The global awareness of climate change has led to many advocate groups pushing for the transition to alternative energy. Those opposed to this idea believe that humans cannot have their energy needs met without fossil fuels, thus leading to a growing debate about the possibility of reliance on alternative energy.
The growing shift toward sustainability has gained significant traction within recent years. With movements, protests, and companies looking to spread awareness and do their part for the sake of the planet, we can only expect this shift to increase tenfold in the future. Particularly when it comes to fossil fuels, much of the public is aware of its high environmental impact and lack of long-term sustainability due to its finite status. This has yielded an energy rebirth. Many advocate for the full shift away from fossil fuels to help reverse the negative damages of climate change and lower overall atmospheric emissions.
This poses the question – is it possible for society to survive on 100% alternative energy?
Renewable Energy Vs. Alternative Energy
The U.S. Energy Information Administration best defines renewable energy as resources that "are virtually inexhaustible in duration but limited in the amount of energy that is available per unit of time." Typically comprised of biomass, hydropower, geothermal, wind, and solar, renewable energy can only be harvested when these resources are in supply, otherwise, sourcing the energy can be nearly impossible. This is often brought up when the discussion of renewable energy arises, as many are worried about whether or not this will be enough to meet societal demands. This is where other alternative energies can come in.
Alternative energy is a term used to encompass any other type of energy besides fossil fuels. This can be anywhere from solar, geotherm, battery-powered, nuclear, to even hydrogen. It is most commonly agreed upon that having a mix of alternative energies can best aid in the societal transition off of fossil fuels. Particularly, utilizing various energy sources to better suit local environments, weather, and budgets, can ultimately aid in maximizing energy output while keeping emissions at a low.
How It’s Possible
A recent study published by the University of South Australia delves into the topic of a future run entirely off of alternative energy. One of the team members, Luca Coscieme explains that to successfully survive without fossil fuels, the energy consumption of “high-income countries would have to be reduced as it would require an unsustainably vast amount of land to be covered with biomass plantations if we were to produce enough fuel to satisfy the same levels. “Even so, the success of this green ideal will be highly dependent on major future technological developments, in the efficiency of electrification, and in producing and refining new synthetic fuels. Such a scenario is still likely to require the use of a substantial – albeit hopefully sustainable – fraction of the world’s forest areas.”
As Luca mentions, working to lower the reliability of energy can greatly aid in switching to alternative energy and lowering atmospheric gasses. A balance of top-down and bottom-up approaches are the two best ways to make the transition. Consumers will need to lower their energy consumption from the bottom up whenever possible while also advocating for alternative energy. This can be done by individuals from high socio-economic backgrounds who can afford to adopt alternative energies that are sometimes at higher price points. This grand adoption will help the prices go down, such as solar power, creating the opportunity for more widespread implementation. This shift from consumer demand to a top-down approach will make governments and large corporations act accordingly to meet said demand. Implementing legislation and imposing strict regulations on fossil fuel companies can aid in their dwindling supply.
Perhaps one of the best examples of when this has worked successfully can be seen with the veganism movement. The consumer side started rather small many years ago. Many alternative meat options weren’t readily available, and not many individuals even knew what veganism was. With continued advocacy and growth within the movement, consumers could create a pathway for more alternative meat options to be created, such as impossible foods and beyond meat. In turn, this has led to a decrease in factory farming as more and more individuals are making the switch to remove meat from their diet. We can also see a similar trend with electric vehicles. Since the success of Tesla’s EVs, consumer demand has grown, leading to more companies looking to meet that demand to continue making a profit.
Further, this growing consumer demand for alternative energy products will lead, and has already led to, an array of companies starting to create innovative designs that can accompany alternative energy, such as batteries that can store harvested energy for when the resource is in low supply. This will lead to a domino effect of other companies also creating technological advancements and eventually more governments jumping on board with the growing trend. We have already seen examples with the recent announcement of a giant wind farm in New England.
Though the road might be long ahead, it is possible. Consumers have a larger impact than some might think. If the continued advocacy for sustainable goods and services continues, we can expect to see that result positively down the road.