we use energy to grow our food, power our vehicles, and run the appliances in our homes, schools, and workplaces. Over the past two centuries, industrial societies have used inexpensive, and readily available, sources of energy to fuel urbanization and economic development. This growth has created, at least in some countries, the highest level of human development in the history of civilization. A question to ponder, though, is if this level of development can be sustained indefinitely. Many of the great civilizations of the past declined, at least in part, due to environmental change caused by human activities.
Starting in the late 18th century with the Industrial Revolution, the global economy has increasingly relied on fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas. In the future, the global economy will run out of these fuels. In the meantime, some scientists argue that dependence on fossil fuels has contributed to global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), founded in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme, argues that measurable global warming has occurred, and that humans are at least partially to blame.
Some scientists and commentators from across the political spectrum downplay the significance of global warming—especially the role humans might play in climate change. However, even famous skeptics such as author Michael Crichton, or contrarian scientist Bjorn Lomborg, agree that the Earth is getting warmer, but do not believe that humans are to blame. The heavy reliance on fossil fuels raises several questions. First, how long into the future will these resources last? Second, to what extent do fossil fuels contribute to climate change? Third, are there alternative fuels that are less likely to influence the climate and that will last into the foreseeable future? Alternative energy strategies based on wind, biomass, geo-thermal, solar and photovoltaics (PV), hydrogen fuel cells, and improved fuel efficiencies could ameliorate climate change.
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