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Discuss: State of the World 2013 > Chapter 15 Beyond Fossil Fuels: Assessing Energy Alternatives

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message 1: by Ted (new)

Ted | 348 comments Mod
For Beyond Fossil Fuels: Assessing Energy Alternatives


message 2: by Ted (new)

Ted | 348 comments Mod
This chapter could be read in conjunction with Chapter 8, in which many of the same alternative energy options are assessed in a different way, by looking at the impact each option has on the need for land, water, and non-renewable mineral resources, as well as assessing an overall environmental impact of the option. This latter is mentioned specifically in the current chapter as a “missing” element in the matrix of Figure 15-3. (“Environmental impact has no column in this matrix, although the “acceptance” measure captures some of this.” – p. 177)

It’s a useful starting point I think for a general “ranking” of alternative energy options. However, it’s only a starting point, because of the admittedly simplistic way that the options are “scored”.

More importantly, the author doesn’t make the rather obvious observation that in an alternative-energy future, at least as we can envision it today, many of these options, perhaps even all of them, will be utilized, each of them at times, in geographic locales, and in specific circumstances in which their advantages best outweigh their disadvantages.

The fact that no one of the alternatives stands head and shoulders above the others shouldn’t be surprising, given the pretty clearly demonstrated fact (see Figures 15-2 and 15-3) that, were it not for the environmental and non-renewable downsides of fossil fuels, humanity would have no reason to ever consider alternatives to them.

I liked the point that the author makes about there being some “concepts and technologies” for which we have found “no superior substitute over time; examples include the wheel, metal blades, window glass, and rope”. (p. 174) Even if one would like to argue about the examples, or what he really means by them, I sense that this is a valid point about the hazard of assuming that as the fossil-fuel era ends, “new, superior sources” of energy will be discovered or developed, better in every way than fossil fuels. Certainly they will be better in the two primary ways (more environmentally friendly, more amenable to being sustainable) but will not likely be superior in every way assessed in the two Figures cited.


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