Academic journal article Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

Renewable Energy for a Sustainable Future: A Christian Imperative

Academic journal article Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

Renewable Energy for a Sustainable Future: A Christian Imperative

Article excerpt

The word "anthropocene" is a term coined by ecologist Eugene Stoermer and popularized by the Nobel Laureate atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen. (1) It is an informal geologic chronological designation that serves to cover human activities that have had an impact on the global ecosystem. A more recent designation by Mark Lynas identifies humankind as "the God species." (2) In a previous article in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, (3) the author reminded the reader that the dazzling light shed by science has led to techno logical achievements unequaled in human history. The successes, which bear on nearly every aspect of human endeavor, have eclipsed contributions from the humanities.

In the optimism of the Enlightenment, technology assumed an exalted position in Western societies. In fact, science and technology have become the twin gods of the past century and no doubt will continue to remain entrenched in their lofty positions throughout the twenty-first century.

Technological optimists do not fret about the "two-edged sword" of technology, namely, the environmental, social, aesthetic, and spiritual impact on modern civilization. Most techno logical optimists-and apparently all economic determinists-believe that the boundless potential of human intellect will overcome problems of physical limits, thus making the earth's physical resources essentially inexhaustible. Edward Teller wrote, "Technology has opened the possibility of freedom for everyone." (4)

Nonetheless, archaeological evidence tells us that whole populations have disappeared due to the exhaustion of accessible resources. The long-running debate in journals and in the media between economist Julian Simon of Harvard University and bioscientist Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University included wagers over evidences supporting their convictions. (5) Simon cited historical evidence to argue that human ingenuity will remove all limits to growth, whereas Ehrlich insisted that we are on a course of resource exhaustion and ecological catastrophe. Their wager was settled in Simon s favor during his lifetime. But today the scale of human activity is so large that the impact on the earth's systems is becoming global, and recovery times could be measured in centuries, requiring a careful life-cycle assessment of all activities. Critical among these activities are the increasing global demand of energy and the earth's dwindling fossil fuel supplies. The curves shown in figure 1 represent the estimated availability of all known fossil fuel sources worldwide over two centuries, plotted against the rising world demand of energy. Although the data shown in figure 1 were prepared in 1985, there have been no dramatic changes in these predictions over the past twenty-five years.

Five Converging Factors

Over the past decade, five converging trends have emerged that are beginning to shape the energy future of this country and of the world. (6) These five trends are as follows:

1. World Energy Demand Growth. The world energy demand rate shows a steady, average upward trend of 2%, with China and India leading the developing countries. If we continue exploiting our nonrenewable resources, such as fossil fuels, this will inevitably lead to a global crisis in mid century (barring the economically and technologically successful extraction of oil/gas from vast oil shale deposits). The United States constitutes only 5.5% of the world's population but consumes 26.5% of the world's energy. What will happen if China and India, which together constitute 35% of the world's population, attain the same level of prosperity by midcentury?

2. Global Environmental Awareness. Accidents such as the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster of 1986, the more recent catastrophe in Japan, the 2009 oil spill in the Gulf, and a factor-of-three increase in greenhouse gases in our atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution have created something akin to an ecoshock. …

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