I assert we will burn everything that will burn until we have a better source of energy. Hydro is good but past maximized, and environmentalists want to tear down the dams we have. Solar is a wimp. It has its place, but not on the grid, and anyone telling you otherwise doesn’t understand the engineering and physics of it. Wind is simply a scam, snake oil. Wind-based power generation drives up costs in the grid and in transmission and in maintenance. It cannot be made better. It is disruptive to our power usage and needs. Turbines kill insects by the millions, bats by the thousands (maybe by the millions), and rare and endangered birds by the hundreds. Wind has no net benefits, only pain. Wind turbines do violence against our neighbors with flashing lights, flashing shadows, vertigo-inducing rotation, incessant noise, fire and throw hazard, and property devaluation.

Thus, we burn.

It is immoral to burn edible food while people starve. Biofuels do more harm than good.

There is no alternative to petroleum for a few applications, but we can convert most of our power needs to electricity, which we can renewably generate with nuclear fission for millennia.

We will convert to nuclear electricity generation. It is our only possibility. If we allow fear to continue to drive us, we will increase suffering caused by other power generation methods until we wise up. It will be painful. The longer we wait to convert to essentially 100% nuclear, the greater the pain and suffering we impose on ourselves and our posterity.

As an aside, persuasion is an illusion. Manipulation is a thing, but not persuasion. Compulsion is real enough (and evil), but it is not persuasion. The only true persuader is pain. The fellow who is convinced he can walk through walls may never admit he is delusional, but after a broken nose or two, when he claims he can walk through walls, he will take the doorway, explain that it is much easier. When our pain from wind power generation is too high, we will quit. (Who will clean up the mess?) Likewise, the large solar installations. Inevitably, we will power our lives with nuclear generated electricity.

Coal is a finite resource, and it is environmentally burdensome, even with modern technology. We will wean ourselves off it, even China and India, long before we run out of it. though. The net benefits from coal are too low to justify using it when we have better alternatives like natural gas and nuclear fission.

Natural gas may be finite. (Well, it is eventually, but odds are we will be extracting it from the earth even a few centuries from now.) Natural gas has substantive net benefit, but it is still somewhat burdensome on the environment, and nuclear fission is far better. We will be using natural gas for many generations to come, but we will see it specialized into small niches. It will become inconsequential to our earthly environment.

Petroleum, well, we are probably going to use it for as long as we have machines. We are probably going to have machines for hundreds, maybe thousands, of generations. Of course, we could have paradigm-shifting technological advances that make it easier to make what hydrocarbons we use more inexpensively with nuclear-generated electricity than by continued mining (drilling, fracking, and other modern extraction techniques, which I think of as mining). {“If it can’t be grown, it must be mined,” is a truth-statement today.} Also, it doesn’t actually seem likely petroleum is a finite resource. That is, for practical purposes, it may be as plentiful as rock. It is reasonable to suppose we will never run out of oil in the earth’s crust. We are not sure, but there are theories that we can’t test significantly yet. Regardless, the extractable oil is more than enough to remain useful for generations to come. We are just as far from peak-oil as we’ve ever been, and every time prognosticators start doomcasting we blow right past their deadlines.

For generating large amounts of stable electrical energy, coal is the most sensible from the engineering standpoint, but the other burdens of its extraction, use, and disposal are too significant. Natural gas is only sensible because we can get so much of it so inexpensively. That situation will not hold indefinitely, but I suspect it will hold for the rest of my generation (let’s assume 40 years). Natural gas is relatively clean, and direct use of it is exceptionally beneficial in terms of benefits to our lives versus the burdens of extraction and use. It takes three times more natural gas to boil your tea kettle with an electric stove top (assuming natural-gas turbine generated electricity) than it does with a direct natural gas stove top. It is quite counterproductive from any standpoint to restrict or ban the use of natural gas in residential or commercial or even industrial use. Natural gas is first choice for direct fuel applications. One could argue for liquid fuels, but it is much harder to deal with liquid fuels in open-flame applications.

Petroleum is not a good fuel for large electrical power generation, which is why we use it for only a small fraction of a percent of our total electrical generation. It is good for small applications, and quick-start applications, but not much otherwise.

We need petroleum for mobile fuel. Liquids are easily stored in tanks for direct transportation usage. It is probably indispensable for aircraft, at least medium- and long-distance flights. It is good with ground transport, but there are several advantages to electrically powered transportation, but the limits of batteries are prohibitive, and will be for the near future. Edison advanced battery technology more than anyone before him, and advancements since have been at a snail’s pace with the significant, but small, advancement of lithium batteries. It looks like 15 to 25 years will bet us that much ahead again. That will give us batteries about twice as good as Edison could make. We need batteries that are 50 times better.

We have a variety of reasonable engineering solutions, but none that will be easy or inexpensive, and some would require significant changes in our societies. We shall see.

Another aside: If we can prove out fully automated transportation, we may switch to all electric vehicles, including short-flight aircraft, by switching to an entirely automated transportation system that would incorporate plains, trains, automobiles, and trucks scheduled to maximize battery life and transportation efficiencies. If so, personal ownership of vehicles would probably be relegated to hobbyists, and we’d generally just tap our phone app to have our ride pull up for us in a matter seconds, zipping us without traffic snarls to our destinations (with, perhaps, stops to transfer to a second transport with fresh batteries if our distance requires).

As an engineer with expertise in physics, I have no reservations asserting we will burn all we need to until we have excess electricity generated from nuclear power sources. Windmills will run their course, and our descendants will curse us for the hardships caused by them. Large-scale solar will be the same, but some solar applications may prove out, but solar power generation will never supply a significant fraction of our overall energy usage.

We will switch to nuclear. It is the only reasonable possibility. There may be some genius-level technological breakthrough, but there is no evidence to support such speculation, and it may be centuries from now even if it is possible.

We will use nuclear fission with uranium and thorium for generations, and we will eventually solve the engineering challenges of nuclear fusion and the materials required to build power production facilities. That might be a century or two (or a couple decades, but my money is on 100 years).

There is no existential threat other than the unknown. There is a plant-killing rock out there, but it may not approach for several centuries. (Of course, if we spot it tomorrow and realize it will hit us in 15 years, we’re probably going to join the dinosaurs and the other 99.9% of species how’ve run their course on our planet. I bet a few survive, or some new species will eventually attain what we call sentience, and life will continue to find a way, at least until the next unknown catastrophic event overtakes them.)

We will burn fossil fuels until nuclear power generation makes it impractical. We will not tip earth’s climate into anything catastrophic for humans or the rest of life on this planet.

Do keep in mind that there are three essential ingredients to life on our planet, water, oxygen, and carbon dioxide. The first two are demonstrably the most destructive aspects of our environment. As long as oceans remain, water and oxygen will remain the most significant drivers of maintenance and repair and rebuilding. Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. It is an essential ingredient to life. It cannot exist in nature in quantities that are dangerous to us or other life. Even corals have experienced carbon dioxide levels multiples higher than our current levels. CO2 is only dangerous on our planet in its absence. We must have it, or photosynthesis is impossible. If carbon dioxide gets too low, all plants will die and all remaining life will starve, all of it (well, fungus might manage).

So, are you willing to acknowledge that nuclear is best? If not, you will relegate the next generation to undue suffering, and they will.

We will switch to entirely nuclear-power generated electricity. It is only a matter of time and how much suffering it takes to overcome our irrational fears of it.