Only 300 years ago, the world’s energy use was very different than it is today. Homes were heated by wood or coal and lit by candles or oil lamps. We used horses, wind-powered boats, and humans to move and transport things.
Today, we rely on energy from fossil fuels, natural gas, and electricity for almost every aspect of our lives, from powering our computers to heating our homes to getting from place to place. Fossil fuels are non-renewable energy sources.
Eventually they will run out. They’re also polluting the environment and contributing to climate change. What are our options?
- We know that fossil fuels are damaging the environment, yet they remain the cheapest energy source. Scientists are working hard to develop cleaner, renewable energy sources.
- Solar energy uses the power of the sun to heat buildings and water. Currently it’s expensive to install and capture that energy. It only works in areas with large amounts of sunlight.
- People are looking for ways to harness energy from plants, such as using ethanol, made from corn, in vehicles. The problem is that it takes a lot of corn to make ethanol—and the land used to grow corn for ethanol could be used to grow food.
- Wind farms with huge windmills capture energy and turn it into electricity. The wind farms are expensive and they take up a lot of land.
- Hydroelectricity is a very efficient form of energy in some places, such as Norway. It doesn’t work everywhere though because you need access to a powerful source of water.
- Geothermal energy relies on the energy that naturally occurs in the earth. Again, this only works in places like Iceland with large areas of geothermal activity.
- Nuclear energy has potential, but it can be dangerous and its use is very controversial.
- Fossil fuel: A fuel, such as oil, gasoline, or coal. Fossil fuels are used in everything from gasoline for cars to fabrics to fertilizer. Our society runs on fossil fuels.
- Ethanol: A type of fuel made from plant material
Questions and Answers:
Question: What can I do to help?
Answer: Learn everything you can about climate change and energy. Encourage your parents to vote for leaders who support research on renewable energy. Be careful about your energy use at home.
Turn off lights, turn down the heat, and don’t buy more things than you need. Encourage your parents to drive a fuel-efficient car and limit their driving as much as possible.
Visit NASA to learn about coal: