Demystifying the necessary evils of a sustainable future

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By Austin Andersen

A question that I, as an environmentalist, can never ignore is what does the future of our energy supply look like? While our planet is precariously caught in the fragile and volatile global phenomenon known as climate change, we are also living in an age of awareness and progress. Our appetite for energy is without bounds, and as a result, has proven to raise green-house gas emissions to astronomical levels. It is not likely that, barring a global state of catastrophe, the world will be motivated to sate this appetite. A collective consciousness will hopefully lead to reversal of the climate change phenomenon one day.

In the meantime, however, we need to make significant investments into improving current clean energies while researching and developing theoretical alternatives. This is the only way to stem the consistent flow of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and offset an unpredictable and unknown global future.

In my opinion, the two cleanest production-scale renewables that exist are solar and wind. Solar can essentially be installed anywhere and has come an impressively long way in terms of efficiency and productivity; however, it still has a long way to go in order to be financially competitive with conventional fossil fuels. There have been innovative new financing alternatives through crowd-funding platforms as well as end-user lease agreements where little to no down-payment is required.

Wind is a more efficient renewable energy that generates power through harnessing natural forces of wind in turbines, but complaints regarding noise pollution and unintentionally killing endangered birds of prey are significant issues.

Both technologies require substantial subsidies by the federal government to survive due to stiff competition with the fossil fuel industry. Nevertheless, both show promise as alternatives to power our future.

In addition to wind and solar,  there are two “clean” energy alternatives that are much more efficient at producing energy, but are much more controversial in their operation and production. I am, of course, speaking about nuclear power and hydro power.

Personally, I would prefer hydro-power for its vast capabilities of energy production, however valid complaints include river ecosystem destruction. Hydro-power can ruin salmon runs while also robbing downstream habitats and communities of fertile necessary nutrients that are deposited in silt built up on the upstream side of the dam.

On the other hand, nuclear energy is especially controversial because of its notorious historical applications and the inherent risks involved, environmental and otherwise. Some of these dangers include melt-down and radiation leakage, ecosystem destruction through uranium mining, and a big question mark as to how to handle nuclear waste, with memories of Fukushima, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl are relatively fresh in the public conscious.

I ran an article in the Concordy earlier this term about the nomenclature of the antiquated term ‘global warming’ compared to the now-preferred ‘climate change.’ Words, titles, and names are important in this world. It’s how we communicate, it’s how we formulate ideas and opinions, and it’s the medium by which we explain our existence. Words are powerful. This being said, I am bothered by the persistence with which the oil and gas industry market their earth-warming wares as natural gas and clean coal (namely while watching the Super Bowl this past Sunday where Exxon Mobile embarked on quite the advertisement campaign touting benefits of “natural” gas). There is nothing natural and nothing clean about either of these fuels. However, they are marketed in this fashion to persuade the masses that new resoures are not the solution.

I believe that it is important to allow hydro and nuclear to proliferate until true renewables such as wind, solar, geothermal

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and biofuel advance far enough to compete with traditional dirty fossil fuels, namely natural gas (I mean, gas). The argument for gas is equally perpetuated by the term “bridge fuels” as is the case with hydro and nuclear. This thus begs the question: which is the lesser of these evils?

There is no perfect energy source, but we cannot honestly declare that solar and wind has progressed to the production capacity necessary to power our country. The flipside of this same argument is one that the fuel-industry loves to tout about fracked-gas. That it is, indeed, a bridge fuel; thus serving as the crutch to further pursue shale gas extraction.

So, as contradictory as this may seem, the main take-away point is that fossil-derived fuels are the highest contributors to greenhouse gases that are significantly attributing to climate change, whose extreme and unpredictable weather patterns will only become more common. Although there are inherent risks with all forms of energy, a utilitarian approach must be taken if we as a country, and as members of the international community must make a stronger commitment and investment in the cleanest technologies while making do with those current production-level energies that will serve as the bridge to a cleaner and greener future.

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