Social Effects of Energy Use
We eat food, drink water, and breathe air that has come in contact with acid deposition. Canadian and U.S. studies indicate that there is a link between this pollution and respirator problems in sensitive populations such as children and asthmatics. Acid rain also makes some toxic elements, such as aluminium, copper, and mercury more soluble. Acid deposition can increase the levels of these toxic metals in untreated drinking water supplies. High aluminium concentrations in soil can also prevent the uptake and use of nutrients by plants.
Beside environmental problems associated with large-scale use of fossil and nuclear fuels and the problems with sustainability there are also social problems arising from present trends of energy utilization.
Political and economic problems
In the earlier stages of the industrial revolution, fuel sources were local and widely distributed. Industrial activity tended to grow in areas where local sources of coal were available. As the transport associated with industrialisation spread and developed, fuels began to be transported from more and more distant places. Now, with the most accessible sources of oil and gas depleted, fuels are transported around the world from small numbers of major producing areas.
The result is that the major industrial nations have become dependent upon supplies from those producing nations, in particular oil from the Middle East, and are highly vulnerable to disruption of these supplies. This vulnerability and dependence has been a major factor shaping world politics. A series of major economic and political crises has resulted from the Suez crisis in 1956 to the 1970?s, oil crisis to the Gulf war in the early 1990?s. Since the producing nations are generally weak militarily and the consuming nations are generally stronger, the latter are under pressure to dominate the former economically, politically and if necessary, militarily to maintain access to oil (most important fuel today).
Oil price depends on political situations and each conflict in oil sensitive region leads to higher energy prices. World economy is thus shaped with such conflicts.
Vulnerability Due to Centralisation
A related aspect of vulnerability in the present form of industrialisation is the centralised nature of fuel production and distribution. Electricity is generated in relatively few, very large power stations, and distributed through the country. Oil is imported in giant tankers, and converted to fuel in large refineries for further distribution. Concerns have been expressed that these large, vital installations offer potential targets for terrorists or military opponents. As has been seen in recent years in the Middle East (Gulf War), the result can be massive ecological damage as well as economic devastation.
The normal response to such vulnerability is to put greater resources into security and increased levels of protection. High levels of centralisation leads also to problems with employment. Decentralized energy production and utilization, which is the case of renewable energy sources, can create much more new jobs than centralized fossil fuel installations.
Military Dangers from Nuclear Proliferation
Nuclear weapon proliferation is one of the biggest threats to world peace today with several countries already in or trying to be a member of the ?nuclear club?. In developed countries nuclear electricity industries grew out of nuclear weapons development. The earliest nuclear reactors were built to produce material for nuclear bombs. There has always been a close connection between the two terms of the technology used, so that military spending on research and development for nuclear weapons technology has in effect been a major subsidy for civilian nuclear electricity industries. Nuclear fuel is not directly useful for nuclear weapons. Much further processing is needed.
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Last Updated (Thursday, 05 November 2009 12:02)