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Running out of gas

No matter whom you talk to these days, young or old, rich or poor, you'll most likely hear a gripe about gas prices. And understandably so -- costs at the pumps, even on the decline from this summer's peak, are far more than U.S. citizens are accustomed to. However, Americans still pay $2 to $3 less for a tank of gas than most Europeans, and, despite the general sense of outrage, people still pay up when push comes to shove.

This just proves that pump prices are a piece of a much bigger and more intimidating puzzle -- the worldwide energy crisis. We are burning fossil fuel at an increasingly alarming rate -- and have been for decades. Scientists, environmentalists, and economists have been warning for many years that the supply of oil, coal and natural gas is nearing its end. We're not talking 200 or 300 years from now -- more like a mere 20 to 50 years.

What does this mean for teens? We cannot pass the crisis along, as past generations have so deftly done, in some adult version of Hot Potato.

It's our issue -- we are going to have to find a solution for this colossal problem.

There are several alternatives to fossil fuel, though they are far from being as efficient or convenient, However, there are some definite possibilities on the horizon. Scientists researching alternative energy are often frustrated by consumer shortsightedness; as long as there's fossil fuel today, no one wants to be bothered by tomorrow's lack thereof.

European countries have been dependent on nuclear power for years. The U.S. has been less eager to utilize it. Nuclear power has enormous potential. Unfortunately, the potential for disaster is great, too. The effects of a nuclear power plant explosion, or even a leak, are deadly and long-lasting, as shown in the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in the USSR.

Solar energy could easily be converted to heat homes and offices and would be relatively cost-free. However, there is the problem of cloudy days. Another drawback is the awkward solar cells needed to collect the energy -- they need lots of room and are sometimes ineffective.

People have been putting the last of the three big alternative energy sources to work for centuries. Wind power is environmentally friendly, but, like solar, is very dependent on day-to-day weather conditions. Despite this, wind turbines are popping up all over Western New York. Although they are far from producing the volume of energy needed overall, they provide a good source of clean energy and create virtually no pollution. Sounds like a solution, but many people are outraged about the windmills. In many cases, the naysayers use the "not in my backyard" argument. They argue that wind turbines, ranging in height from 50 to 150 feet, disrupt Western New York's scenic skyline. However, if opponents of windmills are defending the picturesque-ness of WNY, they also should be boycotting cell phones -- the reception towers are well over 50 feet. Heck, electricity in general would be out of bounds -- huge chains of power lines crisscrossing the countryside and cities are definitely a visual drawback.

We all will have to make some major changes in the coming years in how we use energy. Preservation and conservation won't carry us forever. As much as we would like to avoid it, the younger generation is going to have to start thinking about alternatives to oil -- because soon it will be gone completely.

Kristy Kibler is a junior at Attica.

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