Alternative Energy (Issues That Concern You)
Energy continues to be one of the most hotly debated topics in America today. Public discussion often focuses on issues related to Americans’ use of fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and gasoline. With topics like gasoline prices and global warming in the news almost every day, Americans are also talking about alternative sources of energy that could replace fossil fuels. These alternative energies include solar, wind, and water power, and fuel made from trees, plants, and waste products. History tells us that these sources of energy, now viewed as alternatives, were once the primary sources of energy used by people to heat their homes, cook their food, and do their work. A look at the changing use of energy over time can help in understanding how Americans became dependent on fossil fuels and how earth’s original sources of energy came to be seen as alternatives.
All of earth’s life forms use energy to survive. In nature, plants and trees get energy from sunlight through the photosynthesis process. Energy from the sun and wind drive earth’s water cycle, a critical support system for life. Wind energy helps the pollination process of some plants and trees and moves water on the surface of lakes and oceans to create waves. The energy of water moving in rivers and waterfalls is powerful enough to carve mountains into valleys and canyons and to carry rocks and soil to new locations. Earth itself is full of energy from its underground center of hot molten rock, which creates heat known as geothermal energy. All of these different types of energy work together to support life on earth. Humans have always used earth’s energy in one form or another, and the changing use of energy over time is closely related to the history of human civilization. The earliest human societies used wind, water, and solar energy long before the discovery of electricity, coal, or oil. The heat of sunlight was used to dry plants for food or fuel and to dry animal hides for clothing or shelter. For ancient Romans solar power was so important for heating buildings that they had laws preventing new structures from blocking an existing building’s light. People used muscle power to do work, supplementing their own energy with horses, mules, and oxen for traveling, moving heavy loads, and pulling carts or plows. Then people built machines such as windmills to capture the energy of
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