Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

Why the “just burn it all” approach to ending fossil fuel dependence does not work

Posted 16 Oct 2015 / 0

2015-10-16eThe Washington PostScientists confirm there’s enough fossil fuel on Earth to entirely melt Antarctica

When it comes to discussing the problem of fossil fuel overconsumption and dependence in my ecology classes, it is not uncommon for students to advocate the “just burn it all, and then we will sort it out” approach. I can see the appeal — and psychological origin — of an approach that basically just says we will let the finite nature of fossil fuels be the solution to all the problems they cause. The idea is that we should just use up all the fossil fuels, at which point we will be forced to come up with alternative energy sources. It is a funny philosophy, one that I can’t help think resembles the addled plan of an alcoholic to stop drinking once the fridge is fully emptied of beers. But would this plan work?

For awhile now various estimates of the remaining fossil fuel supplies and the impact they would create if extracted and combusted have suggested that the “just burn it all” solution is ridiculous: there is so much un-extracted fossil fuel remaining in the earth that burning it all would cause catastrophic climate change. This new study puts a more specific predicted consequence on the “burn it all” approach: there is more than enough fossil fuel in the ground to completely melt Antarctica, an event that would radically alter our civilization.

To sustain civilization as we know it, we are going to have to figure out a way to assure that we leave a substantial amount of the remaining fossil fuels in the ground.

A Minor Post, Articles, Climate Change, MSCI-270, Ecology, MSCI-271, Ecology for Architects, Polar Marine, Resource Consumption, Sustainability

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