Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sustainable Definition

Oil Just Isn't Sustainable
So what does sustainable mean. You hear about it all the time talked about in the same breath as green topics and global warming. The sustainable definition is to say that what ever is sustainable can be done over and over with no necessary end. That may sound confusing because what in the world can be done over and over without ending at some point eventually in the future?

Well let's think of a few things that ARE NOT sustainable, but many people thing they are. The biggest one is the use of oil to power the world. Oil is a result of fossilized animals from millions of years ago dieing. They bodies were decomposed and because of the pressure they were under the energy that it took to grow their bodies was eventually converted into oil. Oil is very dense in energy mainly because it's the result of solar energy which was converted into animals millions of years ago and then compressed underground. This process not only took a very long time (again, millions of years) but it happened under very specific periods of environmental heating which occurred on Earth only a couple of times. So to get oil you need millions of creatures to die, have them decompose for millions of years, in conditions that are pretty rare on Earth. We are lucky that so much oil was created during these periods of Earth's history, because once man discovered oil they quickly because addicted.

You can understand why we could get so easily addicted to a resource like oil. It is so energy dense that we can use it to do so much. It's what had drive the rapid growth of our society over the last 150 years or so. There is so much energy in a barrel of oil that for one man to do the same amount of work that a barrel of oil can do, it would take them months. So one man can work tirelessly for months, or you can pump one barrel of oil out of the ground. What's not to love.

Well, environmental impacts of burning oil aside just for the moment, the trick is that there was so much oil that humans never thought of it as something finite. But, if you haven't thought of it before, think of it now, oil is going to run out. No more oil is being created way down under the surface of Earth. Whatever is there is there and that's all we get. So every day we pump millions of barrels of oil out of the ground.

Think of it like that free drink you got at the bar on your birthday last year. Sure it was huge and that straw seemed tiny. And each time you took a sip it seemed like the level in the drink didn't even really go down. But eventually after drinking it for hours, it was gone. Nothing was left in your glass. Oil is the same way. We are just sipping it out when you compare it to the total that was originally there. But we have been doing it for over a 100 years now. And in the last few decades the demand of it has gone through the roof and we all want more stuff in the industrialized nations, and new emerging nations start to become industrialized. It's a double whammy. We are all ready taking way too much of what is left if we really did want it to last, and each year we take significantly more then we did the previous year.

So I got a little off topic there, but because oil is going to run out, it is not sustainable. In other words, we cannot sustain what we are currently doing in the long run.

An example of something that is sustainable is wind and solar energy. Realistically the wind is always going to be blowing here on Earth. Once you build the turbines, you can keep using the energy for as long as you can keep your consumption below the amount they can produce. The same goes for solar. Once the panels are built and installed, as long as you don't need more then you can produce then you can keep doing it indefinitely.

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