As the realities of climate change make themselves more and more apparent, so too, does the awareness and the concern of the general public. Unfortunately, despite efforts from the scientific community, and concerned organizations, there are many people who remain skeptical of our true impact on this planet. For those skeptics, renewable energy may appear to them as unnecessary. And more so, a fundamental conversion to renewable energy poses a great expense and requires many new regulations to be put into place. Public interest groups and members of the scientific community have been instrumental in creating change thus far, but the pushback is still there. Currently the needle indicating public perception is slowly moving in the direction of a switch.
Beginning around the 1600s, a kernel of environmental concern appeared as a response to the widespread deforestation that was occurring as agriculture spread throughout Europe. An accountant named Hans Carl von Carlowitz of Germany, wrote a book called Sylvicultura Oeconomica in 1713 calling for a new strategy for managing forest resources. In the following decades, the industrial revolution caused even greater concern, as resources were being eaten up at a rate the world had never seen before. The industrial revolution lasted almost 100 years and was the densest boom of manufacturing in human history (Weir, 2013), with coal power being the most depended upon energy resource, which transitioned into water power, and ultimately into oil which brings us to present day. According to Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, global energy consumption currently depends on fossil fuels/nonrenewable resources for 77% of its total energy consumption (Showstack, 2017).
One of the aspects of making a global switch away from nonrenewable resources such as crude oil, or coal is the fear of financial burden, to abandon all of our current processes and institute new ones does come at a steep cost. However, despite the short-term costs associated with such an overhaul, there is a growing number of people who are in favor of the switch. Public interest groups such as Green Peace, and the Sierra Club are just a couple of examples of groups whose interests align with environmental sustainability and are often campaigning for companies to consider a switch to environmentally conscious processes. A recent study conducted by the Pew Research center indicates that 65% of Americans are proponents of instituting alternative and renewable energy sources with only 27% of Americans in favor of expanding fossil fuel production programs. (Kennedy, 2017). Support for Increasing production or expansion of fossil fuel programs is dwindling even though the current administration has emphasized interest.
The divide seems to align with the ideologies and views of our governmental bipartisanship. Conservative Republicans on one side of the aisle tend to lean more toward the idea of continued production of fossil fuels, likely due to the massive impact it has on the economy. And on the other end of the political spectrum—Liberal Democrats are largely in favor of developing and instituting renewable or alternative energy sources (Kennedy, 2017). “About eight-in-ten (81%) Democrats and independents who lean to the Democratic Party favor developing alternative sources instead of expanding production from fossil fuel sources. Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are closely divided: 45% say the more important priority should be developing alternative sources, while 44% say expanding production of oil, coal and natural gas should be given more priority….Conservative Republicans back the expansion of fossil fuels over developing alternative energy sources by a margin of 54% to 33%.” (Kennedy, 2017)
Many companies, have made a movement toward green power, perhaps fueled by the concern of their consumers. According to the EPA, Microsoft Corporation has been powered by 100% renewable energy since 2014, as well as Intel Corporation and followed by Google who receives 53% of their total energy from green power (Sichak, 2018).The reason these companies have made these hugely impactful commitments to renewable energy is due to the triple bottom line. A concept that highlights the benefits of a company that strives for sustainable practices. The triple bottom line takes into consideration the benefit of concern for the consumer, for the environment, and for the profitability of the company.
As mentioned, part of the pushback stems from the economic impact of fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources as sources of energy for the globe. Oil rich countries depend upon export and processing of their oil for a huge portion of their GDP. The New York Times reported on Norway’s annual oil export, as the profits of which are pumped directly into green initiatives in the small Scandinavian country that allow for them to establish renewable resource programs (Sengupta, 2017). “While Norway wants to wean its own citizens off fossil fuels, it remains one of the world’s biggest oil producers and is revving up production, almost all of it for export. So even as the country tries to cut emissions and clean up its own carbon ledger at home, it is effectively doing the opposite abroad.” (Sengupta, 2017) The irony is that the very processes of oil export are paying for the programs designed to combat the issues associated with oil use.
Public perception on the use of renewable resources, versus nonrenewable resources will probably always be divided. However, given the strong encouragement of those in our government and interest groups and those from the scientific community, a switch to alternative energy could be in sight. The benefits do not just pertain to the health of our environment, but they also include economic benefits and benefits to public wellbeing. As concern for the environment dates back almost 400 years, it’s safe to say that the debate will continue. But as it goes, I believe the needle will continue to move in the direction of alternative energy sources. More and more people will realize the benefits of a switch, and the disadvantages of continued use of a limited resource.
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