One easy way to get perspective about the environment is to focus on energy, the common thread running through everything environmental. Because of high energy prices in this election year we will have much information and discussion to consider and a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the interplay between science, politics, economics, energy and environmental concerns. Bear in mind, it is elected and appointed public officials, not scientists, who make environmental regulations.
Energy is consumed primarily as electricity, heating oil, and gasoline. There are environmental concerns over how this energy is produced as well as how it is used.
Electricity is generated through the use of coal-fired power plants, natural gas generating plants, nuclear plants, and hydro power dams. Coal, gas, and oil are fossil fuels, thereby raising alarm about greenhouse gas emissions. Natural gas burns 75% cleaner than gasoline but, as Boone Pickens notes, natural gas is still in short supply. It would be better to use natural gas in motor vehicles instead of using it to generate electricity, because this would greatly reduce the ozone produced as a result of gasoline emissions from vehicles. Pickens proposes the country switch to wind turbines for generating electricity. He notes that there are over eight million cars operating on natural gas but only 148,000 of these are in the United States - because until now oil has been cheap and thus gasoline has been cheap.
Nuclear plants present worries about possible leakage, breakdowns and sabotage.
The water used for cooling nuclear power plants (as well as water for generating electricity through turbines in conventional hydro-electric plants) draws down the water stored in reservoirs. This is a great concern in drought stricken areas watching their watersheds, groundwater, aquifers and reservoirs dry up.
Pickens points out that wind-generation of electricity creates no emissions.
The conclusion he draws is that it would be wise to generate more electricity with wind. By thus freeing natural gas for use in motor vehicles, the country would use less oil for making gasoline and buy time to develop or perfect batteries for motor vehicles, economical ways of cleaning coal, and all other forms of non-fossil fuel.
Our industrial manufacturing base depends on fuel to create the high temperatures needed for making and molding plastics; for making steel; for producing fertilizer and for various other production processes. All of our manufacturing industries need electricity to run lathes, grinding machines, air conditioners, and power tools. Our entire civilization needs electricity to run computers. And water in enormous volumes is needed for cooling.
Agriculture depends on water for irrigation, thereby consuming both the power required for pumping as well as the water itself. In every step of the economy, from running computers to turning fans, from turning on the lights to fueling laser beams, energy is consumed and water is used in vast quantities. This in turn involves issues of energy production, emissions, water consumption, air quality, waste disposal, wastewater disposal, groundwater quality and even land use. Land use comes into play with decisions about where to allow irrigation, where to locate production facilities and where to allow or encourage industrial complexes. It then involves management of wastewater from those facilities and management of storm water runoff, two more very important environmental considerations.
Three questions dominate the environmental discussion.
- What fuels are available to produce energy?
- What is the cost of available fuels and energy?
- How do the fuels and the energy they produce impact the earth's ecology and our environment?
Sometimes it helps to at least glance at the big picture. When it comes to environmental considerations the picture is mighty big! It is multi dimensional. It is complicated. It will become increasingly expensive as measures necessary to protect and correct hazards are translated into regulations.
So: just follow the discussions about energy. Energy is the bottom line. It is the consideration that connects all the dots. It is the common thread.
Losoncy is president of Clean Up America Inc. , a company that markets evaporative non-discharge toilets. He does trainings and consultations with companies and organizations needing to adapt business plans to the current economic upheaval or to consider stress management for their employees. To learn more: http://www.Eloo.US and (918) 640-9004