When Will Fossil Fuels Become Obsolete?

The recent devastation of hurricanes Harvey and Irma have wreaked havoc on the Caribbean, Texas, and Florida. The pair of storms were so powerful that a smaller hurricane, Katrina, landed on the coast of Mexico to little fanfare, and the country suffered an earthquake days later to little mention in the news.

While no one would ever want to politicize a disaster like a hurricane, there are those that are quietly mentioning amongst themselves that the increase in severe storms is proof of climate change and global warming. Even among many who have yet to believe in such concepts, they might be starting to wonder. That’s leaving quite a few people wondering when the world might move past its reliance on oil, gas, and coal, many suppliers of which were disrupted, particularly by Harvey.

Just when will fossil fuels, solar New York, become totally obsolete? That’s what many wonders specifically. They celebrate every solar panel that goes up and every electric vehicle that takes the road, but when will the world stop using fossil fuels entirely?

The recent hurricanes aren’t the only reason people are wondering about this. In the midsts of the storms, there were headlines regarding electric vehicle mandates. Volvo announced that by 2019, all its models would either be electric or hybrids, with drivers and buyers having options between the two. This follows news that certain countries in Europe are trying to get only electric cars on the market by 2020 or later, and even China is hoping to get to only electric cars by 2040, if not earlier.

While such things could be huge wins in terms of trying to clean up the Earth’s air and water, it doesn’t necessarily signal fossil fuels becoming obsolete anytime soon. They might not be used at previous volumes, given the growing number of electric cars, but just because cars are electric doesn’t mean the power they charge up with was generated in a clean fashion. A lot of generation of electricity is still done by coal, and also even to some degree natural gas and petroleum. So, fossil fuels won’t be obsolete in the near future, even if their use goes down in total volume.

Paradoxically, as major markets like Europe, China, and the United States move more towards electric cars, the rest of the world, most notably developing and poor nations, are likely to continue using fossil fuel vehicles for decades considering that the supply of fossil fuels will last longer due to lowering demand. The cost of a gallon of gas might actually prove cheap for several more generations.

It won’t honestly be until non-fossil fuel power plants become the norm that fossil fuels are totally obsolete, although even if that happens, they’re still in use in ocean shipping and transportation, as well as jet fuel for passenger airlines. Sector-specific and niche use for fossil fuels are likely to keep them around well past the lifetime of anyone who is alive right now.