The causes of global warming show strikingly well that our energy policy has been inadequate to put it mildly. For years we have been emitting much too much carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere as a result of burning fossil fuels, i.e. coal, gas and oil. All well meant appeals to mitigate the consumption have failed miserably.
Oil is not only used for heating or fuelling a car's engine, however. It is a very valuable raw material for many everyday products, like e.g. all sorts of plastics, paints and lacquers, drugs, washing powders, detergents, fertilizers, and many more. It would be irresponsible to future human generations if our generations used up this limited resources within a short time.
Which alternative fuels can replace fossil fuels?
In search for global warming solutions, people are suddenly asking for alternative energies. However, more than 80% of our energy is currently taken from the fossil sources oil, gas or coal. It is absolutely impossible to supply this much of energy from alternative sources within the next 10 to 20 years.
Therefore, we should ask how much energy is really required to have a good quality of life, instead of taking our current energy consumption for granted or even indispensable. In a second step, we can then look for potential energy sources to fulfil this need.
As a lesson from history, we should at the same time strive to maximize the share of renewable energies (wind power, water power, solar power, wood, biomass, etc.) and on the other hand minimize over time the share of non-renewable energy sources like oil, gas, coal and nuclear power. Otherwise our global warming solution will be just a pretentious one.
How much energy is required for a good life?
Scientific researches have shown that the quality of life is depending of the energy consumption up to a yearly energy consumption of 9'000 kWh per capita . This value equals the energy contained in about 1'000 litres of oil. If a person uses less energy per year, life gets more laborious. Above this limit however, life quality is in essence independent of the energy consumption. For a good quality of life according to our current standards in industrialised nations, a minimum yearly energy requirement of 10'000 kWh seems therefore to be a realistic assumption.
The following table shows the energy consumption per capita for the year 2003 for some areas of the world. The values for 2006 are 12 to 15% higher.
per capita 2003
|North America||91'000 kWh|
Global warming solution:
Switzerland is one of the countries with the highest quality of life world-wide, according to most investigations. Researches from ETH Zurich showed that Switzerland could reduce its energy usage from currently 43'000 kWh to 17'500 kWh per capita without compromising on the quality of life. Moreover, this reduction would be possible with technologies already developed and available!
A similar reduction of the yearly energy consumption to values in the order of 17'500 to 20'000 kWh per capita should therefore be possible for most countries of the world without really decreasing the quality of life. The following graph displays the energy consumption per capita for some industrialised countries for the year 2003. For the year 2006, the values would be about 12 to 15% higher on average.
Chart 1: Current energy consumption per capita by country for the year 2003. The target value of 18'000 kWh is the energy consumption for a good quality of life according to our current standards. (Source of data: World Resource Institute wri.org.)
Demand has to follow available supply of (renewable) energy
Up to now, any demand of energy has been satisfied. Anyone who has been willing to pay accordingly could and still can get any amount of energy. In this system, nobody has any interest in a mitigated energy consumption: By contrary, all commercial interests clearly speak for an increasing energy consumption. This has led to an ever increasing energy consumption and it has also led to ignoring or denying the problem of global warming for more than 20 years.
Now, a change is urgently required in our energy policy: We must manage the natural resources on earth based on criteria of sustainability . The demand of energy has to follow the supply of renewable energy. This is the only way to implement a sustainable living, which is the base for a survival of human beings in the long run.
Mitigation of the demand for energy
A reduction of the energy consumption per capita to less than 20'000 kWh per year as a global warming solution is a challenge for all industrialised countries (see chart above). Basically, there are two potential ways to achieve this goal:
- Reduction of the personal energy consumption by free will on account of a higher consciousness of the population.
- Establishing appropriate commercial basic conditions within each country and between the countries.
The first suggestion would be simple and fast to implement. However, for this to take place, many more people needed to seriously think about the meaning of life and about our relation to nature. Otherwise, decisions of mankind will continue to be guided by money and power instead of rationality or a higher consciousness .
Therefore, in the short and medium term, it will most likely be indispensable to establish the above mentioned basic conditions to force the required change. Suggestions for concrete implementations have been available already for a long time.