fuel driven energy

Atmospheric pollution:

  1. Acid rain
  2. Environmental disasters

Using renewable energy to combat environmental issues

  1. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions – According to data aggregated by the International Panel on Climate Change, life-cycle global warming emissions associated with renewable energy; including manufacturing, installation, operation and maintenance, and dismantling and decommissioning are minimal. Compared with natural gas, which emits between 0.6 and 2 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour (CO2E/kWh), and coal, which emits between 1.4 and 3.6 pounds of CO2E/kWh, wind emits only 0.02 to 0.04 pounds of CO2E/kWh, solar 0.07 to 0.2, geothermal 0.1 to 0.2, and hydroelectric between 0.1 and 0.5.
  2. Improve air quality - Generating electricity from renewable energy rather than fossil fuels offers significant public health benefits. The air and water pollution emitted by coal and natural gas plants is linked to breathing problems, neurological damage, heart attacks, and cancer. Replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy has been found to reduce premature mortality and lost workdays, and it reduces overall healthcare costs. Wind, solar, and hydroelectric systems generate electricity with no associated air pollution emissions. While geothermal and biomass energy systems emit some air pollutants, total air emissions are generally much lower than those of coal, and natural gas-fired power plants.

Renewable energy powering the world

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), renewable energy could account for almost 80% of the world's energy supply within four decades - but only if governments pursue the policies needed to promote green power.

The IPCC, the body of the world's leading climate scientists convened by the United Nations, said that if the full range of renewable technologies were deployed, the world could keep greenhouse gas concentrations to less than 450 parts per million, the level scientists have predicted will be the limit of safety beyond which climate change becomes catastrophic and irreversible.


Lydia White is an energy consultant at Solar Wow, a Solar PV installer based in Yorkshire, UK.




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Bioenergy  •  Energy efficiency  •  Energy infrastructure  •  Energy storage including Fuel cells  •  Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Policy, investment and markets  •  Solar electricity  •  Wave and tidal energy