The Possible Environmental Consequences of the Changes in Electricity Consumption Shown
As countries attempt to maintain their existing oil-based infrastructures, suppliers have to turn to unconventional "frontier hydrocarbons", such as the tar sands in Alberta, Canada. Extraction from such sources has a very low energy returned on energy invested (EROEI), and requires large areas of boreal forest to be destroyed, thus releasing CO2, a greenhouse gas. Further greenhouse gas emissions come from transporting the oil to America – where 75% is destined – and overseas. Lead, mercury, and other toxic chemicals have already polluted over 130 square kilometres of lakes, and the Athabasca River, casing deformities in fish.
Increasing use of solar energy can make use of desert landscapes, so does not require vast deforestation. As solar panels gain popularity, they also receive more research investment, and so will be able to reduce reliance on fossil fuels as efficiency increases. Similarly, wind turbines can be placed offshore, however they do pose a threat to birds.
Increasing dependence on coal – a finite fossil fuel – is likely to have the worst impact on the environment of all of the changes shown; it releases much more CO2 than natural gas, and is bulky, requiring large trucks to transport it, thereby releasing further CO2. The impacts of continued reliance on coal could be significantly reduced if new technologies are utilised, e.g. carbon capture and storage, and "clean coal". China's reliance on coal has lead to acid rain, which falls on over 30% of its land.
Biomass requires large areas of land for growing crops, e.g. sugar cane. This land is often a rich habitat, such as the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.
The dramatic overall increase in energy consumption will both reflect and drive the global desire for resources, which can not avoid having a negative impact on the environment, via deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and destruction of habitats. Eventually, enough money may be invested into the research of new technologies to protect the environment; this may be given more attention once climate change is universally accepted, and recognition of the "tipping point" of the Earth's temperature is appreciated.
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