• Energy units
• Acid rain
• Global warming
• Nuclear opposition
In order to explore the environmental implications of energy generation and use, we will need an understanding of the basic terms, concepts and measurement units used in the energy field. As you will discover, perhaps surprisingly, some of the measurement units are far from uncontroversial. Having established this context, the chapter then looks at how energy is and has been used around the world, and at some of the social and environmental problems that have emerged as a consequence of the use of fossil and nuclear fuels. Finally, we look briefly at what the alternative energy options might be.
Energy is a concept rather than an actual thing: we say people have energy when they can work or play hard. The manifestation of energy in material terms is ‘fuel’, and these two terms, energy and fuel, tend to be used interchangeably. The concept of power is also often used as if it meant the same as energy.
To set the scene we need to have a clearer understanding of some of the basic units and terms used in the discussion of energy issues.
Although it is common to talk of ‘energy generation’ and ‘energy consumption’, strictly, energy is never ‘created’ or ‘consumed’, it is just ‘converted’ from one form to another. The term power is used to describe the conversion capacity of any specific device, i.e. the rate at which it can convert energy from one form to another, and the unit most