Wow! We really need to protect the environment, conserve energy, and become energy independent. That is the mantra heard daily in some form or other. It has strong appeal to both the emotional and logical needs for protecting our environment. It also leads us to many well-meaning but not-so-well-thought-out suggestions for achieving these ends.
The Professor would point out, in rigorous detail, that “energy can be neither created nor destroyed”.
If we accept this scientific principle, there is no way to become energy independent unless we already are energy independent. Also we cannot conserve what cannot be either created or destroyed. Therefore, we must use what we have in an environmentally friendly way.
We now have ample sources of energy provided from wind, water, vegetation, and fossil fuels to meet our foreseeable and projected needs. We are not so well endowed with fissile fuels but these are easily and relatively inexpensively available from other sources. Therefore, any energy shortage that we may experience is simply self-imposed.
How can one make such outlandish claims? Well, we’ve been using water-generated electricity for a considerable length of time and there is still some capacity to expand this source. Wind is substantially more expensive than water but is seeing more common-place usage every day. It has long been recognized that we have more coal than we could use up in centuries. The recently released USGS assessment of undiscovered oil resources in the Devonian-Mississippian Bakken Formation shows that we have more oil and natural gas than is available from the Middle East.
This report is available on-line at http://energy.cr.usgs.gov/oilgas/noga.
Many will question how it is possible to use coal, petroleum, and natural gas in an environment-friendly way.
My response is to look at recent history. The use of these fuels has expanded extensively in the United States over the past decade. Along with that, government reports show that our air is now more pure now than it was ten to fifteen years ago. Thus, logic would dictate that technology has overcome or significantly limited the environment-unfriendly aspects of these fuels.
France supplies some seventy-four percent of its electricity through nuclear power plants.
We are somewhere in the twenty percentile range. Other countries also make extensive use of this power source to supply their electricity.
Ships use nuclear power to travel the world. With all this vast use of nuclear power, there have been exceptionally few incidents.
From this, we must derive that this power source is as relatively safe to use as are the other sources.
We can always walk or ride bikes instead of using other means of transportation. However, this places some rather severe restrictions on our range of travel. Though good for local movement, it won’t serve well to get us across the country.
Electric cars reduce the use of petroleum. But they cannot survive without electricity, which is normally supplied in this country by fossil fuels. And they also have very limited mobility ranges, which do not serve the broad transportation needs of our country.
The use of bio-fuels places more environment-unfriendly elements in the air than does the use of petroleum and it is also more expensive (without subsidy). This could be improved upon by the use of natural gas but that fuel is not readily available for use in automobiles. Until we have more extensive availability, this is also only usable within a limited range.
We can always choose to use florescent light bulbs to conserve the use of electrical energy.
However, florescent bulbs are far more dangerous to the environment than are incandescent bulbs. Break one in your house and it will cost you thousands of dollars to have the toxins removed. Dispose of one and you contaminate the land and eventually the water supply.
Turning off electrical appliances, TV’s, and computers while they are not in active use is a very useful suggestion. However, while the savings may be apparent to the individual, the impact on the overall scheme of things is insignificant unless practiced by everyone.
All the above is not to say that attempts to preserve the environment are useless ventures. It is simply to point out that what works for one may well not be satisfactory to another. Therefore, each person could best do what is individually doable to protect our environment while being willing to accept that other selections from the menu of possibilities are just as viable.