Reading the newspapers recently there were two articles which grasped my attention - a report on the effects of man’s contribution to global warming and a community that was bullied by some of its businesses not to install a wind turbine within its boundaries. Thankfully the community next door was quick to allow it to be built within its city limits. Even individuals weighed in with letters sent to the editors of the publications both online and print. Obvious some saw the importance of a clean energy stance and some who didn’t. I expected those who eschew the progress of clean energy adoption to call those that do as ‘tree huggers’ - they did. There are even those who will spout that mankind has no or little effect on environmental change. It is a charged issue.
But whom do you trust, the non-science educated politician, or environmental scientists who do research on Earth’s atmosphere. I would honestly trust the scientist over the politician any day. In the nearly three hundred years of the industrial revolution, we have seen more pollutant particles added to our air, and industrial pollutants discharged into our waterways with little concern for aquatic life, let alone human, livestock and plant life that must consume water to survive. Many animals die from man-made pollutants - and those that do survive are disease-ridden until they pass away, or suffer from mutations from the waste chemicals. Simply, the canary in the proverbial coalmine has been dying and frankly we have not been paying as much attention as we should.
Things like oil, coal and natural gas are finite - once all three have been used up, that’s it, there will be no more to use as a fossil fuel source. To put that in useful terms, according to British Petroleum as reported in the Energy Bulletin, there is currently a forty-year supply left of oil, based on current usage. And according to various sources, there remains three hundred years left of coal. World natural gas supplies are said to be tapped out in sixty to sixty-five years. Some scientists report those numbers as wishful thinking. But even with the numbers given, the time will go fast. Perhaps that is the reason companies like Shell Oil and BP Petroleum are hedging their bets by getting into solar. Even auto manufacturers are bringing out more hybrids and are planning in the near future to introduce more vehicles that run on electricity or hydrogen.
The recent oil spill by a BP well in the Gulf of Mexico shows the hazards of drilling in the ocean as to the damage it causes sea life. Some species that are indigenous near the wells find themselves potentially facing extinction because of the murky black liquid. Fisheries have long seen their livelihoods negatively effected by polluted wastes such as mercury. Most likely you’ve read from time-to-time studies which have advised individuals to watch their intake of certain fish species, especially women who are pregnant.
To be sure, nuclear power is seen as a clean fuel, however there is a downside - the spent rods are difficult to store safely after their service life has ended. While the rods themselves may no longer be able to help generate electricity, they still emit highly dangerous radiation levels than can harm all living things if improperly stored. According to Wikipedia, rods have a half life of 87.7 years of nuclear plutonium dioxide. Storage of the material is encouraged to be buried in the Yucca Mountains region in the USA in what is known to offer deep geological repositories as a preferrence, however there have been repeated delays towards using those sites. One possible idea is to reuse the spent material. The potential idea is recycling the waste for usage in a ’traveling wave reactor’ where it would have a useful life of 200 years between refueling.
All of the above mentioned fuels are going to run out, and then there is no more, period! The Earth itself has survived 4.54 billion years according to radiometric age dating. And in much of its age, life existed without the need for oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear fission. The Earth itself will survive after those fuels run out. It’s important now that we work hard to find energy sources that are not finite nor pollute. If not, we’ll be forced back into the stone age in short order when the finite supplies run dry.
The only answer both to depletion of critical energy and elimination of manmade global warming is to develop clean sustainable power technologies that work with nature - currently, that means solar and wind power along with other natural solutions still in theory or in the labs. It means rapid changeover from gas and diesel cars and trucks, to those that are exclusively powered by electricity and hydrogen. It means efficient solar rooftop arrays on residential homes and businesses. It means a wide adoption of wind turbine farms that allow the growing of food crops alongside the turbines. It means building more energy efficient homes along with appliances that work on as little power as possible.
Its not a matter of choice if we go into a more enlightened direction - it is a necessity of planning and implementing clean energy methods now, or finding ourselves in crisis planning. As technology develops more cost-effective ways to develop solar cells and wind turbines on an assembly line, the costs will drop tremendously. Power companies will not go out of business because there will always be a need for massive amounts of power for industry. However, the more we as individuals can do to encourage alternative power generation on a massive individual consumer basis, the quicker we will wean ourselves away from the need of fossil and nuclear sources of power generation. A final note is the less need we have of fossil fuels coming from politically unstable regions the more likely peace will reign.