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March 14, 2011

Alternative Energy: A Call for Help, Looking for a 12-Step Plan

When people once capable of rational thought persist in counter-productive and even self-destructive behavior over long periods of time, there are a few possible explanations:
  • insanity
  • addiction
  • greed
Often, family and friends wonder: what will it take to change this? Which 12-Step program is best?

People with experience say that (1) they have to hit bottom, and (2) they have to want to change. (and: nobody ever wants to change)

Thinking globally and citing locally

Coal is dangerous to mine and hazardous to the environment. Black lungs and acid rain. (see, Upper Big Branch and Quecreek Mine)

Oil is dangerous to store (see, Ashland), hazardous to the environment (see, Deepwater Horizon), and most of it belongs to other people who are disinclined to share (see, OPEC).

Natural Gas is dangerous to store, and collecting it through hydraulic fracturing is an ecological disaster. (see, Dimock, PA)

Nuclear power works real well unless until there's a problem and then it's a catastrophe. (see, Three Mile Island)

Hydroelectric. Works in Nevada. And Pennsylvania.

Solar. Works in Philadelphia and on the North Side.

Wind mills. Work in the Netherlands. And Somerset.

Geothermal. Works in Iceland. West Virginia's thinking about it.

What will it take?

What will it take to get us moving to alternative energy sources? Do we have to wait until Corporations figure out how to sell the wind?

If people don't start acting smart about this (and pretty quickly) I'm going to have to become an environmentalist, and that's really not my self-image. And it's all about me.


Tony said...

Calling TMI a catastrophe is an overstatement, don't you think? There was some radiation released, but the overall effects were pretty minimal, especially when you consider the environmental devastation that coal, oil, and natural gas bring on a daily basis.

I strongly favor more reliance on alternative energy, and would be first in line to tear all of the plants down once we can meet our energy needs with renewables. But that's not the world we live in, so nuclear is going to have to be a key piece of the puzzle until we get to that point.

I really enjoy your writings here, but it's a shame to see you lumping nuclear in with the fossil fuels and preying on the panic people are feeling over the disaster in Japan.

Mark said...

Part of the problem is that alternative fuels will remain “alternative” until they can compete economically.

One way to level the playing field is to charge up front for the ultimate costs of the particular fuel. For combusted hydrocarbons, this would include the costs of atmospheric contamination, mitigation of acid rain damages, and treatment of many medical maladies. There are also costs to the citizenry prior to combustion – the fracking that you mention, water pollution (see today’s P-G re: Consol settlement), mine settlement, etc. Hydroelectric energy has huge upfront environmental costs, not to mention the impacted watersheds. Nuclear power, ruling out more tsunami events, will still have meltdowns and costly cleanups, and also has the spent fuel storage problem. They all (even wind and solar) have future costs that should be included in their price “at the pump.” Once that occurs, speculative economies become economic realities, and the strategies and choices for the future of energy production should benefit.

Hard not to mention the fact that entrenched cash streams (that find their way into the pockets of politicians) have the potential to misdirect efforts to get to the best solutions.

MH said...

It isn't exactly geothermal the way Iceland does it, but my dad was saying that most of the churches and schools back home have dug-up their parking lots to put down piping for geothermal heat pumps (or ground heat pumps). His church (including the attached school) is saving something in the high five figures every year. At that rate, it will still take 10 years or so to pay off cost, but you can get a pretty cheap loan for that kind of thing. I haven't heard of that being done around here, possibly because there isn't enough open space to do it cheaply.

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