The future is clean and ready, but what now?

PHOTOGRAPH BY PETER ESSICK, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
PHOTOGRAPH BY PETER ESSICK, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

This tailings pond in the oil sands of Alberta, Canada is so toxic that birds would die if they landed there. In the picture above, a fake falcon is put to keep away the birds that might come down in the setting.

This is the result of human’s conquest for energy. According to a study (Image 2), oil represents 32.9% of our energy consumption by type in the year 2013. Whereas alternative energy accounted below 15% (hydro 6.7%, nuclear 4.4%, wind 1.1%, geothermal 0.9%, solar 0.2%).

Image 2
Image 2

During the increase of energy prices in the 2000s, subsidies are important for political, social and economic purposes, especially to maintain social order. In consequence, according to the International Energy Agency, the value of global fossil-fuel subsidies increased by 60% from 2007 to 2013, eventually reaching $550 billion. In many countries, this number surpasses the spending on health care or education.

Over the past six months, the 50% tumble in oil prices has brought optimism for economists. Indonesia has scrapped petrol subsidies while India stopped controlling diesel prices.

Solar, wind and other renewables benefited from huge investments. Even though subsidies are falling, renewable capacity remains emerging. For instance, China easily cuts back subsidies it introduced in 2009 for the planned 2020 completion of the 200 gigawatts (GW) of wind power, which has already installed nearly half of it.

However, the old energy industries are shifting as well. Innovative ways had been introduced to process coal in a more clean manner even though the price may be more expensive compared with past practices. In some other cases, CO{-2} is even captured for storage or use, filtering harmful emissions.

The future of energy, both old and new, is already available.

So what remains the obstacle in present day Earth to scrub the remnants of dirty energy?

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