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Where does our energy come from?

Our way of life depends on energy from burning fossil fuels. Most of it is created as electricity from power stations and petroleum products we use in cars and other transport. We dig coal from the ground and pump natural gas and oil from wells. There are vast amounts of coal, but we have reached the limit to how fast we can pump oil from the ground. The price of petroleum products will continue to rise when the supply cannot match demand. Oil is made into many petroleum products. There are more than 500,000 products made from oil and our entire food production system from fertilizer to transport depends upon it.

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

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

When we burn coal, gas and oil (fossil fuels) greenhouse gases are released. This puts more energy into our atmosphere and is starting to affect our climate. When too many greenhouse gases are released this is known as pollution. 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 change to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Why is this? Is it a case of – the less we do now the more we will need to do as adults?

What forms of energy produce less pollution?

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

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?

Why isn’t Australia doing a better 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 an abundance of easy to mine coal. Turning appliances off when they aren’t needed, adjusting the thermostat on a heater or cooler, put on a jumper instead of turning on the heater and dozens of other things together make a big difference. So why aren’t more people 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. So how do we get people to start now so there is less damage to our economy and our climate system.