Meeting the world’s ever-expanding energy needs is one of the biggest concerns of our time. Human populations are growing exponentially all over the planet, putting increased pressure on existing power grids and creating a necessity for new and innovative energy solutions to keep our society going.
At this time, most of the energy we consume comes from nonrenewable resources like coal and natural gas. These resources are finite, meaning they can’t be replenished once they’re gone, and harvesting them and turning them into energy puts untenable pressure on our climate and the delicate ecosystems we rely on and are part of.
For the health of the Earth as well as for the sake of the billions of people who depend on electricity to keep them safe, sheltered, and connected to the outside world, developing and utilizing renewable power sources like wind, water, solar, and geothermal energy must be a priority. However, Samik Mukherjee says that fossil fuels and renewables can and must co-exist if we are to successfully maintain a society that doesn’t leave anyone behind.
The Myth of “All-or-Nothing”
As the planet’s overall temperature continues to rise, more and more advocates are demanding a virtually immediate switch to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. The loudest voices often declare that nothing short of a total 180 from fossil fuels to renewables will save our climate from heating up beyond a reclaimable point.
While climate researchers largely agree that increasing our investment in renewable energy sources is a vital aspect of our response to climate change, the world cannot afford to be so black and white in its views on fossil fuels. Nonrenewable energy sources provide 80% of the planet’s power, and many countries simply do not have the infrastructure or the resources to pivot away from natural gas or coal consumption any time soon. If we were to completely cut out nonrenewable resources tomorrow, more than three-quarters of the world would slip into darkness.
Powering Forward Together
The truth is that an all-or-nothing approach to renewable energy leaves out billions of people in countries around the world who wouldn’t have access to electricity, clean water, or viable shelter without fossil fuels. Not only can fossil fuels and renewables co-exist: it’s the only way forward for our planet, at least until renewable power plants are as ubiquitous as nonrenewable ones.
This co-existence is already working in many parts of the world. A 2021 study examining the efficacy of India’s ambitious plan to build hundreds of solar plants and wind farms by 2030 found that the plan will succeed in meeting the country’s carbon mitigation goals without sacrificing its energy needs as long as a few fossil fuel plants are built as well. Projections suggest that no new fossil fuel plants will need to be built after 2030, though the ones that currently exist will need to remain in operation for some time.
Making forward progress, even at a slower pace than may be preferable, is infinitely better than grinding to a halt over perceived irreconcilable differences.
The reality is that fossil fuels and renewables will both power the planet for the foreseeable future. Therefore, investing in new ways to improve their safety and efficiency is vital. The well-being of the entire world depends on it.