The earth is 4.6 billion years old; if we condensed the history of life on earth in a year, the fossil fuels that are our source for powering our technology developed in late august (about 280-345 million years ago), dinosaurs showed up in mid september and were gone by november, the first ancestors of humans appeared in late december, humankind started farming about seven minutes ago, the discoveries of the new worlds (America and Australia) happened 7 seconds ago. We’ve started using fossil fuels just for 3 seconds and we have other 3 seconds before every drop of oil and pound of coal will be consumed.Firstly technology was powered using muscles, both of people and animals, then, after the industrial revolution, machines ran using coal steam and now we have adopted oil and natural gas as main sources of energy.In 1999 the world used 9 800 million tons of oil in energy, this exorbitant quantity of energy derived: the 39.2 % from oil, the 27.1% from coal, the 22.8% from natural gas, the 7.7% from nuclear, the 2.7% from hydro energy and 0.5% from geothermal.In addition to this unsustainable rate of energy usage another issue comes questioning our society: In 1997 The United States of America, consisting of 267 million of citizens, were contributing to the 25.2% of the world energy consumption, China, with 1.2 billion people (4 times and an half USA habitants, was 10.8% of the world consumption, Russia with 147 million was 6.8%, Japan with 126 million was 6.0%, Germany with 82 million was 4.0%, India with 967 million was 3.1%, France with 57 million was 2.9% and the United Kingdom with 59 million was 2.6% leaving the rest of the world, 2.9 billion people, with just the 38.6%.The developed countries do not overuse just energy but also other resources.In the 2000s the developed countries (Europe, North America, Japan and Australia) consumed the 80% of almost every used good: 86% of aluminium, 81% of paper, 80% of iron and steel, 76% of lumber. Coal Coal can be divided in two categories: soft coal which burns at low temperatures and creates more ash and emits more toxic chemicals (sometimes radioactive particles are emitted), and hard coal, which has a higher combustion temperature, lower emissions of sulfur and it is used mainly in the process of making coke and steel.In 2000 coal was used to create more than half of the electricity that we needed, USA alone contributed to the 26% of the world coal consumption, China 22%, India 7% and Russia 5%.The US department of energy expects the world coal usage to increase by 50% the next 20 years mostly due to the affirmation of the developing countries like China and India. China is the first country for coal usage and reserves. It has 40% of world’s known coal reserves and ¾ of the energy consumed in China is provided by coal.Coal is the worst among the fossil fuels in terms of producing greenhouse gases. This table shows how many tons of CO2 are emitted per every gigawatt produced:Coal 1 062 tons, Oil 800 tons, Natural gas 533 tons, Nuclear 8.6 tons, Wind energy 8.2 tons, Photovoltaics 6.0 tons, Hydro Power 3.4 tons. Because of this issue, coal companies are trying to find new cleaner ways of producing energy using coal like: Cleaning the mineral before using it, removing pollutants from wastes instead of releasing all, using wastes as fuel source and the last one which in my opinion shows perfectly how our society is facing environmental problems: sequestration of carbon dioxide, practically burying CO2 underground, even though this is just a short term answer and the odds of having leakages is high it is cheaper than turning every coal station in a renewable sourced power station. Oil Oil is the number one fuel for transportation and it is used for producing almost everything we need in our everyday life (plastic, solvents, light drugs, weapons, fertilizers, rubber, pesticides)The world uses 33 billion tons of oil every year, the combustion of oil produces a lot of energy but also many pollutants like: CO2, that contributes to the greenhouse effect; sulfur dioxide, a gas that connects with steam in the atmosphere and causes acid rains; nitrous oxides, that causes of smog and volatile organic compound that is harmful to living things and causes cancer (VOC escapes from gasoline if it is not stored so oil spillages create VOC.Usa and western europe import half of the world consumed oil so oil exporting countries created the OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) the original 5 members were Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela but now the organization has become an union with every exporting state.Opec countries produce ? of all produced oil and have more than ¾ of proved oil reserves.The country with the most oil is Saudi Arabia with ¼ of earth oil, the second would be Iraq but because of the trade sanctions imposed by the united nations it can’t reach its economical potential.Finding oil is not easy and cheap, only 1/10 of oil tests find profitable oil wells, the 1/10 one turns out really profitable, this characteristic allows big oil companies to keep a monopoly of oil wells and the cycle just enforce them.Know reserves of crude oil will run dry in 41 years with this production rates, it has to be said that we are finding new reserves but not as big as we need.Oil companies are developing improved ways of oil recovery, which consists in pumping out every drop out of oil wells, but this will only delay the switch to non-fossil fuels.Usa was the world’s main supplier of crude oil, now it imports 50% of its requirement.The Prudhoe bay oilfield in Alaska is the largest oilfield in America, it contains about 10 billion barrels. The pipeline from the wells carries up to 2 million barrels of oil per day, crossing up 1 300 km. At current rates of oil usage, this field will produce enough oil for supplying 2 years of USA consumptions. USA is 2nd in coal reserves, it is 6th in gas reserves and 11th in oil reserves. USA produces, consumes and imports the most in the world. It is predicted that in 2025 energy consumption in USA will be increased of 25%, mainly because of transportation. In the 2000s 40% of the world petroleum consumption was used for running passenger vehicles.USA has also stored 541 million barrels of oil in salt caverns in Texas and Louisiana that would run USA for just 53 days.Oil has been in everyone’s interests because of its high energy production, this characteristic has made it really important in economic terms, this is a table with the price of oil through the 20th century:1880 — 19$1900 — 20$1920 — 23$1940 — 12$1960 — 15$1980 — 56$2000 — 16$The peak in the 80s was due to the foundation of the OPEC and the decision to quadruplicate the cost of crude oil.This table of the percentages of oil imports to oil requirements shows how much developed countries are dependant by oil: Israel 97%; it is quite peculiar how Israel, situated in the part of the world that contains the 90% of oil reserves, is the state with the greatest percentage of oil imports.Jordan 96%South Korea 86%Italy 82%Japan 80%Spain 70%Germany 58%Canada 52%USA 48%France 47%During the last century, large oil companies have controlled energy technology.It is claimed that they bought inventions that could have threaten oil’s lead position.In 1997 oil industries spent less than 1% of sales revenue on research and development while equally strong markets like engineering and electronics spent 4% and 6%) Oil wars In 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait, which exports oil to USA and Western Europe, so US intervened;In the 2000s Iranian nationalists banned foreign involvement in oil or gas industry, this strategy was not working, leaving the country in a poor economical situation so they opened the market again.Possible fossil fuels wars are:China vs Vietnam over Spratly Islands (oil reserves)Uk and Argentina over Falkland Islands (oil reserves)Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan claim minerals under the Caspian seabedIndonesia and Australia claim minerals in the Timor sea. Natural gas Natural gas was found often above oil deposits and would be burnt or ventilated out seen like an inconvenience. During oil shortages in the 80s, due to the decision of OPEC to quadruplicate the cost of crude oil, countries started using it; in the 1999 natural gas provided 29% of the world energy and it is growing.Natural gas can be produced by rotting animals and plants as Methane, this gas contributes to the greenhouse effect but does not emits any ash or organic compound.Russia has ? of all natural gas reserves, it supplies ? of Turkey’s gas and ¼ of Western Europe gas ; the longest pipeline connects Siberia to Germany (5000 km, 3100 mi).Gas is mainly transported by pipeline even though, for transporting it across oceans, it is put in liquid form (LNG, -162 C, -260 F), Japan is the biggest buyer of LNG that comes from Indonesia, Australia and Middle East.In 1999 10% of Asia energy came from natural gas while the world average was 28% so it is expected to increase. Finding solutions Scientists believe more in improving energy efficiency and reducing usage than finding cleaner ways of producing energy with fossil fuels.There is enough renewable energy sources to supply all of the world’s energy needs forever. The challenge is to develop the capability to effectively and economically capture, store and use the energy we need.Governments around the world spend 100 billion $ a year to fossil fuels industries for supplying electricity to their countries.If governments cut energy demand and increased energy efficiency through economical benefits and sanctions we could cut fossil fuel usage, but, it is politically risky (people do not want to give up their commodities, even if these commodities consist in wasting and over consuming).Several studies suggest that high consuming societies need to reduce their resources usage as much as 90% in the next 20 years to keep these resources consumption at a sustainable rate. Alternative sources of energy can be renewable or not; the disadvantages on non renewable are that: Nuclear, it creates radioactive waste that has to be stored, mining for uranium also causes pollution and environmental destruction. In 2006 there were 440 nuclear reactors in the world, producing 16% of world’s electricity. Several hundreds more are to be built by 2030, they do not produce CO2 or other toxic pollutants that spoil our air. Mining Uranium, though, is environmentally damaging and supplies will run out in 50 years; over this shortage limit there are major dangers that need to be weighted before considering nuclear, a reactor incident could kill millions of people and damage land forever, also radioactive waste remains toxic to living things up to 710 000 years.Geothermal energy, it can not be used everywhere, power stations can run out of steam.The renewable, that could provide almost 50% of world’s need in 2050 has also some defects:Wind energy, someone says it obtrudes from the landscape and the energy has to be stored somewhere.Solar energy, it is not cheap to set up, it also needs to be stored for being a serious replacement. In Germany, Leipzig, there is one of the largest solar- powered electricity generator. This field of 33 500 solar panels generates electricity to power 1 800 houses. In Kenya more than 20 000 small scale solar power generator systems are purchased every year.Sun energy would cost prohibitive to become mainstream for major world consumption in the near future. It would be too expensive to replace current energy infrastructures used for fossil fuel energy. According to the European Photovoltaic Industry Association solar power could provide energy for more than 1 billion people by 2020 and 26% of global energy needs by 2040.Transportation contributes to more than 50% of oil usage, that is why motor vehicles are getting more efficient.In UK companies are using chicken manure as biomass fuel, in Brazil almost half of the cars runs on Ethanol, companies are studying plants that create fuel, in China gas fuel is made from animal dung. Organic waste produce Methane, a biogas, so this could be developed as an environmental solution both for not wasting goods and being less dependant from fuels that toxicate our air.Mitsubishi car runs 74 km in 3.8 l (15.4 km/l) while toyota Hybrid runs at 137 km/l.Liquified natural gas is cleaner as fuel for transportation but difficult to handle and expensive to keep.Hydrogen cars run using the hydrogen from hydrocarbon which provides clean energy, this combustion is almost clean energy but this separation is expensive to make, the dream scientist have is to one day have solar energy provide the energy needed for the hydro separation. Some green algae produce Hydrogen by sunlight, finding a way to produce hydrogen could replace the need of oil in transportation.Combined-cycle gas plants are relatively clean power sources:They do not emit any sulfur dioxide (Acid rain), particulates (cancerous), nitrous oxides (smog) and less CO2 than traditional coal or oil power plants.It is also half expensive than coal power stations and quicker to build. Energy efficiency In power plants ? of input energy turns to heat and escapes, more efficient plants use natural gas to power a turbine while the excess heat from the turbine runs a second steam turbine.This is called combined-cycle technology and it can increase energy efficiency by more than 50%.It has to be stated that this is not only an economic problem but also a social issue.China’s 3 gorges Dam will provide energy as 30 large coal-fired power plants with hydroelectric power; because of this project 1 million people will have to find new homes.More than 1.3 billion people live in heavy polluted air areas. Burning oil and coal releases heavy metals such as lead and mercury highly toxic and cancerous substances.Energy that poisons the air we breathe is a poor mark of progress. If we really want to save the future of the planet, and more importantly of mankind, we will have to improve energy efficiency and reduce energy waste, find clean and practical alternatives to fossil fuels and most importantly work together as one family.