America’s Overdependence on Fossil Fuels
by Taylor Charbonnet

 

Think of the toothpaste you used this morning to brush your teeth, the tennis shoes you are wearing now, or the sunglasses you might wear on a sunny day. What do these items have in common? They are all products of oil and gas.[1] If it weren’t for fossil fuels, we wouldn’t have access to many of the products that we use on a day-to-day basis, much less have them at such a low cost. In fact, fossil fuels meet 85% of the total energy demand in the United States of America.[2] This goes to show the degree to which America is currently dependent on fossil fuels and the invaluable role that they play in the overall economy. However, the problem is that our dependence on fossil fuels directly contributes to climate change. Because they release carbon dioxide when burned, fossil fuels add to the greenhouse effect. That is, the extra carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere traps heat, causing the planet to become warmer than it would be naturally – a phenomenon referred to as global warming.[3] In fact, Earth’s average temperature has risen by 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century.[4] Various negative consequences have resulted from rising global temperatures, such as rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and extreme changes in weather and climate. In order to limit these detrimental effects, we must not only acknowledge the immediate dangers of fossil fuels but also expedite America’s transition to sustainable energy.

 

I am not calling for a complete and immediate transition away from fossil fuels in favor of renewables. Due to America’s extreme reliance on fossil fuels, this transition can’t – nor should it – happen over night, as it would detrimentally affect the world economy. For example, expensive fuels, flights, and goods would hit consumers hard. Not to mention the spiraling fuel and energy prices and the write-offs of fuel reserves worth millions of dollars would bankrupt some of the largest companies in the world, undoubtedly sending the world economy into a downturn.[5] Having said this, it is imperative that America accelerates its transition to renewable energy so as to prevent further harm to Earth. Fortunately, the transition to sustainable energy, such as solar, wind, hydro, and biomass, is already well under way. Take for example solar energy. The total amount of installed solar has soared 115,000-fold since the 1970s, while the cost of solar has decreased to 1/150th of its 1970s level.[6] This progress comes in large part due to the economies of scale inherent to solar energy. Specifically, each time solar power capacity has doubled in this time period, costs have fallen 24 percent.[7] As solar grows as an energy source, its associated costs decrease, making it an increasingly attractive alternative energy source for consumers. In this respect, solar energy is representative of the general trend in renewable energy. That is, the overall costs for renewable energy technologies have plummeted in recent years, making the global transition not only possible, but also economically viable.[8] Moreover, sustainable energy sources are based in technology, not a commodity like their fossil fuel counterparts. As is the case with technologies, efficiency increases and prices fall as time goes on.[9] Lastly, the depressed prices for fossil fuels in recent years have shifted the energy landscape in favor of renewables. This phenomenon has led to weakened investment in fossil fuels, highlighted by a recent drop to the lowest number of active oil rigs in the U.S. since records began in the 1940s.[10] In turn, the door is wide open for investments in sustainable energy.

 

Though renewables are on their way to becoming America’s primary – and maybe eventually sole – energy source, the transition is not occurring fast enough to sufficiently avoid the irreparable harms of our past, present, and future fossil fuel dependence. For this reason, the federal government must accelerate the transition to renewable energy via economic incentives such as commercial and individual tax credits. Take for example the income tax credits given to those who purchase a new Tesla, or any other plug-in vehicle. Specifically, a $7,500 federal income tax credit is available to all customers in addition to the supplemental rebates offered by many states.[11] In an effort to cut down on emissions from fuel, the tax credits encourage investments in clean transportation by offering Tesla and other electric manufacturers a competitive advantage in pricing. Unfortunately, the tax credit is set to expire in the coming months once Tesla sells its 200,000th vehicle.[12]

 

Not only do I believe the federal government should extend the current tax credit – whether it is at the current level or a reduced rate–, but it should also extend similar policies to other industries, such as utilities and roofing. For example, the federal solar tax credit is currently 30%, making solar a more affordable energy source for both households and businesses. In essence, the federal solar tax credit allows you to deduct 30% of the cost of installing a solar energy system from your federal taxes.[13] However, the rate is set to decrease starting in 2020. It is imperative that the tax credit be extended so as to more fully realize the conversion to solar panel roofing. Moreover, it is impractical to expect households and businesses to replace their roofs prematurely. In fact, doing so would actually be financially irresponsible. Thus, by extending the tax credit, the federal government will allow more business and households to convert to solar roofs, thereby weaning the electricity sector off of fossil fuels. In the end, it is important to remember that fossil fuels are non-renewable resources, meaning they will be depleted in the coming decades. Therefore, if we are going to make the shift to renewables eventually, then it makes most sense to do so as soon as economically possible in order to prevent any further damage to our environment.

 

Kameron comment:

Our over dependence on fossil fuels is indeed a pressing issue with the ever looming threat of climate change. However, as you pointed out, the private sector and the free marker are not doing enough to advance renewable technology. There are very few Elon Musks in the world and creating incentives to adopt renewable technology is very important. Outside of tax credits, as you mentioned, encouraging people to change to greener forms of transportation, such as carpool lanes/electric vehicle lanes in California, are valid options. In order to fight the most important battle of our generation, the fight against climate change, we need to attack the problem from multiple avenues. Well done on your blog.

 

Kim-Lin comment:
Taylor, I agree with your opinions that America’s overdependence on fossil fuels makes it impossible for a transition to renewable energy to occur overnight. I think it is a realistic approach to transitioning, instead of doing a complete overall and causing major economic damage. I think that economic incentives like commercial and individual tax credits would be a successful policy tool in persuading people and companies to choose renewables, as well as extending these kinds of tools to other industries, and I think that you explained that very well. Economic incentives are a good way to make the transition economically feasible, so hopefully they would also work to speed up the process.

 

Cynthia comment:
I really enjoyed reading your blog post and definitely learned a lot about fossil fuels and the transition to renewable energy. You did a really great job at catching the reader’s attention and making the post relatable and easily understandable. You clearly explain the country’s dependence on fossil fuels and then successfully recommend policies that would make transitioning to renewables feasible and economically viable.

I think the biggest strength of your blog is the discussion of the economic benefits of renewable energy. There is such a negative outlook on solar energy because people believe that it is extremely expensive and only a viable option for the wealthy. However, your blog successfully dismisses this belief by explaining that the cost of solar energy has decreased by extreme amounts since the 1970s. You did a great job at explaining the economic viability of renewable energy, dismissing many of the public’s concerns surrounding the feasibility of transitioning away from fossil fuels.

I also really appreciated the discussion of the actual feasibility of transitioning to renewables. You express that you understand that it is clearly impossible to make this transition over night, but the sooner we take action and work towards moving away from fossil fuels, the less damage will be done to our environment.

Overall, I think you did a really great job at introducing the purpose of your blog by explaining the country’s dependence on fossil fuels and successfully recommended changes to federal policies to encourage the shift towards renewable energy. This is a really interesting topic and it is imperative that we take action as soon as economically possible.

 
 

Wei comment:
I really like how your blog focuses on an economic analysis of the feasibility of switching to renewable energy, solar in particular. I learned a lot about the trend of solar energy prices and current policies encouraging plug-in vehicles. However, one thing that is vague about your blog is that you seem to suggest promoting electric vehicles as a possible solution to America’s over dependence on fossil fuels. Although electric vehicles do represent less pollution, they do not necessarily encourage a transition away from fossil fuels. The difference between electric vehicles and traditional vehicles is their energy source. However, electricity is currently primarily generated using fossil fuels in the US. Merely promoting electric vehicles only encourages more electricity generation, but not necessarily from renewable sources. I think you need to establish a stronger link between the benefits of electric vehicles and reducing fossil fuel dependence. A well written piece with important economic highlights.

 

Lucas G. comment:
I appreciated your highlight in the drop of prices of fossil fuels and that made me think about the market shift from coal to natural gas. I also was intrigued by your discussion of tax credits. I think that tax credits would help but also would the money have a greater benefit if used in research to make the solar panels and wind turbines more affordable? i do not really have an answer to this but I do think it is important to discuss what role the government should have in funding research/ how the government should determine what research would be beneficial to the United States as a whole. We could also expand this view to a global view because by cheapening renewable technology, we can increase the use in developing countries; therefore, reducing their carbon footprint and emissions as well.

 

Brianna comment:
I really enjoyed your blog post. I especially liked your use of statistics to give a better understanding of our dependence on oil/gas and the future of solar energy. I agree that it is important to extend the tax credits for this energy source. I think that extending tax credits will allow more people to invest in it and hopefully continue to drive the price down. I would be curious of your thoughts on the dependability of solar power, given the problems with intermittency and lacking technology for battery storage. Hopefully continuing tax credits or further incentivizing solar power will allow scientists to fix these issues as the demand for solar power rises. Additionally, I have read articles about solar panels on roofing, as you mentioned. There seem to be major innovations, especially regarding the physical appearance of the panels. New panels can be shaped and have the appearance of normal shingles or shingles seen on many spanish styled homes. This might be more appealing to people and encourage the installation on roofs.

 
 

Henry comment:
Solid piece. Wei made a good note about the transition to electric vehicles – they still burn fossil fuels. Obviously, if we can get the utility market to move out of fossil fuels, then that is a different story, but it’s a rocky transition. It seems that every energy source seems to pose some kind of problem – wind kills birds, solar takes up land, etc. Maybe someday we’ll get fusion power and all problems will be solved. But as a present solution, I’m curious why you didn’t argue for a carbon tax. Obviously, the public doesn’t like the sound of it (it just got voted down in Washington, and it never does well in interest polls), but if implemented, it could cut emissions extremely efficiently without hurting the consumer (because the taxes they pay get put back in their pockets). And you could ease the tax in with very small increments, so businesses are able to adjust! But that’s just my two cents. Great writing.

 

Jack M. comment:
I think your assertion that an increase in the timeline and the intensity of renewable energy tax credits is the best way for the United States to wean itself off of fossil fuels. Tax credits spur innovation and price reduction via technology advancement until the forces of the free market take over. As we are seeing with the rapid adoption of natural gas by the power generation industry, low prices can drive the adoption of less carbon intensive fuels naturally. While the electricity generation and transportation sectors account for the majority of our fossil fuel use, we also need to find alternatives for the products you mentioned at the beginning of your post. Petroleum products are fully integrated into our dauly lives. Only then can we solve our crisis of over dependence.

 

 
 
References
 
[1] “What Are Fossil Fuels Used For?” New Mexico Oil Gas Association, n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2017.
[2] “US Fossil Fuel Dependency.” Economy Watch, 29 Apr. 2010. Web. 19 Mar. 2017.
[3] “BBC – Changes in the Environment.” BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
[4] “Climate Change: Basic Information.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, 17 Jan. 2017. Web. 19 Mar. 2017.
[5] Clark, Duncan. “Why Can’t We Quit Fossil Fuels?” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 17 Apr. 2013. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
[6] Randall, Tom. “Wind and Solar Are Crushing Fossil Fuels.” Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 06 Apr. 2016. Web. 19 Mar. 2017.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Amin, Adnan Z. “The Falling Costs of Renewable Energy: No More Excuses.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 27 Nov. 2015. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.
[9] Randall, Tom. “Wind and Solar Are Crushing Fossil Fuels.” Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 06 Apr. 2016. Web. 19 Mar. 2017.
[10] Ibid.
[11]”Incentives.” Tesla, Inc. N.p., 13 Feb. 2017. Web. 20 Mar. 2017.
[12] Isidore, Chris. “Most Tesla Model 3 Buyers Won’t Get the $7,500 Tax Break.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 6 Apr. 2016. Web. 20 Mar. 2017.
[13] Matasci, Sara. “Why the Solar Tax Credit Extension Is a Big Deal.” EnergySage. N.p., Web. 20 Mar. 2017.

 

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