Concerns about sustainability, and the harsh realities of environmental catastrophe, can be traced back at least 4000 years. This paper points out how human pressures on the surrounding environment have had severe consequences over this period, coal burning has had adverse consequences traceable over the past 750 years, and the adverse environmental impacts of using other fossil fuels have aroused attention more recently. Heightened awareness of the need for sustainable development is a modern development, evident in international and national debates since the early 1970s. With the Brundtland Commission report published in 1987 came a framework for sustainable energy development. However, performance under the four elements of that framework have been almost uniformly disappointing. Fossil fuel use has continued to rise; renewable energy use has made insufficient inroads; waste and inefficiency in energy usage continues to be far too high; too many people remain without modern energy services or are exposed to severe pollution in the home and local atmosphere; there are mounting concerns about the conventional oil resource base—and future supplies and prices of oil and natural gas; greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and evidence of human-induced climate change continues to mount. Indices of national environmental performance suggest no country is performing adequately; population, housing and transportation pressures result in greater pollution, loss of natural habitats, and species reduction; and poor governance is frequently cited as a major cause of poor environmental performance. The prospects for sustainable energy are bleak on current trends.
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