For the Conservation Curious

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Soon to be “Everyday Energy” June 21, 2010

Filed under: Science — newdomino @ 3:59 PM
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I understand why things like wind, solar and biofuels are deemed “alternative energies”; they are seen as alternatives to our traditional coal, oil and natural gas-generated energy sources.  However, I don’t like thinking about them as alternative energies because it makes them seem somewhat fringe, somewhat untested, somewhat different (aka. weird).  Opponents of these energy sources like to use that negative connotation to get more people on their side.  They say that only those really left-wing tree-hugging hippies support “alternative energy.”  Patriotic conservatives support all the jobs that are created through the old standbys of coal, oil and natural gas.  Just think about the use of “alternative” when it comes to a person’s lifestyle: goths, punks, homosexuals, transgender people, etc.  Any person that falls into the “alternative” category may be looked down upon by the more conservative folks out there.  Certainly that is not my idea of a good and just America.  I’d like to think we’re all equal in the grand scheme of things.

But all energy sources are not created equal.  The so-called “alternative energy” sources have their limitations, it’s true.  The sun is not out 24-7; wind is not constantly blowing at gale-force speeds; biofuels require large tracts of land to be grown.  But when taken as a whole, these sources of energy provide much more for us than they take away, as opposed to the old fashioned ways of getting energy.  Coal is dirty when burned, it is difficult and sometimes dangerous to extract (think of this year’s Massey coal mine disaster), and mining leaves the land and water scarred and polluted for generations.  Natural gas burns cleaner but is also potentially dangerous to extract (think of the gas rigs that recently blew out in WV and PA), the well pads fragment forest land, and leaking wells can contaminate groundwater.  Oil is also difficult and dangerous to extract (don’t think I have to remind you about what’s happening in the Gulf right now, thanks to B.P.), can pollute the environment when leaks occur, and in the case of tar sands in Canada (Google this… it really is a terrible form of resource extraction!) it can scar landscapes beyond recognition.  Our “business as usual” model for energy creation needs to change.

What I propose is that instead of calling solar, wind, biofuels and others “alternative energies,” why not refer to them as our future’s “everyday energy” or “advanced energies” or something more positive?  After all, one day they won’t be alternative any more. We will run out of coal, oil and gas at some point, and then what?  Solar, wind and other technologies we haven’t even thought of yet will become our everyday energy sources.  Why not start now? 

On a related note, I would like to bring up the Murkowski resolution that (thankfully) failed to pass in the House two weeks ago.  What Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) had hoped to do with her resolution was to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from being able to regulate carbon as a pollution.  Right now large factories, automobiles and power plants are putting out carbon dioxide, a known green house gas.  The Supreme Court ordered the EPA to determine whether or not carbon dioxide is hazardous to human health and welfare, which they did, and now they are trying to take action.  The EPA is working with automobile manufacturers to raise the minimum fuel standard so that our cars and trucks run more fuel efficiently (ie. saving us money at the pump and keeping the air a bit cleaner for our health).  If the Murkowski resolution had passed, the EPA would not have been able to raise those fuel standards (which the auto industry was supporting). 

The supporters of the resolution claimed that the EPA would cripple the economy if they regulate carbon but where do they come up with that?  When the ozone hole was discovered, things like CFCs were banned and the refrigeration and AC industries are doing just fine.  When it was discovered that DDT was killing bald eagles and other animals and it was banned, the pesticide industry didn’t go belly-up.  When lead was removed from gasoline because its harmful to the health of children, the gasoline industry didn’t falter.  So why should regulating carbon be any different?  If people can show me solid science-based data to prove me wrong, I welcome it.  But those opposed to carbon regulation aren’t known to use and support a lot of science, so I doubt anything will come my way in support of their stance.  Again, I’d be happy to be proved wrong.