There are times when our role as energy consumers is clear. For instance, when we fillour cars' fuel tanks, the amount of money we spend makes it obvious how much gas we areusing. But what we seldom think about is the energy we consume by simply living our lives ina developed society. In this video segment adapted from NOVA/FRONTLINE, experts estimate the amount of energy that is burned during daily activities, and how much CO2 those activities contribute to the atmosphere.
This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions.
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The majority of the world's harnessedenergy comes from burning fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are limited,nonrenewable resources formed from the remains of ancient plantsand animals that have undergone chemical reactions over the courseof millions of years. Since fossil fuels are being consumed fasterthan they are being produced, the resources that can be economicallyextracted will eventually run out.
Although less than 5 percentof the world's 6.45 billion people live in the United States, thissmall population consumes roughly 25 percent of the world's fossilfuel resources. This means that each American uses five times moreenergy than the average person in the world. In contrast, individualsin underdeveloped nations use 0 to 10 percent of the energy used by theaverage person in the world.
However, as less developed nationsbecome industrialized, their inhabitants will require a larger shareof the world's energy resources. In addition, as the global populationcontinues to grow, the world's energy demands will increase. Some energyexperts estimate that the world will run out of oil and natural gasresources within the next forty years or so. Coal will remain availablefor up to a thousand years, but coal isn't the best solution. It isthe dirtiest of the fossil fuels, producing significant pollutionduring mining and combustion.
Fossil fuel consumption has alsobeen implicated in global warming. When carbon-rich fossil fuels areburned to release their energy, they also release carbon dioxide gas(CO2). For each pound of carbon burned, almost four pounds ofCO2 gas enter the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a greenhousegas, and scientists think that an increase in its concentration inthe atmosphere is contributing to global warming. Although scientistscannot predict all the effects of global warming, they are fairlycertain that ecosystems, human health, agriculture, climate, and sealevel will all be negatively affected.
Yet there is stillhope for the future. New technologies, such as solar, wind, and fuelcell power, are already providing affordable renewable energy withoutcontributing greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Still, the best optionis conservation. By December 2003, 120 nations had ratified the KyotoProtocol, which calls for international reductions in greenhouse gasemissions. The primary method of reduction is a decrease in fossilfuel consumption through conservation. Most of the world's nationsare moving in a direction that will stretch our global energy supplyand minimize environmental stresses.
To learn about alternatives to fossil fuels, check out Energy Sources.
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