This post is part of a short series on the problems of transition to renewable energy. It repeats and develops some earlier posts on this blog.

As the original post kept growing, I have decided to split it up into five shorter posts.

In this series of posts, I will deal with a set of general technological and social problems which are relevant to energy transition, before going into the problems of other necessary strategies (such as drawdown), and the problem with particular ‘renewable energies’.

Introduction: Fossil Fuels; virtues and problems

Fossil fuels are the most efficient sources of energy ever developed. Modern capitalist society is built on cheap fossil fuels (and steel making and plastics, which originate with the use of fossil fuels). Modern society may be said to depend on cheap fossil fuels.

Fossil Fuels are also amongst the most destructive forms of energy developed. They poison people and other creatures, they destroy functional ecologies, they are prone to disaster (leakage and spills, have vulnerability to acts of violence, coal seams can catch alight easily and be very difficult, or even impossible, to put out, etc), they can destroy water supplies, and they generate climate turmoil. All these various destructions mount up and get worse the more fuels are ‘mined’ and burnt.

Fossil Fuels are also finite and in decline. Although some say the end of fossil fuels is still a long way off, such fuels appear to be getting harder to find and utilise – hence the development and use of fracking, tar sands, open cut coal mines and other techniques. Fossil fuels nowadays produce more ecological devastation than they used to, through these new modes of extraction.

Fossil fuels have to be replaced if we are to save contemporary civilisations from ecological and energy collapse, and yet they have been essential to modern social organisation, function, social power relations and energy. This is the fundamental problem of contemporary life.

The further posts in this series follow this post: