Can you imagine a world where energy is produced without negative environmental impacts? A life on a healthy planet with a clean atmosphere, safe from polluting hydrocarbons such as oil, coal, and natural gas, or the dangers of nuclear radiation? Can you envision a time when on-site renewable and alternative energy systems provide a more equitable distribution of electricity and a better standard of living for all of the world's people? Do you foresee a future where a full-fledged energy revolution has minimized the human impact on the biosphere and changed everyone's life for the better? Ready or not, this exciting frontier is right around the corner and heading your way. Fuel cells, electric-hybrid vehicles, and high-tech, energy-efficient homes and appliances are just the tip of the iceberg and represent the first surge of an energy revolution that will transform the human condition in the 21st century.
A new age is dawning, and clean, renewable energy systems are the vanguard of the next energy revolution. Behind the wind turbines and solar panels will come a new understanding of physics and exotic energy technologies that derive power from the invisible sea of energy that permeates the Universe. We are literally immersed in this zero-point energy, which, if tapped, will solve the energy crisis forever. Existing reserves of fossil fuels are a one-time gift from the planet and are now being consumed as if there were no tomorrow, with little consideration for future generations. If scientists are successful in their efforts to gather energy from the vacuum of space, smokestacks and air pollution will be a distant memory, and a clean and viable global ecosystem will be passed on to each succeeding generation. After all, we do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.
Optimists claim that there is enough oil worldwide to last another 40 years. Many experts consider it to be much less. In some ways, the shrill, hyperbole warning of petroleum's imminent demise is a bit misleading. We are not running out of fossil fuels per se but running out of liquid fuels that are cheap to produce. There are still significant oil and natural gas reserves, but they are diminishing and will be more costly to extract. There are also coal reserves if we can find a way to use them without damaging the environment. Unfortunately, fossil fuels are killing us and destroying our planet's health. We live in troubled times, and, if scientists are right, the next stretch of road looks rough indeed. Climatologists warn of rapid climate change and global warming caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Geologists caution that in the next couple of decades, the planet's petroleum and natural gas supplies will reach their high-point of production and decline forever after. Coal is a gross polluter, and nuclear fission is uneconomical when capital investment, radioactive waste management, and long-term storage of hazardous materials are factored in. A burgeoning human population is overloading the planet's ability to support it, and disturbing trends indicate that we are stressing the biosphere to the breaking point. Unless these destructive activities are reversed, future generations will struggle to survive on a planet suffering from depleted resources, polluted air and water, and unpredictable weather patterns.
Our increasing demand for electricity and transportation fuel is gutting the planet's limited natural resources, and the byproducts of our fossil-fuel-based economy have degraded the global environment. Drilling for oil in environmentally sensitive areas does not make for an intelligent comprehensive energy policy, nor does gutting federal funding for energy-efficiency R&D and renewable energy research. Attempts to maintain the illusion of perpetual low-cost energy have distorted US energy markets for decades, leaving American consumers with homes, appliances, personal vehicles, and equipment that would be expensive to operate if energy costs suddenly increased. It's time to rein in America 's profligate rate of energy and resource consumption and waste; we must take responsibility for our environmental impact.
In order to develop new-energy systems that will complement wind and solar power to help replace fossil fuels and nuclear power, the United States must implement a national energy policy that provides an informed and balanced review of the full range of new- and emerging-energy technologies that are struggling due to lack of R&D funding and professional organization. There is currently a movement in the US Department of Energy to initiate a review program to critically analyze potential new-energy and breakthrough propulsion technologies, but government approval and adequate funding are far from guaranteed. Experts doubt that renewable resources like wind and solar power will support the energy-hungry industrialized nations, let alone a world population with more than six billion people and growing fast. Aggressive and coordinated research and development in revolutionary energy systems are necessary to sustain the quality of life associated with an energy-intensive lifestyle.