Our standard of living, our comfortable way of life has depended on fossil fuels--a seemingly inexhaustible inexpensive source of energy. As a community we have been only vaguely aware of the downside of their use. They are a limited resource and that burning them to extract their energy are defects that our collective unconscious knew but our conscious state thought that no emergency action was required to deal with these problems. Until recently, new stores of fossil fuels continued to be discovered, whose potential yearly output exceeded its potential yearly use. Great progress had been made in lessening the burden that the burning of fossil fuels imposed on the environment. It was expected this problem could ultimately be solved. The question of their eventual scarcity was a problem that would arise so far in the future it could be ignored. This is not an unwarranted reaction for the general public that does not have access to enough relevant data to make a judgment. Prudence would dictate, however, that the leadership of the community should prepare for the eventual scarcity of major sources of energy likely to last only a century at the present rate of use.
Recently a new problem, more urgent than potential scarcity, has appeared arising from the burning of fossil fuels which the vast majority of experts view as one that cannot be solved except by drastically curtailing their use. This is the greenhouse effect. Its environmental consequences were discussed in Chapter 3.