Are alternative energy sources the answer to ending human dependence on oil?Are alternative energy sources the answer to ending human dependence on oil?
No. As others have hinted at, the issue really needs to be quantified in economic terms. Nothing can replace oil currently for what it does. If I remember correctly, most oil consumed worldwide is for manufacturing and agriculture, not transportation (remember that every piece of plastic in existence comes from oil!...and oil is the only thing that can make plastic.) As China and India continue to industrialize, their oil consumption will only increase. Certainly it would be beneficial to develop the "alternates," but development is still precluded by relatively cheap oil. As it becomes more expensive, the market will drive alternative development. Part of the reason that hasn't happened in the US (and I'm guessing worldwide) is that the government continues to subsidize oil--so the true market cost is not apparent. Were gas to truly cost $7 a gallon ALL the manufacturers would be producing ONLY electric cars, because that's what the market would therefore demand. So there's the tinkering of supply/demand by government. But even if the tinkering didn't exist, and everyone drove electrically, and heated and cooled their houses by wind, wave, and geothermals, would that necessarily make a dent in overall oil consumption? Worldwide, I would say "No!" due to increasing Chinese and Indian industrialization. Those two countries contain over half the world's population. Once they are established on an industrial economy (in 30 years? 50 years?) their oil consumption will slow down and perhaps level off.
Ever since the "Energy Crisis" in 1973 the media's been chicken little-ing about the "End of Oil," that the world would "run out!" in 20 years, and that would be the end of civilization as we know it. What they should have said was that it was the end of easily accessible and cheaply produced oil for the United States, partially due to the cartels forming in the Middle East, and partially due to the loss of the Vietnam War.
The world will always consume oil; the questions will increasingly be "what for?" and "how efficiently?"
This is an excellent and timely question. The answer this to this question is a resounding yes. There is something called "peak oil theory." This basically states that we are running out of easily accessible oil. No one knows how much oil there is in the world, but the accessibility is getting harder and more hence more costly. Think of the BP oil spill last year. People had to drill deeper to get to oil and it cost more to do and it. So, we can say even if there is oil, it is going to be harder to get to in the future.
In light of this, the best solution is alternative energy sources. Of all the ones that I have read about solar energy seems to be best option available for two reasons. First, there is a lot of sun in many parts of the world. So, we have an endless supply. Second, solar panels are getting cheaper as they are being manufactured more and more. For example, I recently read an article about Rutgers University in New Jersey and their solar imitative. They saved millions of dollars in their energy costs through the use of solar energy.
Even Saudi Arabia is now investing in solar technology. This fact should tell you something.
I think the answer is no. Unless the people of the most developed countries also rein in their living habits and the resulting energy demands, the alternative that have been developed will never be enough. The diminishing oil reserves have been a topic of debate since at least the 1970s, but very little has been done over the last 40 years to really develop energy alternatives in a large scale way, complete with infrastructure investments. For example, primarily thanks to individual experimenters working in their garages, you can have a hydrogen car; but where can you go to fill the tank when you are driving it around? You can buy an electric car, but there are very few places where it can be plugged in to recharge when you are not at home.
The big oil producers have far too much political power, and they have worked very hard to rein in development of alternative energy projects. Future generations will suffer because of their great success in doing so.
In the long run, I would say "yes." Unfortunately, in the short run the answer seems "no." Apparently solar and wind energy are still not yet sufficiently efficient or cost-effective to make them practical alternatives to oil. I keep reading very interesting things about harnessing waves to produce power, but I don't know that this technology is being widely used at present or how efficient it presently is. It sounds very promising, however. The dream of nuclear fusion also seems still very much a dream.
One thing rarely taken into account when discussing the cost of energy is the cost of defending the sea lanes so that oil can be transported from the middle east. I look forward to the day when we can be self-sufficient (or nearly so) based on energy produced here and when we can get as much out of the middle east as it is possible to get.
I don't know if they will be the answer so much as they will be the inevitable response of humans to an increasing world population's energy demands and a more and more obviously finite oil resource. Humans (and Americans in particular) seem to have a tendency of only changing personal and economic behaviors when they have to, that is, when the resource dictates in this case. We will develop and adopt more alternative energy sources as we are forced to, or as they become more economically practical, but that will be a reaction to oil price and shortages, as opposed to a progressive, forward-looking policy designed to wean humans off of petroleum.
I agree with #3 - the immediate answer to your question is No.
Alternative energy sources are vitally important and need to be developed and expanded to a much greater degree than has happened or is happening at this point. Alternative resources or methods need to be created to allow use of something besides oil as the basis of so many products that are central to our lifestyles - keep in mind that oil is not used just for transportation, but also as a raw material for numerous items we use on a daily basis. Because of this reality, it's not just a question of finding different methods of powering transportation.
No, I don't think they are. There is not enough potential in alternative energy sources for them to allow us to consume energy at the per capita rate we do. This is particularly true because the world is getting richer and more people in China, Brazil, etc. are wanting to consume more energy.
So, I think that alternative energy is important, but that we have to do at least as much to reduce demand. We need to develop more technology that takes less energy. If we do that AND we develop alternative energy sources, we have a better chance.
I, also, agree with pohnpei. Any alternative which one may come up with will (eventually) be overused like the ones are used now. While, as vangoghfan states, in the short run, there seems to be no immediate alternative. Hopefully, in the long run, enough can be done to make a difference down the road. Problem is, either way, not enough people are concerned to make it happen.
I think as fossil feuls continue to run out, more and more attention will be placed on other alternative sources, and hopefully more financial investment, too. Then forms of energy such as solar and wind energy, which are of course renewable and will not run out, will be hopefully developed to a point when we can become more and more dependent upon them.