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.