The End of Alternative Energy

Or, Another Reason to Switch

By Richard Douse

Sometime in the not so distant future, solar and wind power will no longer be referred to as alternative sources of energy. They will have become mainstream. They will become our primary source of energy. Alternative energy will then apply to oil and coal that, hopefully, will then be used only in cases of dire emergency. And this will happen not because a political party willed it so. It will happen because it must. This coming change is important not just because it will save our planet from the awful effects of climate change. It is important because it is the only way our civilization can continue to exist.

I believe it was George Santayana who said, “Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.” Let us, together, make sure that does not happen here.

Civilization has always depended on resources that may easily be depleted. And, every great civilization on our planet, has grown, prospered, and decayed, based on resource availability. Until relatively recently, resources were basically wood in the form of the virgin and seemingly unlimited forest that covered much of the world. More recently, humans have been able to exploit peat bogs, oil and coal fields, and even uranium. All these are finite. When used up, with the exception of trees that can be, but are not always, replanted, they are gone forever.

About 4,700 years ago, cities in Mesopotamia flourished for two reasons; fertile soil from the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys, and the vast tracts of timber that grew on the hills and mountains. As nearby forests were destroyed for the building of homes and temples and furniture, and for the use of fuel for heating and cooking, this great civilization was stressed. As years passed and mountains and hills became denuded, erosion and flooding stripped away soil, depositing silt across once fertile valleys. As wood and food became more and more scarce, the great Sumerian empire faded away.

During the bronze age, the Minoan civilization on Crete grew to greatness due to the availability of timber which it used for the smelting of copper and tin. This society also declined as local timber sources were exhausted and lands eroded

In every case, be it Greek city states or the Roman empire that followed, as demand grew for fuel to produce products made from bronze, glass, and iron, forests were depleted and land eroded. As fertile valleys became covered with silt, these civilizations went into decline. It is especially worth noting that as the citizens of these various places began to suffer due to shortages of wood for heating their homes, they ultimately turned to solar energy, re-orienting their houses in order to capture warmth from the sun.

The examples of the rise and fall of civilizations due to depletion of resources are virtually endless. Whether it is Muslim conquest of the Mediterranean, the Egyptian civilization, or the rise and fall of England as an empire, their fortunes grew or shrank due to the availability of energy sources.

This history is something that today’s society must recognize if it is to continue. Unless we change energy sources soon, our own civilization will go into decline. We must begin the move to that infinite source of energy, our sun.

Richard Douse is a north state resident who lives as energy-efficiently as possible, including using solar power.

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9 Responses

  1. Avatar Pat J says:

    I think the wind "mills" are really sleek looking, but I also like Palm trees.

    No NIBY

  2. Avatar hosgs1 says:

    this article sounds like a history lesson. Would of been better to state how-to and links to sites on alternative Energy.

    this article turned me off.

    btw I bet the writer has everything he stated thats kiling our earth right in his house too like furniture, solar items that the material to make it is extracted from the earth,etc.

  3. Avatar Kelly says:

    I like the look of wind towers, too, and I enjoyed the article both for its scope and its hope. I bet we'd be surprised at all the ways the writer lives lightly on the land. Maybe he'll tell us about it sometime. No one is required to eliminate his presence on the planet before advocating the intelligent use of our natural resources. Every little bit helps. Sideswiping comments, not so much.

  4. Tom O'Mara Tom O'Mara says:

    Hi Dick,

    I couldn't agree more, and I am in the process of expanding our PV system so that it will produce virtually 100% of our electricity needs. Thomas Friedman's book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, offers great hope to whichever individual, region, or country comes up with answers to producing clean electrons. I think President Obama has a large education job do to for our country, but if he is able to convince many people of the need to build a new economy around the energy you are talking about, I believe we will become a truly strong nation once again.

    Best wishes,


  5. Avatar Hal Johnson says:

    I don't believe we'll run out of oil five, fifty, or five hundred years from now. But then, I do believe that we'll see longer periods when demand outstrips supply, with greater impacts upon lower income folks, and with more folks joining the ranks of the have-nots. My hope is that alternative energy sources will become dramatically more accessible, but my fear is that it won't happen until we've been through more increasingly painful supply and demand cycles.

  6. Avatar Doug Bennett says:

    Thanks for the energy history lesson. Part of the decline of some of the greatest empires also involved resource wars like the ones the U.S. is currently waging. Another fairly recent example is the former Soviet Union. As they tried to extend their reach to Afghanistan they went broke and their economy collapsed. Anyone see a pattern here? It is amazing that we have managed to keep our heads in the sand for so long. Hal's comment that we won't run out of oil for hundreds of years completely misses the point. All we have to do to see a continuing collapse of the economies of the world is to reach Peak Oil, that point where production cannot ever meet growing demands. Some think we are very close to that now, only time will tell. To be more basic, when something is finite (or relatively so), it means only so much exists and it gets harder and harder to get. It means we will not have enough to meet our energy needs. We lost 8 years under Bush's oil drunk policies and Global Warming anti-science campaigns. Now, there is no question we are approaching the point where solar, wind, tidal and other clean sources of energy are of the highest national security concerns.
    Besides deforestation and soil loss, as you point out above, another cause of of imperial collapse is that most large societies are based on stable agriculture and sophisticated irrigation schemes. Their empires crumbled from prolonged droughts. Guess what? Predictions of climate change may be coming true, right here, right now. The Sacramento River Valley is running out of water and though we may have more rain, less is being stored in snowpack. China, India and Sub-Saharan Africa are all suffering from the same fate. Millions of people may die from starvation in the next couple of years. But don't worry, that doesn't happen in America. Does it?

  7. Avatar Alan says:

    One condition that will make Alt energy come to pass faster than antisipated is harvesting the low hanging fruit of conservation. I do not beleive that Americans know what this will look like. Search "Obama Future Today" and see how easy it can be to reduce energy use by 58%

  8. Avatar Macnet says:

    We should concentrate more on Alternative Energy sources like hydrogen and solar because fossil fuels are already depleted and they are polluting the environment

  9. Every government should focus more on Alternative Energy so as not to be too dependent on Oil and avoid air pollution as well."~'