On Monday, April 15th, fuel-truck drivers in Portugal protested unfair wages by not supplying gas stations with fuel. By that Wednesday, Portugal had to declare an energy crisis, meaning that gas had to be saved for minimum services: ambulances and government cars. The government even hired other fuel trucks to deliver fuel to the airports. Both airports and gas stations alike were running on reserve fuel, and many gas stations had to close down after two days of the strike. Even gas stations that were open had lines extending down highways as people waited to get gas so they could go to their jobs and do other necessary activities.
While there is definitely an economic point to this strike (instances of low wages seem to be increasing in Portugal, and they are not the only European country to have this issue), the first thing I saw when researching this issue was surprising; there are several articles talking about Portuguese Tesla owners who were happy to realize that their completely electric vehicles meant that they could outlast the fuel shortage. Although these vehicles would eventually need fuel (especially when considering most places that power electric grids use coal or natural gas, both nonrenewable sources), it was enlightening to see how electric vehicles alleviated so many issues for those who owned them. Still, Tesla owners remain in the minority, and electric vehicles, in general, are still seen as the exception to the norm. It’s no secret that coal and other fossil fuels are harmful to the environment, but they are also on a limited capacity. It is very real that we could see a depletion of fossil fuels in the next few generations.
A quick recap on what fossil fuels are: fossil fuels are coal, oil, natural gas, and coal that we mine from the ground (or the ocean floor) and combust in order to create energy. These create loads of carbon emissions and pollution, and because they are found in the ground, we have to dig up a lot of ground to reach them, which means destroying natural habitats. Because we are such an energy-dependent world, our consumption of fossil fuels is still increasing, even though we should be using less in order to stave off global warming and all the chaos that ensues from rising planet temperatures. Fossil fuels are also aptly named: since fossils usually take about 10,000 years to form, fossil fuels that we mine can be up to 300 million years old. Unfortunately, we do not have 300 million years to wait for more fossil fuels to form.
According to this website, we could see a depletion of oil reserves in 53 years, gas reserves in 52 years, and coal in 150 years. Some of that is in our lifetime. While this website is a British page, keep in mind that Americans use about 20% of the world’s supply of oil while we only make up about 5% of the population. If anything, Americans are the biggest players to blame. The hopeful news that comes from these dismal statistics is that these are projections if we continue on the rate of fossil fuel consumption that we are on now, which is, again, steadily increasing. If we could even curb our fuel consumption to a steady rate, our reserves could last for significantly longer.
I wonder if that would be worse for us in the long term. Cynically, I believe that it will take a fuel crisis of our own for the US government to take renewable energy projects seriously and treat them with the urgency they deserve. Until then, a couple of things you can do in order to feel more hopeful about our fuel addiction: vote with your ballots, and with your feet. I refuse to vote for any candidate who does not want to take a strong stance against climate change, and we cannot afford to have another administration that ignores climate change like the Trump administration does today. Another concept I have heard of recently is voting with your feet. Most of us cannot afford Teslas, but we can afford to take public transportation in our area, which is generally more eco-friendly anyway (especially in Seattle, where our public transportation uses electric vehicles!). The more people who use public transit, the more demand there is for money to be invested into it, which also means more money invested in our environment and hopefully less on the demanding, limited fossil fuels that seem to haunt our post-industrial societies. Hopefully, this article helps you think about the importance of not only lowering our carbon emissions, but also the consequences of relying on fossil fuels.