Alternative Energy for Transportation: The World's Citizens and Governments Must Accept That Earth's Resources Are Finite and Commit Themselves to the Development of New Power Sources for Automobiles

By Omi, Koji | Issues in Science and Technology, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Alternative Energy for Transportation: The World's Citizens and Governments Must Accept That Earth's Resources Are Finite and Commit Themselves to the Development of New Power Sources for Automobiles


Omi, Koji, Issues in Science and Technology


Science and technology (S&T) has brought economic growth and contributed to enhancing living standards. In recent years, S&T has progressed very rapidly and brought tremendous benefits to our lives. For example, the development of transportation has dramatically extended the range of human activities, genome research makes personalized medicine possible, and the advancement of information and communications technology (ICT) has minimized time and distance in communications.

However, S&T brings not only these lights but also shadows. Advances in S&T have led to serious problems for humanity, such as climate change, ethical concerns in the biosciences, nuclear proliferation, and privacy and security issues in ICT. Therefore, it is essential to control the negative aspects on the one hand and develop the positive factors on the other.

In this context, we need appropriate midterm strategies to advance two aims: economic growth and sustainability for our planet. S&T must help make economic growth compatible with sustainability, and one current challenge is to develop sources of alternative energy for transportation.

The downside of fossil fuels

In the 20th century, many advanced countries relied on fossil fuels such as coal and oil for generating energy. These energy resources have brought great benefits for large-scale economic activities, mass production, and global transportation. However, fossil fuels have a downside for humankind. Consumption of oil is responsible for emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, climate change, and air pollution. And because oil is a limited resource, it is subject to great increases in price. Therefore, Japan and the world face a daunting array of energy-related challenges.

In view of the expected increase in global energy needs and of environmental concerns, we need to make rapid progress in energy efficiency and further develop a broad range of clean alternative energy sources to reduce emissions and solve climate change problems.

Many developed countries have been making concentrated efforts to develop alternative energy sources, such as nuclear energy and solar power. I strongly believe that nuclear energy should be the main alternative to fossil fuels. In Japan, power from nuclear generation is less expensive than power generated from oil. Furthermore, climate change and escalating oil prices have persuaded some countries that had adopted a cautious stance toward nuclear energy to change their minds and seriously consider it as an alternative. The importance of power generation using nuclear energy, premised on the "3S's" of safeguards, safety, and security, is clear and indisputable. Although developing other alternative energy sources, including solar power, is also undoubtedly important, ever-increasing energy demands cannot be met unless we use atomic energy.

Where mobility for humankind is concerned, however, almost all types of transportation are still highly dependent on fossil fuels because gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles are predominant throughout the world. Even if various countries develop and use alternative energy generation systems, they cannot survive without petroleum-derived fuels, which power transport. In other words, right now there is no effective alternative. This leads to skyrocketing oil prices, and every country's dependence on gasoline and other petroleum-based fuels has given oil-exporting countries tremendous economic and political clout since the middle of the 20th century. Oil is produced in only a handful of countries, and because it is indispensable for transportation, those countries exert crucial influence on the rest of the world. The oil-producing countries sometimes control production and export volume, leaving other countries to cope with higher oil prices. For harmonious development of the world's economy, we must take major steps to overcome the problems arising from the uneven distribution of oil. …

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