Energy: Power On or Power Off?

Informative Article


Almost everything humans do is powered by energy, whether it’s making a smoothie or texting your friend, and for this reason, we consume a lot of it. So what’s the issue? We may run out of it.


by Aashna Chudgar

The energy industry has developed and been a topic of discussion for decades now, and when considering all of the environmental and economic factors that are put into energy production, many worried citizens are asking the question: is the current energy output level safe?


Many new sustainable forms of energy are being created and being put to effective use. We have solar power which is known for its high photoelectric effect. Wind power is generated commonly by windmills. Geothermal energy uses thermal energy from natural sources of heat like volcanoes and converts this heat into clean energy. Hydropower energy, which the average person has probably encountered at some point in their life, utilizes the flow of moving bodies of water like rivers and streams to create motion-based energy, turning kinetic energy into harnessable energy. And finally, biomass energy is created by burning crops such as corn and converting the remnants of heat and burned food into energy. This is actually the main way third-world countries generate energy.


There are pros and cons to taking advantage of this exploration of new energy. On one hand, the ability to produce more energy safely could lead to many economic benefits, for example, an increase in jobs in the energy industry. On the other hand, cutting down on energy production even with safe energy can lead to much less human infiltration within natural habitats: susceptibility to hydropower intensive machines.


This brings us to our trilemma: should we encourage the production of a higher rate of energy in order to elevate our economy to levels it’s never seen before, cut down on our energy production in order to prevent human corruption from taking control of the environment, or simply stay with our current output? Well, let’s find out.


The Economist Perspective:


According to the EPA, there are three main ways to gain access to green electricity. One is the more common one, which is generating energy on-site with things like solar panels. This would be useful to our economy because it would encourage consumer independence while increasing the popularity of self-sufficient green power generators in the market, therefore influencing energy companies to go green, all while producing energy safely. The other two options are purchasing green power RECs (renewable energy certificates), and buying from an electric utility through a green marketing or pricing program. RECs are certificates that essentially are documented accountabilities saying “you own this production of energy”. Mainly larger companies use this method, and they are meant to help integrate clean energy into current legalization methods to help encourage companies to buy more clean energy. The other form of purchasing is through a utility, where buyers pay a small premium in exchange for electricity generated locally from green power resources. On-site power generation helps empower local government by centralizing power and improves the state economy.


Energy consumption is also predicted to have a large impact on the GDP (gross domestic product) and the employment rate of the country. CaixaBank refers to the new integration of sustainable energy as “The New Energy Mix”. We can only hope this integration is as promising as it sounds. Taking Europe as an example, the European Council has been on a revised pursuit since 2018 to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, increase the dependability on sustainable energy, and improve energy efficiency. Additionally, “the EU is making firm progress towards these goals, as it has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 22% since 1990, it has increased the weight of renewable energies to 17%, and energy efficiency has risen by around 15”. All of these goals have led towards an increase in production, and so far have proven to go well. This graphic also supports economic achievement through energy production. GDP and the employment rate are both expected to increase dramatically with the net production of energy. The increase in output is predicted to spike a high demand for energy, and this in turn will create thousands of new jobs.


The Environmentalist Perspective:


Although we are transitioning into incorporating green energy into our systems, it doesn’t change the fact that we will still be dependent on fossil-fuel-based energy to some extent. This raises the question: will we be able to protect the environment when mass producing energy while still being dependent on fossil fuels? SaveOnEnergy highlights many different issues regarding an increase in producing energy knowing that we won’t be able to become highly self-sufficient right off the bat. Some of the effects on the climate that will become noticeable through greenhouse gas emissions include rising temperatures, heatwaves and drought, higher sea levels, abnormal weather patterns, increased intensity of natural disasters, smog, and acid rain. The pollution equivalent of every American household adding one incandescent light bulb to their home is equivalent to putting 1.3 million more cars on the roads. An increase in energy production could lead to disastrous effects on the environment.


Caxiabank research on energy efficiency

On top of this, ecosystems are in grave danger with energy expansion. Mining, logging, and material extraction are all a large part of the energy industry, and an increase of environmental exploitation on account of humans could be a result of an energy increase. Air pollution caused by fossil fuel extraction is the cause of biodiversity decay in the world increasing by a whopping 1000%, or at 1000 times the normal rate. With energy expansions, we also have to think about oil spills, which are the number one cause for marine extinction; they will be almost inevitable with this increase. For a better idea of how exactly how horrible environmental protections are in the energy industry, the EPA has set no hard limits to chemical regulation, only the bare minimum, and the result of this is that “each year, these energy plants discharge billions of tons of poisonous waste often containing arsenic, mercury, and lead” (SaveOnEnergy).


The Neutral Perspective:


We’re currently given the options to either revolutionize our power industry at the expense of the planet, miss out on an amazing opportunity in order to break records reversing environmental human devastation, or simply remain at a neutral stance and see what happens. Drastic human involvement has almost always been the downfall of some system, whether it be the environment or the economy. One of the most important things we can do as human beings are to simply let things grow and expand the way they want to. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to see what direction the world is heading in and prepare accordingly.


An extreme rise in energy could lead to environmental devastation and an extreme decrease in energy could lead to extreme poverty and the downfall of states of living. But both environmentalists and economists can agree that the last thing anyone wants is pain being caused by adverse human effects.


So what do you think? Is it time to hit the on or off button?