Fossil Fuels Could Be History in 10 Years, Says Researcher

Fossil fuels could be phased-out in 10 years, according to a study done by Professor Benjamin Sovacool. History shows us strong government support coupled with a shift in consumer preferences driven by incentives will help us get there faster.


Fossil fuels could be phased-out in 10 years, according to a study published by a UK think tank. Our reliance on burning gas and coal to create energy has become dated in a time when fully electric cars drive on our streets and technology has advanced to the point where solar and wind energy can sustain our needs. It just needs to be built.

Professor Benjamin Sovacool, director of the Sussex Energy Group at the University of Sussex, published his analysis in the journal Energy Research & Social Science. In it Sovacool shows us how past societies have transitioned from one energy resource to another, and how this could inform how we can get to a zero-emission economy in 10 years.

Adopting new forms of energy is often a slow process. "Left to evolve by itself--as it has largely been in the past--this can indeed take many decades,” says Sovacool. “A lot of stars have to align all at once.” It took 96 and 160 years for coal to be adopted by most of Europe, and electricity took 47 to 69 years to go mainstream.

The mainstream view of energy transitions as long, protracted affairs, often taking decades or centuries to occur, is not always supported by the evidence,” he said in a statement. But nothing helps speed up progress than a looming crisis.

“The idea is that that niche-innovations often face uphill struggles against existing systems,” he writes. “The 'landscape' refers to exogenous developments or shocks (e.g. economic crises, demographic changes, wars, ideological change, major environmental disruption like climate change) that create pressures on the regime, which in turn create windows of opportunity for the diffusion of niche-innovations.”

For a long time the Koch brothers and established utility companies have been waging a war against solar power, feeding climate change denial and funding “grassroots” organizations to fight the adoption of clean energy. But we are no longer hearing the predictions of concerned scientists, we are bearing witness to huge changes happening before our very eyes.

One of the Koch brothers has even acknowledged our climate is changing, recently, at an event hosted by The Wall Street Journal:

“Charles has said the climate is changing. So, the climate is changing,” Koch Industries’ Environmental, Health and Safety Director Sheryl Corrigan said. “I think he’s also said, and we believe, that humans have a part in that. I think what the real question is … what are we going to do about it?”

If my fondness for end-of-the-world movies has taught me anything, it's that when humanity is faced with a common threat, we band together to find a way to survive.

There have been times when alternative forms of energy have been speedily adopted and they all show a common trend:

1) Strong government support 2) coupled with a shift in consumer preferences driven by incentives.

“Moving to a new, cleaner energy system would require significant shifts in technology, political regulations, tariffs and pricing regimes, and the behavior of users and adopters,” Sovacool says.

A group of researchers from Australia asserted incentives to purchase electric vehicles could lower car emissions by up to 47 percent. “We need to make it more financially appealing for consumers to consider purchasing electric vehicles,” Swinburne pro vice-chancellor, Ajay Kapoor, says. "This could include incentives such as exempting them from fringe benefits tax, providing rebates on their car registration and reduced parking costs in the CBD.”

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Photo Credit: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Natalie has been writing professionally for about 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at PCMag.com where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker

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New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

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  • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
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  • These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.

Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.