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Renewable Energy: Human Effects of Energy Use

Introduction

Sources of Energy

Records show that the worldwide energy consumption in the year 2008 was 474 exajoules. Out of all of this energy use, about 90 percent of it came from the process of combusting fossil fuels (Statistical Review of World Energy 2006). Most countries get their energy from solar power mainly in the form of preserved fossil energy. Other forms of energy are from wind power or hydro power. Initially the main source of energy had been coal but since the coming of aero planes and automobiles, oil became the next number one energy source. It is this very same oil that is used to generate electricity as well. There after, coal, nuclear power and natural gas became the next best thing in the generation of electricity and this led to a much higher efficiency in energy use. In 2005, there was an increased use of nuclear power as the primary supply of energy with over 439 nuclear reactors operating by the year 2007 (Uranium Information Centre 2007).

Effects of Greenhouse Gases

Carbon dioxide (CO2)

The main effects of energy use are global climate change as well as acid rain that are as a result of burning fossil fuels (Bedi 2000). If the emissions of greenhouse gases continues at the rate that it is, then there are going to be more adverse effects on the lives of many people not only health wise but socially and economically too. Global warming implies the rise in temperature in the earth’s air and this is what facilitates the increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The main component of these gases is carbon dioxide (CO2) is mainly emitted from nuclear power plants, industries and the use of automobiles(Statistical Review of World Energy 2006). Another source of global warming is the massive deforestation activities that are taking place currently worldwide. The trees in the forested areas normally remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and when they are cut down, there are two negative effects it has on the atmospheric air composition. One is that deforestation hinders the removal of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere since the trees that do this are cut down. Secondly, the trees are burnt down for energy production in the process releasing back the carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and saturating it with this green house gas.

Methane (CH4)

Methane is another harmful gas to the atmospheric conditions (Bedi 2000).. This gas is produced when burning coal. The other source of methane is from the venting of natural gas. Since the main component of coal is carbon dioxide, burning it emits too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere causing quite some harm to the ozone layer that is protecting the earth from harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun’s radiation. Methane is produced as a by product of the combustion of coal but in small amounts. Oil on the other hand is composed of hydrocarbons and also emits quite some substantial amounts of carbon dioxide. Since natural gas, methane, is the one that produces the least amounts of greenhouse gases, it is the better option for an energy source in power stations.

Temperature rise

The combustion of oil, natural gas and coal increases the temperature of the atmosphere faster than the natural processes can reduce them and this is what causes the earth’s atmosphere to seriously warm up(Uranium Information Centre 2007). The sun’s radiation ends up causing harm to human health with diseases such as cancer coming up as a result. This is not the only result of such warming. Scientific evidence shows that the sea levels are rising as a result of the rise in temperature that is melting glaciers in Polar Regions. this affects human life since natural disaster such as floods, tornados and hurricanes claim many lives and leave so many more homeless. This not only affects the human life directly but indirectly as well as several animal species are endangered too some of which define the livelihoods of the local people living around the areas they exist. Examples are like the fishing communities that are affected when the sea level is interfered with. The other effect on human life is that the food crop yields of farmers are affected by the rising temperatures. These high temperatures make it necessary to start irrigation processes that may be quite expensive for the economies of these areas. It will also result in the delay of harvesting by increasing the growing season leading to hunger and poverty for those who solely depend on their farming activities (Bedi 2000). Warmer climates are also known to bring with it different ranges of pests that might take quite an investment to take care of if not destroy all the crops that the inhabitants depend on. There is the threat of heat waves that end up killing many people. Such kinds of occurrences are very dangerous to human life if measures to avoid and prevent them are not put into place. Some parasites like mosquitoes are known to thrive better in warm climate. These parasites cause serious diseases to human beings like encephalitis, malaria and cholera. Outbreaks of these diseases can seriously affect the human populations.

Acid Rain

The other harmful effect of fossil fuel combustion is acid rain. The fossils that produce gases like nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide cause the emission of these gases to the atmosphere where they are chemically converted to nitric and sulphuric acid which in turn dissolve easily in water causing acid rain. This acid rain damages many plants and causes forests not to grow well. The acid rain result in trees thinning at the top and since it also dissolves in the soil, it affects the normal growth of forests since the soil is not healthy enough for growth. The acidity of the soil and water these trees get makes the trees very vulnerable to fungi and viruses as well as pest infestation which they cannot fight resulting in their death. It also dissolves buildings and corrodes metals that in turn cause harm to human life since the humans live in those buildings. Stone and stained glass are gradually corroded by the acid rain until nothing is left finally. The other negative effect of acid rain is that it affects plant and animal life in fresh water lakes and rivers. This is because it washes harmful substances into the water sources that the forms of life in those sources cannot survive. It also raises the acidity of the water causing death to many fish species and plants that exist in these rivers and lakes. Once there is massive death in the rivers and lakes, the local inhabitants of these areas are left with no sense of livelihood and a source of living. Even if only one specie is affected, the rest will also be affected since the ecosystem is arranged in such a way that the different species of animals depend on each other for food and protection. At some point there will be no sign of life at all in these aquatic areas (Bedi 2000). Human life is also affected directly by acid rain since the water people drink might have traces of the acid rain causing a lot of respiratory problems. Since toxic elements like aluminium and mercury can be dissolved by acid, the acid rain might dissolve these materials into the drinking water of people. If these people consume water that is not treated, they get seriously affected in their health.

Air Pollution

The use of energy naturally emits poisonous gases into the air that cause bodily harm to humans when inhaled. Fuel combustion especially from automobiles emits nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxides as well as photochemical oxidants like ozone (O3). These gases cause impairments in the development of respiratory organs like lungs in human beings and animals alike. This causes respiratory problems like asthma and bronchitis in humans. Other harmful oxidants cause irritation to the nose and ears, throat and eyes and chest discomforts as well. Severe air pollution in London for example when coal smoke and industry emissions combined and resulted into toxic smog killed so many people. Plants are also affected by these photochemical oxidants and might end up losing their leaves and have impaired growth. The transportation of oil by using fuel tankers on the seas has led to a lot of oil spills into the seas leading to a lot of pollution of sea water and causing death to many aquatic animals.

Effects of Nuclear Power Generation

In Britain the use of nuclear power to produce electricity is mainly employed. The government had set out to replace nuclear energy generation with other sources of renewable energy but they were advised not to do so. This they claimed was due to the fact that research proved that nuclear energy produced very little amounts of carbon dioxide (Statistical Review of World Energy 2006). Nuclear energy is a good source of energy but it causes harm to human life in that it results in the production of nuclear weapons such as atomic bombs that are used by warring countries against each other. It therefore poses a security threat to the countries dealing with the country that uses this kind of energy. This type of power can therefore only be accepted for those countries that are politically very stable and have very good international relations a guarantee that cannot be made for any particular country in the world yet. The production of nuclear power also requires the use of a lot of water which competes with the constantly growing population’s need for water (Uranium Information Centre 2007).. If nuclear power is to be generated in large quantities, then the people will lack adequate water for its use since most of it will be put to use in the nuclear power plants (Uranium Information Centre 2007). The nuclear plants also emit a lot of radioactive contamination which has very negative effects on human life and plant life. Tritium, a chemical used in the generation of nuclear power is capable of penetrating solid structures and can come into contact with water sources. This results in very harmful conditions of the water sources that humans use. Investing in nuclear energy generation is very expensive for any country willing to do so. This forces the government to put aside a lot of money on such projects meaning that less money will be left to invest in the economy and well being of the citizens. This does not have any good implications on the quality of human life in these countries.

There is an increased interest in use of hydrogen to generate energy in the UK. There has been a search for an energy source that does not produce a lot of greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming and adverse effects on human existence. The solution has been to consider the use of renewable energy from natural sources like the sun, wind and water as well as biomass. Energy produced from these sources has to be converted into chemical energy and hydrogen can prove very useful in this area. It is believed that the use of hydrogen for transport can ensure UK’s capability for reducing carbon dioxide emissions in a very cost-effective manner. This hydrogen can be used for other purposes apart from transport like power generation and storage of energy.

Conclusion

It is true that energy is considered one of the most important components of the development of our country but there is need to stop or reduce our dependence on fossil fuel combustion for the production of energy. This is because of the harm that it causes us and is bound to cause to the future generations. The best option currently would be to turn to renewable energy sources. This will provide a solution to the climatic problems, it will enhance development thus improve the economy significantly and ensure security of the nations.

References

Bedi, Emil et al. (2000). Environmental Effects on Energy use. Energy saving Now. (Online)Web.

Statistical Review of World Energy. (2006). Energy – Consumption. (Online) Web.

Uranium Information Centre. (2007). World Nuclear Power Reactors. Web.