question: why is the world still so dependent on fossil fuels?

There is no doubt about it – fossil fuels still reign supreme. Industry and consumers are still slaves to this non-renewable resource despite the fact that it pollutes our environment and results in an inequitable distribution of wealth that is concentrated in the hands of a select group of people not necessarily concerned with the welfare of the world or its citizen. In the United States, a mere 9% of the energy used comes from renewable sources including biomass, geothermal, wind, solar and hydropower. This means that 91%of the 95 billion Btu of energy that America uses comes from non-renewable sources like petroleum [36%], natural gas [27%], coal [18%] and nuclear [8%]. The distribution of use is similar on a global scale – of the 511 quadrillion Btu of energy consumed, 34% is produced by produced by petroleum, 29% by coal, 23% by natural gas and 5% from nuclear reactions, while a mere 8% of the consumed energy is produced renewably.

The persistence of dependency of oil lies on cost and reluctance to change at both the individual and institutional level.  Industry is hesitant to invest in new infrastructure and technology that has not necessarily been proven as effective in the long-term or that may disrupt business was usual. Conflicting information confuses consumers.  The pressure imposed by privately motivated interests discourages the political promotion of clean and renewable energies.  

There have also been difficulties with harnessing renewable energy sources so that they can be adapted to use in everyday life [ex. hydrogen cells].  Some methods of producing renewable energy also require non-renewable resources for production [e.g. solar panels that require tellurium]. Furthermore, non-renewable energy sources are still quite inexpensive. For instance, a gallon of gas is less expensive than a cup of coffee [liter for liter, gallon for gallon]. Moreover, in developing nations, meeting the basic needs of citizens at any cost is often more important than thinking about the long-term environmental consequences of present actions.

Based on these unfortunate truths, it becomes clear why the world’s dependence on fossil fuels remains – not enough alternatives have been developed, strong forces are working to keep nonrenewable energy sources mainstream, some have no other choice and ultimately there are not yet enough economic incentives to change (see why are humans reluctant to take global warming seriously?). Until these truths change or the fossil fuels run out, it is sad to say, but change is unlikely to ensue.