Wednesday, 15 August 2007

seeing the light

There's no doubt we humans have learnt to do some pretty clever things, but you have to wonder how smart we are.

It has been predicted that the world's reserves of petroleum will run out in about 30 years. Certainly we may discover more, but the rate of discovery is declining while the rate of use is growing, and faster than was predicted. If we don't do something, the next generation will certainly be forced to.

To make matters worse, our dependence on petroleum and other fossil fuel energy (such as coal-fired power stations) is a major cause of global warming.

There are quite a few alternatives to consider. For some people, nuclear power is the saviour, but for others it is the worst of all options. It would be wonderful if we could harness the more benign nuclear fusion, but that is still some way off.

Electric cars may one day take over from petrol vehicles, and geothermal energy may one day be a useful energy source. But many believe our greatest hope is to develop the safe and renewable energy sources - solar, wind, hydroelectric and tidal.

At present, renewables constitute only a small percentage of the world's energy sources, with fossil fuels being dominant at 67%. But the use of renewables, especially solar, is growing fast.

The sun (here shown being eclipsed) is ultimately the source of all our energy
(photo from

Japan, the US and Germany lead the world in the use of solar power. In recent news, Germany is to build solar energy plants to generate almost a third of its needs. This is remarkable, considering that Germany has significantly less hours of sunshine per year than countries closer to the equator. India, Australia and large areas of Africa and South America have the largest number of sunshine hours and hence the greatest potential for solar energy.

Australia is also one of the leading nations in the development of solar technology, has vast areas of high sunshine, yet many believe we have squandered our natural opportunities. Currently renewable sources provide only about 5% of Australia's energy, with solar being only a small part of this. Many people believe we could and should do much more if only Governments would provide the right incentives. Certainly the Sydney Morning Herald has reported that many people are willing to pay more for renewable energy. However Australia has a lot of coal, which earns a lot of export dollars, and the coal industry is a powerful lobby group.

So we may be the "lucky country", but it seems like we have a way to go to be the smart country.


  1. I'm afraid America has more luck than brains on it's side at the moment as well. My husband and I found some land for sale that comes with natural gas rights. Ever since, we've been tossing the idea around of moving to this rural community and learning to live off the land, from the natural gas to planting our own food. It's an exciting thought, but quite a step away from everything we know, and everything we have spent years working towards.

  2. Sush a move would be a big decision! If it's OK with you, I will pray you make the right choice. (I hope you are not offended by that!)

  3. Not at all, it is appreciated:)

    my husband (and I) tend to get carried away with the obvious romance of ideas, forgetting the hardships that will inevitably follow. i will not take this decision lightly, so we are just pondering it for now.


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