Geoscience Reference
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Nevertheless, in these and many other ways, we continue to treat the bio-
sphere as if it is an inexhaustible resource for human beings.
How much would we change this situation if we managed to con-
vert to entirely renewable sources of energy? It's worth trying another
thought experiment: suppose that we did decide to do whatever we could
to change our energy economy as soon as possible. What would follow?
David MacKay's topic on what it would take to energize the island of
Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales) without emiting any greenhouse
gases provides an excellent starting point. Late in his topic, MacKay pro-
vides several different ways to achieve that goal, leaving the choice to the
reader. One scenario relies heavily on nuclear power; others use clean
coal; still others avoid both of those sources and rely heavily on wind
power. When he puts a representative plan on the map of the island, the
real implications of such a shift become clear. Major swaths of the coun-
tryside are converted into biofuel or wood-generating systems; eleven
nuclear power plants spring up around the nation; several wave and tide
farms appear off the coasts; waste incinerators appear all over the map
near populated areas; wind farms arise in likely locations around the
island's periphery; large quantities of energy from solar power, derived
from installations located in the Sahara Desert, arrive through long-dis-
tance power lines; and a few clean coal mines appear as well. 95
MacKay's exemplary work applies indirectly to any other densely
populated nation or region, including a good portion of the United
States. If we starkly reduce our use of fossil fuels, we will have to intrude
into our environment in other ways. We'll need to install wind turbines
wherever there is enough wind to justify the expense, put in thousands of
square miles of solar panels in sun-friendly locations, gather the energy of
wave and tide wherever feasible, harvest every bit of the energy of plants
and trees we can on a sustainable basis, and much more. In short, we'll
need to exploit the Earth in every way we can imagine except by emiting
the exhaust from fossil fuels into the atmosphere. Ironically, taking our
lesson to heart and trying to ward off climate change would force us to
shift our exploitation of the Earth's systems from one mode to another,
causing us to increase our imprint on the visible surface of the land and
sea by a good margin.
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