The management of these energy sources involves slightly different perspectives than other resources. Coal and petroleum were formed from the degradation of bio-mass millions of years ago and hence these are resources that will be exhausted in the future no matter how carefully we use them. And then we would need to look for alternative sources of energy. Various estimates as to how long these resources will last us exist and one is that at present rates of usage, our known petroleum resources will last us for about forty years and the coal resources will last for another two hundred years.
But looking to other sources of energy is not the only consideration when we look at the consumption of coal and petroleum. Since coal and petroleum have been formed from bio–mass, in addition to carbon, these contain hydrogen, nitrogen and sulphur. When these are burnt, the products are carbon dioxide, water, oxides of nitrogen and oxides of sulphur. When combustion takes place in insufficient air (oxygen), then carbon monoxide is formed instead of carbon dioxide. Of these products, the oxides of sulphur and nitrogen and carbon monoxide are poisonous at high concentrations and carbon dioxide is a green-house gas. Another way of looking at coal and petroleum is that they are huge reservoirs of carbon and if all of this carbon is converted to carbon dioxide, then the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is going to increase leading to intense global warming. Thus, we need to use these resources judiciously.
Sustainable management of natural resources is a difficult task. In addressing this issue, we need to keep an open mind with regard to the interests of various stakeholders. We need to accept that people will act with their own best interests as the priority. But the realisation that such selfish goals will lead to misery for a large number of people and a total destruction of our environment is slowly growing. Going beyond laws, rules and regulations, we need to tailor our requirements, individually and collectively, so that the benefits of development reach everyone now and for all generations to come.
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