Only One Planet

For the past century we have been burning oil and natural gas at ever increasing rates. We have been burning coal for much longer. These principal energy sources are known as fossil fuels because they were formed millions of years ago by layers of plants which died and were subjected to high temperatures and pressures as layers of rock built up on top of them.

So, the main sources for practically all of humanity's present energy production were formed in finite amounts and are being used up (at an alarming rate). Again ... once they're gone, they're GONE!

"OK", you say, "but when will they go?" The answer is uncertain because it is not know exactly how much resource is left. New oil, coal and gas fields are hunted for and found all the time ... at the moment. One thing is certain - if a finite resource is used at ever increasing rates it will run out one day.

Oil Oil accounts for over 40% of the World's power production. New oil discoveries peaked in the early 1960's and it's now getting harder to find; currently we only discover one barrel for every four we use! Production of oil is expected to peak within the next 6 years. For some years now, world population increases have outstripped oil production increases. There are projections which state that global oil supply will begin to fail to meet global demand by 2010.

I have seen figures that suggest that Australia have been using oil three times faster than they have been finding it for the past seven years and that their production is likely to plummet to only 40% of their national requirements by the year 2010.

Energy production is not the only area that will be affected when oil production begins to fail. Currently there are more than half a million products manufactured in which oil plays a part. These include medicines, antiseptics, fertilizers, plastics, insulation, paints, glues, computers, compact discs, asphalt, inks, solvents and detergents.

The world's natural gas reserve is estimated to be in the region of 140, 000 billion cubic metres. That is about 50 years of production at current usage rates. However, usage is set to increase substantially because the power generation sector is expected to increase consumption of natural gas.

Around 25% of the World's energy is generated from coal. Known world reserves in the year 2000 were 984 thousand million tonnes. But coal is a "dirty" fuel and pumps more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere than either of the other two. Coal-burning also produces sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which cause acid rain. As such, it is NOT a viable alternative to oil and gas but it's usage is on the increase.


Oil is intricately woven into the World Economy because practically all aspect of modern life rely on it. It is essential for production and transportation; it fuels the generators that power our cities and pump our water and effluent; it produces and moves our food. Oil, natural gas and coal produce most of the World's power and, in doing so, are major contributors to the problems of pollution and "global warming". The entire world economy revolves around them and this means that, within one lifetime, Mankind is very deep in the smelly brown stuff! If we do not change the way we rely on these fossil fuels then we can look forward to the eventual collapse of current industry, the World Economy and life as we know it.

Perhaps. But our Sun is the practical answer. Fossil fuels currently power most of our "civilised" world, but the Sun powers the entire planet. It fuels the World's vegetation, causes the weather and the winds, it heats the atmosphere, the land and the oceans and (together with the moon) moves the mass of the oceans around the World (now there's a transportation project!). It has been estimated that the capturable power from the oceans alone would power the world's industries twice over. In the UK the Sun rains down between 900 kW (N. Scotland) and 1300 kW (SW England) per square metre per year or 9 to 13 MW per year for a 10m x 10m garden - which is more than enough to power the average household.  Before the "Industrial Revolution" Mankind used windmills and watermills to achieve many of it's industrial goals. So all is not lost - if we start to act NOW to convert our power sources to the sustainable and cleaner alternatives of the Sun, wind and waves.

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This page last updated: 02 June 2002