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Where does our energy come from?

Our way of life depends on energy from burning fossil fuels. Most energy comes from burning coal in power stations that create electricity to power industry, homes and schools. Petrol and oil used to power cars, trucks andplanes is another big one. We dig coal from the ground and pump natural gas and oil from wells. When we burn these fossil fuels we release carbon that was buried in the ground for millions of years. It drifts around in our atmosphere for hundreds of years trapping heat. Oil is made into many products. There are more than 500,000 products made from oil and our entire food production system, from fertiliser to transport, depends on oil.

What will future generations say when we tell them – ‘Err, really sorry, but we burnt all the oil’?

To reduce greenhouse gases we need to use less energy from burning fossil fuel

When we burn coal, gas and oil (fossil fuels), greenhouse gases are released. This puts more energy into the air around us (our atmosphere) and is starting to affect our climate. When too many greenhouse gases are released this pollutes our atmosphere. Around 120 years ago the first scientist showed that carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) traps heat and warms our atmosphere. We are now able to measure changes in the air and oceans due to increases in greenhouse gases.

But it seems everyone is slow to reduce the greenhouse gas we create. Why is this? Is it a case of, the less we do now the more we will need to do as adults?

What types of energy make less pollution?

Enough sunlight reaches our Earth in a day to supply everybody’s energy needs for a year. We just need a lot more solar farms. We also need improved ways to store energy overnight when the sun is not around. Wind farms are another way of producing low pollution energy. Wave, geothermal (hot rock) and tidal energy are other clean energy sources.

Nuclear energy produces other forms of nasty pollution, and no one wants to store that. Biofuel made from plants sound interesting, but when food crops are used to make fuel for cars, it means people in poor countries don’t get to eat. Biofuels might work in the future with new inventions.

How can we tell which products are useful and use less energy?

As you explore ways of reducing energy use, you will have trouble working out if the products are any good. Don’t believe everything you read. Energy ratings on fridges are good, but how do we know if low energy light bulbs are any good? How would we choose which solar panels to buy? Is it better to buy a hybrid car or a very small car? What’s the most energy efficient way to heat and cool homes and buildings? Is there anyone out there helping people with good advice?

Is Australia doing a good job at reducing energy waste?

We don’t need to invent energy efficient products to make a start. We just need to be less wasteful. Australia has enjoyed decades of cheap electricity due to heaps of easy-to-mine coal. Some ways to help are by turning appliances off when they aren’t needed, and adjusting the thermostat on the air-con and heater. You can even put on a jumper instead of turning on the heater, and dozens of other things together make a big difference. So why haven’t more people been taking this problem seriously? As energy prices continue to rise we are all starting to pay more attention.

What can we do?

We can’t ignore the wasteful use of energy forever. The sooner we start the less difficult it will be later. Each of us can take action to be less wasteful. How might we get our school to use less energy? Is your family interested in saving money by using less energy? How can you get other people to listen to you to use less energy?

Our future will be a lower energy future. How do we get people to start now, so there is less damage to our economy and our climate system?