As the last ice age was retreating, humankind began practicing agriculture and domesticating animals. Thousands of years later the ancient empires rose and fell while all of the great religions developed and spread. Still later in western civilization the Renaissance, the Age of Discovery and the colonization of the New World expanded literature, science and technology. By 1885 America was at the cusp of becoming a world power when… my dear Grandmother Warren was born.
All that living, loving and learning took place before Grandma was born, and as it happens, before coal became our dominant source of energy. All that human happiness and development took place without universal dependence on fossil fuels. The U.S. Energy Information Administration indicates it wasn’t until around 1885 that coal became the primary energy source in our country.
Grandmother grew up and had a family, and her children had children of their own. In 1951 little Chucky was born. At that time another energy milestone took place; oil surpassed coal as the preferred U.S. energy source. Fossil fuels were building America.
But what will the dominant energy sector be when my children reach retirement age? Renewable energy sources are looking more and more attractive. Utilization costs are dropping; the fuel is free, and it can’t be depleted. Could it be that in the lifetimes’ of folks I’ve personally known the era of fossil fuel dominance both started (with Grandmother) and will end (with my children)? If so, fossil fuel use is a mere blip in the course of human history. Clearly, these fuels have been a boon to humankind, driving unprecedented prosperity. But history shows that living, learning, loving, and happiness happen quite well without them.
The inevitable transition to these new energy sources is a golden opportunity for America. For instance, why should folks in SW Wisconsin who have no fossil fuel resources continue to pay to import these fuels when we could be supplying much of our own solar, wind, bio-digester, and geo-thermal energy? Not only will we save money and provide local jobs, but our air will be cleaner and our climate more stable too.
Some day in the not too distant future our children will be saying, “Remember the smell of diesel fumes?” It’s a future we can live with. And there’s no time to waste getting there because Grandmother Warren’s earth is our grandchildren’s earth as well. We are all forever…Earthbound.