Phantom Land and Ghost Slave: Humankind's Addiction to Fossil Energy
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Humankind uses vast amounts of fossil energy accumulated millions of years ago. The rate of use is many orders of magnitude greater than the replacement rate. Peak oil is the most immediate problem, and replacing this rate of energy use with biofuels is problematic. Coal is an alternative but produces more severe environment problems than petroleum and is less suitable for some forms of transportation such as airplanes. Nuclear energy does not produce greenhouse gases, but does generate troublesome waste disposal problems (e.g., one-million- year storage for some components). Solar and wind power are proven alternatives, but are not likely to generate sufficient energy to replace the petroleum no longer available. The prudent course of action, then, is reduced energy consumption per capita. As the Marks et al. (2006) eport illustrates, high energy and material goods consumption is not highly correlated with happiness (i.e., satisfaction). Even if high consumption were related to happiness, continued extremely high energy consumption would probably not be justified. The approximately 100- 200 years of the petroleum era are a brief, aberrant period of human history, and breaking this addiction will be painful, but not fatal.