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On the 3E Problems: Energy, Environment, Economy

Posted by Syeilendra Pramuditya on December 12, 2010

First let me briefly discuss about what the three E problems are. During the last ten years, environmental protection and energy security have emerged as important international issues right along with the economic development. The central proposition appears to be that environmental concerns are inversely related to concern about energy security and the economic development. These issues are today popularly known as the “3E Problems (Energy-Environment-Economy)”. The environmental protection, energy security, and economic development are always strongly affected each others, hence balancing these priorities is critical to achieve sustainable development of the world.

Generally speaking, global environmental problems today include the following: global warming, the destruction of the ozone layer, acid rain, endangerment of biodiversities, deforestation, marine and atmospheric pollution, and many more. Among these, probably the issues of ozone layer leakage and the global warming deserve our most critical attention today. For the ozone layer problem, we can say that it is (partly) already solved, that is to replace the problem-causing substances to this problem (CFC, NOx, SOx), with other existing cleaner substances. But for the global warming issue, the problem is much more complicated. In particular, this is because the mainstream scientists today are believe that global warming is caused by CO2, and as we know that CO2 is mainly released as a by-product of our energy production processes. Energy consumption negatively affects the environment by increasing CO2 emissions but, at the same time, we cannot enjoy economic development without energy consumption.

The problem is that humankind will continue to aspire toward further improvement of the quality of life through economic development. But one thing is that economic growth does not merely increase the burden on the environment, economic growth also provides the conditions that are necessary to protect the environment by making it possible to bear the costs of environmental protection. Hence, the important thing here is maintaining a proper balance between the 3E which I mentioned earlier, that are for securing the energy supply for economic development without giving negative impacts to the environment. One more important point is that, not only we must reduce the CO2 emission rate, but we also must somehow reduce the current concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, which it has been increased considerably from natural level, since the industrial revolution about 2 centuries ago.

So, environmental protection and economic growth, far from each other, should be thought of as interrelated concepts. It is fundamental, therefore, that maximum effort be exerted to secure the coexistence of these two notions, under the concept of the so called sustainable development.

The question is, how to reach that point of balance of the 3E problems? We all know that this is not so easy to be answered. Some feasible solutions are introduction of cleaner (CO2 free) energy sources, promotion of energy conservation, technology transfer, and innovative technological breakthroughs to reduce CO2 emission rate and concentration in the atmosphere. The research of cleaner energy sources is already begun, known as the renewable energy sources, these include: solar power, hydrogen/fuel cell technology, wind power, geothermal, hydro power, etc. Research about the reduction of CO2 concentration is also already begun, such as the Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) scheme. The mitigation of CO2 emission could also be achieved by mean of political approach, such as that of the carbon tax scheme.

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