Ever more people means an ever increasing demand for energy. Almost all of the things we need and use depend on a single underlying resource — energy. Solar energy in the form of sunlight is essential for growing food. High levels of energy consumption in the form of heat and power are an essential feature of all industrial economies.
Fossil fuels, i.e. oil, coal and gas, are the stored solar energy from hundreds of millions of years of plant and animal life. No other energy source is as versatile as oil or has so many uses. Oil is an essential component of almost all plastics and we are a long way away from electrically or nuclear powered jet aircraft. Some experts think we have already reached peak oil production, yet there is no easy substitute. Alternative energy sources are polluting, as with coal, or they compete with food production for land, as do biofuels. Yet others are limited in scale, such as energy from water or waste derived biomass; or their availability is variable or unpredictable, as with wind and wave power. Some may also depend on other limited resources, as do gas and nuclear energy, which requires the use of uranium.
Even if some of these drawbacks can eventually be overcome, the investment required to replace present fossil fuel consumption with sustainable alternatives will be enormous.
Agriculture particularly depends on oil and natural gas for such things as irrigation, the production of fertilisers, the use of farm machinery to plant, fertilise, apply pesticide and harvest crops, as well as the transportation and preservation of crops. Food processing also relies on fossil fuels, as do delivery of additives, production and transportation of packaging and delivery of the finished products to retailers.
Despite a continual search for new solutions, an ever-increasing energy demand from an ever-rising population poses an ever growing and ultimately insurmountable challenge.
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