Environmentalists send mixed message on energy

Fracking pipes. Photo: Emma Jacobs

One of the defining debates of our time is the painful intersection between energy, the economy, and the environment.

The good news is that it turns out our planet still has plenty of readily available energy, from the tar sands of Alberta, to the coal fields of West Virginia, to the wind farms of the St. Lawrence Valley and the vast hydro complexes of Quebec.

The bad news is that almost every source of energy comes with serious consequences for the planet, the largest perhaps being the possibility of rejiggering the very chemistry of our atmosphere.

We’re like goldfish, stuck in a bowl of water that is growing slowly murkier and warmer.

Meanwhile, the push to open new sources of energy, from the Marcellus shale in central New York to new wind farms in places like Hammond, New York, has created fierce political and social fault lines.

“When you take a look at the divided town that [wind developer] Iberdrola has walked away from, there really are no winners here,” said Mary Hamilton who led the opposition to the wind power project near the Thousand Islands, which was canceled recently.

“We have people who were friends for many, many years who don’t speak to each other now and it’s going to take decades before things return to normal,” Hamilton said, in an interview with NCPR.

Here’s the problem with this debate.  We know that we need energy and we need it to be available at relatively low cost if Americans are to maintain anything resembling our current standard of living.

So what’s missing from these NIMBY-style feuds is any kind of context for understanding the relative impacts, the pros and the cons of each potential type of new energy.

What are the upsides of a wind farm in the Thousand Islands vs. an oil field in the Gulf of Mexico?   How does a hydro-fracking industry in central New York compare with a nuclear power industry just over the border in Ontario?

Right now, New Yorkers receive a vast amount of energy from coal-fired power plants that drive climate change, and from fuel oil extracted in parts of the world that have few environmental protections.

How does that compare with wind farms or a regulated natural gas industry in our own back yard? Right now there’s no way of knowing.

The confusing truth is that every energy project — again, with the possible exception of solar — has at least one credible environmental group fighting vehemently to shut it down.  Which leaves Americans baffled about the choices we face.

So here is my modest proposal.

The environmental community, working with scientists and policy makers, should come up with a reasonably objective scale that rates the risks each particular types of new energy development.

At the lowest end of the scale — a “1″ — might be efforts at conservation.  Paying for insulation, higher-efficiency appliances, recycling, etc., has almost no downside.

Next on the scale would be the very greenest kinds of energy, primarily solar, which are relatively benign but require significant manufacturing efforts.  That would be a “2″.

Locally produced biomass might be a “3″.

As we move up the scale, scientists and ecologists would have to sort through the upsides (and downsides) of the various energy sources at our disposal.

A type of energy that, say, cuts greenhouse gases sharply but kills some wildlife along the way might be a “4″ or a “5″.

Technologies that have relatively low environmental impacts up front — like nuclear — but carry Fukishima-sized risks if things go wrong in the future might be a “6″ or a “7″.

Energy that destroys mountain tops, contaminates  streams and contributes to global warming might be an “8″ or a “9″.

There could also be variables in the numbers to measure local versus global impacts.  A power plant that emits mercury might be rated a 10-level risk locally, but only a 6 or 7 globally.

A wind farm in one region might receive a relatively low score, because threats to birds in that particular landscape are marginal, while in another place — where, say, migratory patterns raise more concerns — the risk score would be higher.

Obviously, this kind of ranking wouldn’t be an easy assignment.

It would require real science, actual data. And green groups and activists would have to put their cards on the table about the trade-offs and compromises we face.  That’s controversial stuff.

Some environmentalists have already taken a stab at this kind of clarity.  Vermont-based activist Bill McKibben has taken heavy fire from other green activists for his support for wind energy, which he thinks is a better option relative to fossil fuels.

“The choice, in other words, is not between windmills and untouched nature,” McKibben argues.  “It’s between windmills and the destruction of the planet’s biology on a scale we can barely begin to imagine.”

Other green groups have tentatively embraced hydro, despite the destruction of river habitats, or even backed the revival of an American nuclear power industry.  Those comparative arguments have triggered firestorms.

Which is healthy.  This is the real-world debate about energy we need next.

Not a noisy muddle of people shouting No — and for the most part being ignored — but a much clearer environmental argument about the painful choices and trade-offs that lie ahead.

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70 Responses to “Environmentalists send mixed message on energy”

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  1. Rancid Crabtree says:

    I’m not sure you addressed this Brain, but since China owns most of the rare metals mines and facilities used in solar panel production, that should be factored in too.

    Interesting idea, but I think the emotional aspect int he discussion has far more real world impact than will ever be undone or addressed by a rating system. And shouldn’t the non-environmentalist side take part in the ratings too? I mean, seriously, some of the anti-nuke/fracking/coal/hydro arguments are pretty far out there.

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  2. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    China’s ownership of rare metals is only relevant as it pertains to much of the first generation technology with relation to solar and other forms of energy production. Some companies, many of them American, and partially funded through the US Dept. of Energy’s ARPA-E program, have already developed solar technology that doesn’t rely on precious metals. The key is scaling them up for mass production. Even more encouraging, is that some of this advanced technology is being developed at the University of Albany Nanotech Complex.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  3. tootightmike says:

    I wonder what a “non-environmentalist” might be. The anti wind power folks all claim to be environmentalists. Both the pro, and anti hydro-power people would claim that title. Bio-mass, ethanol, and even wood burning get environmentalists going on both sides, pro and con. Even the oil and gas industries try to claim to be environmentally conscious.
    I would think you would have to have your head buried somewhere pretty deep to muster a non-environmentalist viewpoint.

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  4. This is definitely one of the more interesting blog entries in a while.

    Given the American ethic and its demented notion of “personal liberty above all else, including responsibility to anyone other than oneself,” I wouldn’t count too much on conservation. There isn’t an energy source out that doesn’t cause environmental damage. Hydro displaces marine culture (and people). Nuclear risks another Fukushima or Chernobyl. And we all know about the utter devastation that oil and gas exploration causes… even without considering the longer-term climate change impact. So I’m sorry that windmills may kill a few birds and obstruct a few sightlines, but it’s the least of all the evils.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  5. tootightmike says:

    Brian, I would take exception to the idea of tar sands energy being “readily accessible”. If they were easy, or cost effective in any way, we would have pumped it fifty years ago. Tar sand and shale oil extraction are bottom of the barrel, desperate, technologies that rely on raping the environment, and thus robbing the future for present day wealth generation.

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  6. Brian Mann says:

    Tootight-

    So fair enough. You put the tar sands at a 10 on its local impact. Bill McKibben rates it pretty high on its global impact as well – an 8 or a 9 at least, I would say.

    Now weigh in on the other side of the ledger.

    What’s a 2 or a 3 for you? Because that’s the problem so far. People are comfortable taking things off the table, but fall silent when it comes to putting things on the table.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  7. erb says:

    I wonder who you are talking about when you say “the environmental community.” As you plainly show with your number scale, we already have a pretty good idea of the relative environmental impacts. What we don’t have is any rational method for making decisions. All we get are various interested parties shouting at each other, and whoever has the most money and the most influence wins.

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  8. JDM says:

    The argument for wind farms is hypocrisy in its highest form.

    To quote from McKibben ” But even if windmills did kill some birds, that’s a small truth-the big truth is that rising temperatures seem likely to trigger an extinction spasm comparable to the one that occurred when the last big asteroids struck the planet.”

    Oh, ok. Windmill enviornment destruction is ok with the green scene.

    Small price to pay.

    Hypocrite.

    Hot debate. Like/Dislike Thumb up 4 Thumb down 7

  9. mervel says:

    I think we should move in that direction, but the ratings have to be done by far more than simply scientists, you need economists, engineers, yes energy executives, consumers etc to be part of the discussion on those sorts of rankings.

    For example, hydrofacking certainly has risks, I readily admit that. However the natural gas boom in the US has done more to reduce our carbon emissions than all of the green energy plans and rankings and discussions combined. Due to our natural gas bounty, we are as a country in the process of getting rid of coal fired electrical power plants. Electricity in the US is horribly dirty, the sooner we totally zero out coal the better off we will all be. We are doing just that through natural gas conversion (a much cleaner option than coal).

    So you have to consider those trade offs, what is realistic, solar will NEVER be a viable option for the Northeast, we just don’t have the sunlight, so a great ranking for solar is for all practicable purposes meaningless.

    We have to get real. The US is reducing our carbon emissions through natural gas much faster than all of the countries that signed kyoto for example. Do we want to just talk and rank or do we want to make real progress?

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  10. The Original Larry says:

    “The good news is that it turns out our planet still has plenty of readily available energy”

    After 50 years of being told we were about to run out (especially, of oil) it turns out to have been untrue all along. What else about the energy debate isn’t true? How do we sort it all out? People become suspicious when they are lied to and eventually just don’t want to hear it. The “end justifies the means” operating model has got to end. “Environmentalists” are like squabbling children. They all seem to want only their pet project – in someone else’s back yard.

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  11. mervel says:

    Without a realistic cost and scale analysis the rankings would not be very helpful. Coal is cheap and plentiful and is used extensively. Now tar sands may be worse as far as a ranking? I am not sure, but coal is a far far bigger problem in the world today than tar sands due to how much is used every single hour. I use national grid; I am using coal to fire this computer. We are likely all sitting here using coal (some exceptions for those who are off the grid etc). So what could replace coal in the next 5 years? Solar? Is national grid able to switch to solar in the next 5 years, how about nuclear? Any nuclear plants even in the pipeline at ALL up here?

    No what can act now to reduce carbon emissions would be natural gas conversion as a first step. In the long run sure build in wind and solar, but from what I have heard we have to act now is that correct?

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  12. JDM says:

    The only thing Brian Mann sees wrong with nuclear is fear.

    “Technologies that have relatively low environmental impacts up front — like nuclear — but carry Fukishima-sized risks if things go wrong in the future might be a “6″ or a “7″.”

    That’s a high price to pay for fear, especially when the reality is that modern nuclear plants will be much much safer than the last one’s which were built over 30 years ago.

    I give nuclear a “0 to 1″.

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  13. Paul says:

    I am not sure what you are supposed to do once you have ranked stuff. What do you do then?

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  14. Paul says:

    The process for extracting rare earth elements is very environmentally destructive and it is very dangerous for the people doing the mining (at least the way they do it in China).

    I personally think that the focus should be on sequestration. The DOE is funding some pilot projects that look very promising. This is the only technology that most people (extremists are always going to be extreme) can learn to live with. And it is the only one that can quickly shut off one of the most destructive gasses that most people agree is the root of human induced climate change.

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  15. Walker says:

    Paul you may have missed Clapton’s comment: “China’s ownership of rare metals is only relevant as it pertains to much of the first generation technology with relation to solar… some companies, many of them American… have already developed solar technology that doesn’t rely on precious metals.”

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  16. mervel says:

    I think the rankings could be useful if we agreed on them and they included economic feasibility. How much unemployment would be caused by the adoption of each one for example?

    Green house gas carbon emission reduction; is an economic issue, not a scientific issue. We know coal is bad for the environment, we know tar sands are bad, we know solar is very clean, so what?

    We are getting rid of coal not because it has a bad ranking but because natural gas has plunged in price.

    If we are going to use government to help with this issue, which we should, it should be focused on long run cost and viability. For example one reason why coal is becoming economically not viable in comparison to natural gas is the emission standards put on these plants. It is expensive to refurbish these old coal plants to meet code, before when coal was cheap and natural gas was more expensive, yes they might do it anyway; but now there is no reason. So government can help this process, but through economic levers.

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  17. hermit thrush says:

    Oh, ok. Windmill enviornment destruction is ok with the green scene.

    Small price to pay.

    Hypocrite.

    ?????

    how does wanting to kill fewer animals instead of more animals make you a hypocrite?

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  18. Peter Hahn says:

    Paul said “I am not sure what you are supposed to do once you have ranked stuff. What do you do then?”

    I think the point is that we need energy, so instead of being opposed to everything, people make rational decisions about which energy sources to favor with subsidies. As in which is less bad.

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  19. Peter Hahn says:

    The one group that should be left out of the subsidy/regulatory decision making is the energy executives (sorry Mervel). Their primary interest is the financial health of their own companies (as it should be).

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  20. Peter Hahn says:

    Mervel – long run cost is a different issue. But it is worth considering the cost of environmental damage/cleanup. China, for example, is using lots of coal, and their air quality is (reported to be) terrible. There will be costs to them down the road related to environmental/health damage. There will also be costs born by the rest of us for all that carbon pumped into the atmosphere.

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  21. Paul says:

    No Walker I saw the comment. That may be true for some solar technology but lots of the other technology related to alternative energy requires these materials (parts of the turbines required for wind or wave power as an example). Also we can’t necessarily keep waiting while we develop the next generation of technology.

    27% of the worlds lithium deposits may be in this one place in South America:

    http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2008/1124/034.html

    Alternative energy creates a whole new Geo-political morass for us to deal with. It all sounds good if you are an environmentalist trying to write a book or stir up a protest but it is also very complicated.

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  22. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    Here’s an article referring to my comment about solar technology utilizing relatively less precious metals:

    http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/134305-so-long-silicon-researchers-create-solar-panels-from-cheap-copper-oxide

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  23. Paul says:

    From the Forbes article:

    “Since a vehicle battery requires a hundred times as much lithium carbonate as its laptop equivalent, the green-car revolution could make lithium one of the planet’s most strategic commodities. The rush is on to find and develop new sources of it, a race that has mining companies scouring the globe’s remotest corners, from the high-altitude deserts of Chile and Bolivia to the wilds of northern Tibet.”

    Would this give electric cars a 9?

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  24. Paul says:

    Clapton thanks for the link. That sounds pretty cool but it looks like it is still in the research phase. I doubt that we can count on that to solve any problems in the short term. Maybe.

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  25. mervel says:

    Peter,

    Yes I understand the concern as they will logically lobby for their own businesses.

    I believe in the end however its going to be our energy corporations who produce large scale wind and solar facilities. Its going to be the companies that have large scale resources and knowledge about power transmission and energy production and the economics on how to make a profit selling energy.

    An energy executive will also include executives who plan on making a LOT of money on wind and solar. We need the engineering and scientific talent that these companies have, they have to be at the table. They don’t have to run the table and should not. But if you are going to talk about energy policy in the US and leave out the men and women who are producing 95% of all of our energy, it just does not make sense.

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  26. mervel says:

    Until recently electric cars ran on coal.

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  27. Walker says:

    “I doubt that we can count on that to solve any problems in the short term.”

    A comment that applies strongly to carbon sequestration, unless I’ve missed something. Do you have any interesting links on the subject, Paul?

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  28. Walker says:

    “I believe in the end however its going to be our energy corporations who produce large scale wind and solar facilities.”

    That’s certainly possible, Mervel. But it seems to me that they have a major stake in getting their higher-profit energy out of the ground and sold before putting too much into alternative energy. They’d have to be mighty clever to phase their development in before someone else who had all of their eggs in that basket beats them to it.

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  29. If Clapton is God, Warren Haynes is Jesus says:

    Paul,

    I’m not suggesting solar is a near term solution, but rather one part of a longer term solution that includes a mix of many other energy sources besides just solar.

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  30. Paul says:

    “”I doubt that we can count on that to solve any problems in the short term.”

    A comment that applies strongly to carbon sequestration, unless I’ve missed something. Do you have any interesting links on the subject, Paul?”

    Walker, yes you may have missed something.

    It is not at a commercial phase but it is estimated to be commercial in 7 years. There are several DOE funded large scale projects already up and running:

    Here is a link to three projects underway:

    http://www.fossil.energy.gov/programs/sequestration/industrial/industrial_ccs.html

    Now this is not a perfect solution. But it seems to be the most likely one to be viable quickly. I agree that we are at a critical point. This is one that most industries will cooperate on. Environmentalists will have their issues with this technology as well but it should be low on the scale (or high, however Brian’s scale is set up!).

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  31. tootightmike says:

    Solar and wind technologies would have accomplished even more if we had put them in place five years ago…or ten…or fifteen. I’ve been reading about atmospheric carbon, global warming, and climate change for 40 years! We have chosen to talk instead of work, and this is our pattern with social security, pensions, budgets etc. A bit of planning and a lot of real accomplishment earlier in the game would go a long way.

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  32. Paul says:

    Nuclear is an interesting one. It is so heavily regulated, as it should be given the potential danger, it seems to have been priced out of the mix. From a technical perspective this is too bad. It is hard to imagine that we cannot come up with a relatively safe and economical way to use a super clean energy source with such huge potential for getting us all the energy we will ever need and having a minimal impact on the environment if done right. If the navy can do it for aircraft carriers and subs why can’t we find a way to do it at home. Makes no sense.

    There was a great piece on public radio last night about Bill Gate’s rich friend who is developing ways to use low radioactivity spent fuel from Nuclear Reactors to generate power. Basically we could have France send us their nuclear waste and we will turn it into electricity with no environmental impact. That would score a 0. I am sure some wacko can find fault but that is really one of the issues Brain is talking about. This has been under development for decades.

    One problem I see in the article below:

    “One stumbling block may be that the Obama administration in early 2009 indicated it would not be pursuing fast reactors or recycling facilities in the near term, when it cancelled President George W. Bush’s effort at such an initiative, the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.”

    Too bad.

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/08/100831-can-nuclear-waste-spark-an-energy-solution/

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  33. Paul says:

    “Until recently electric cars ran on coal.” A lot of them still would that is why I think we should put the CO2 back into the ground where it came from.

    “The one group that should be left out of the subsidy/regulatory decision making is the energy executives (sorry Mervel). Their primary interest is the financial health of their own companies (as it should be).”

    Peter, I don’t think this makes sense either. The financial implications of any of this technology is an essential part of any solution. To leave out the people (from all these sectors as Mervel says) doesn’t make any sense. The last thing you want is a politician calling the shots on things that he or she knows little about. You can’t put together a regulatory policy for any of these technologies and then find out that it is a financial non-starter. That is just a waste of time. We don’t have much time to waste. The same goes for any technology just because it looks good in the lab or in a pilot plant does not mean that it has a business plan that can be successful.

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  34. Paul says:

    I burn wood at my house. It is a little bit like a sequestration project. The trees have sequestered more carbon than I am putting into the atmosphere. And where the trees have been thinned to make this years logs we should end up with more dense vegetation (from a leafy matter perspective) that will improve the sequestration capability of that lot. I will then go in and pull out a few trees that have been sequestering carbon for the last hundred or so years… Now this only works if we all have a lot of space to work with so we have to do something else for most people.

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  35. Peter Hahn says:

    Paul – yes the executives should weigh in on regulatory decisions, but not on deciding which energy source is the one that we should be subsidizing the most (or at all) for environmental reasons.

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  36. mervel says:

    Yes I agree that they should not be deciding total energy policy particularly when it comes to taxing decisions regarding their own industry. But hopefully this discussion is not totally punitive in nature but problem focused in nature. What can be done both scientifically, economically and in what time frame? This is in the end an industry issue just as much as it is a government issue.

    I don’t see nuclear happening, not because it should not happen but because you would be unwinding decades of anti-nuclear legislation, much of it warranted, which makes it very very difficult and expensive to build new nuclear plants.

    Paul, so on the spent fuel rods from France, what happens when the tanker carrying them goes down or runs aground? Transporting nuclear material anywhere is almost a non-starter today. So instead of shipping the stuff to Nevada we have it sitting around at each plant with no long term plan on what to do with it.

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  37. Pete Klein says:

    Windmills would probably get more support if they looked like windmills in Holland.
    But with them looking like invaders from Mars, don’t expect too many people to want them in their backyard.
    Looking at the worldwide situation, without addressing the expanding human population, the desire of all humans to live an economic life equal to what we have in the USA and the continued proliferation of devices that require electricity, all efforts to reduce global warming and pollution are no more than speed bumps that won’t stop much of anything.

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  38. Walker says:

    Paul, your sequestration link is very cool! I especially like the idea of using sequestered carbon to actually make useful stuff, even fuel. Everything I’ve seen previously has to do with storage methods, and seems to have inherently high costs.

    So if any of these projects goes bankrupt, are we going to hear endless abuse from conservatives, a la Solyndra?

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  39. Paul says:

    “So if any of these projects goes bankrupt, are we going to hear endless abuse from conservatives, a la Solyndra?”

    Maybe but since these projects have benefits for oil and gas companies as well as the environment so maybe criticism is less likely to materialize. Plus they are also working with a company that far left liberals hate – ADM.

    But seriously these technology is not perfect. Nothing is. But I think that it has the best chance of success given the polarized nature of the government and the electorate.

    An oil company can say sure I think your idea of sequestering carbon “to save you polar bears” is stupid but since it can help me get natural gas out of the ground why not. Same goes for some chemical company that needs the CO2 to make stuff. Even if they don’t give a rats ankle about the environment if it can make their process cheaper they say go for it. Maybe in the end everybody wins?

    The grid lock surrounding other technology makes me think that we will boil to death before we make even a little headway. But in some cases we are also making some progress there. I also like the idea of tidal power generators. They are much less visible than wind turbines so the Kennedy’s wouldn’t get all ruffled like they did with something like Cale Wind if they put them in the ocean near their little island paradise. It also doesn’t depend on the wind to blow. As long as we have a moon we have power.

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  40. Paul says:

    “Paul – yes the executives should weigh in on regulatory decisions, but not on deciding which energy source is the one that we should be subsidizing the most (or at all) for environmental reasons.”

    Peter maybe I wish you could do that but the environmental reasons are only part of a good business plan. If you can’t make it work financially you are just throwing the subsidy down the toilet. “Financial health” as you call it is key to the success of any project.

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  41. JDM says:

    Peter Hahn:

    “I think the point is that we need energy, so instead of being opposed to everything, people make rational decisions about which energy sources to favor with subsidies. As in which is less bad.”

    Figuring out which is “less bad” is the problem. Everyone has their own opinion of “bad”.

    Try figuring a natural phenomenon like global warming and calling it man-made, and it’s impossible.

    It’s like saying, that the sun rise is man-made, so any energy that doesn’t stop the sun from rising is bad.

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  42. Peter Hahn says:

    JDM – I know there are people who think they make the sun rise in the morning, but that doesnt mean that scientists cant come up with a range of “less bad” for environmental impact of various energy sources.

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  43. mervel says:

    Also we don’t need global warming to understand that dumping mercury into the atmosphere is bad. We knew that back in the 1960′s and that is why we have regulations about air pollution.

    I agree about looking at the negatives; but we also need to look at the positives. Lets start with the fact that energy is good, it is a positive for a country to have affordable, reliable energy of any kind. No one over in New Jersey was worrying about the coal used to get their homes heated and lighted. I think in some circles energy producers are seen as almost like tobacco companies. It is simply not true; we are blessed or lucky (however you want to look at it) to have the tremendous energy industry we have in this country, we should start with that.

    Then look at these damages that are going on based on the type of energy we are using. But part of the scoring has to be affordability, employment and ease of transition to that source. I think coal would be for me a great starting point. Its dirty, it would score low environmentally it is expensive to make clean and can be replaced with natural gas with minimal changes to our ongoing system. One goal would be the total elimination of coal as a source of power in the US.

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  44. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    So much to deal with here.

    Brian starts with conservation which is appropriate since it is the easiest way to deal with our energy problems. It would be far easier and CHEAPER to save 10% of our needs than to develop 10% more energy.

    But there is more to conservation than just saving power around the home or driving a Prius. Conservation includes using our existing power infrastructure to the maximum safe lifespan. When we talk about nuke or coal plants we need to remember that it took a lot of energy to build those plants. In the case of nuclear power much of the plant itself will become hazardous waste that needs to be disposed of when the plant is closed so as long as the plant can be run with reasonable safety we should use it. Coal plants should be fitted with scrubbers but used for their full life.

    While the electricity in an electric car may have been generated by coal it is still cleaner than the same power generated with an internal combustion engine.

    Contrary to what many believe solar power works just fine at our latitude. And there are two major solar options, solar photovoltaic and solar hot water. Huge amounts of our power usage is in heating water for the home, business and industry and solar hot water is really easy to generate without exotic materials. Solar PVC is also a great option for firming up our rickety electric grid.

    Advancements in wind power are making wind turbines safer for wildlife and a new technology on the horizon may do away with the spinning blades entirely relying on the vibration in vertical columns to generate the power instead. Will it be quieter? Maybe.

    About the end of oil. Naturally as the cost of oil increases more fields that were previously cost prohibitive open up for use. But make no mistake, the cheap oil has been pumped and we have reached peak oil.

    There is a huge potential for small or micro hydro to be used at existing locations of low head dams or other dam sites that aren’t being used for power generation. These would not affect habitat at all except for the initial disruption when the dam was put in decades ago.

    Our power grid itself will be a big challenge since it is aging and we will be working towards developing a “smart grid”, but by creating a more numerous sources of power over larger areas we will be both making things better for the existing grid but also causing distribution problems as we try to develop wind farms in far flung places away from the end users.

    Phew! Enough for now.

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  45. Marvel says:

    Carbon emissions in the USA are at a 20 year LOW. On a per capita basis we will be at levels not seen since 1961. The problem is many have been convinced of one narrative, and are not paying attention to what is going on and what works. Natural gas has done more to reduce our carbon than all of these ideas combined.

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  46. Walker says:

    “Carbon emissions in the USA are at a 20 year LOW.”

    Yes, this headline is all over the web. But the EPA U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report shows that we generated 11.8% more CO2 in 2010 than we did in 1990, so we shouldn’t get too complacent. It’s true that there has been a downward trend since 2007 to 2010, but that’s not all due to fracking; some of it has been due to the economic downturn. And we still produce close to a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gases each year though we constitute less than five percent of the world’s population.

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  47. Ken Hall says:

    Brian Mann says: “People are comfortable taking things off the table, but fall silent when it comes to putting things on the table.”

    Paul nibbled at the edges of the “real” energy problem when he allowed that his, and my, method of sequestering carbon requires large land mass growing vegetation to counter the COO footprint of individual homo sapiens.

    If the DOE proof of concept facilities in the article Paul linked to provided the sequestration levels alluded to (6.5 million tons/year) they would face an ever increasing human output of COO currently estimated to be in the 28-30 billion tons/year thus requiring the equivalent of more than 12000 sequestration facilities at perhaps $1 billion each (difficult to ascertain total costs per form the article) or about $12 trillion. No that total COO includes all sources so if we constrain the sequestration facilities to only industrial outputs that will likely be perhaps half of total so only $6 trillion might remove half of the COO we currently pump into the atmosphere and pump it into the Earth, for who knows how long?

    Paul actually hit the nail on the head with his wood burning sequestration methodology, only he did not take his contention “we have to do something else for most people” far enough. Therein lies the crux of the problem; not enough land mass for the Earth to sequester carbon in the time honored method she used for millions and millions of years now that she is faced with an exponentially increasing horde of humans hell bent on ripping the carbon that she sequestered over a period of perhaps hundreds of millions of years from her bowels and setting fire to it so as to live the good life.

    You want a real solution to the energy environment conundrum? The Chinese took a serious step in a meaningful direction with their 1 child/couple edict which was met with hostility from all of the god fearing nations. If we (humans) want to return to the good old days, environmentally, we must reduce the numbers of humans to the levels that were living on the Earth during those times. Reality check, there is a snowballs chance in hell that humans, en mass, will ever recognize that far too many humans are the responsible parties for the current environmental crisis. Even on a blog such as this with intelligent educated folks commenting, the liberal/conservative divide concerning virtually every subject broached far and away out weighs facts and logic. What I call “magical” thinking (borrowed not original terminology) consistently shows up and is used to attempt to dispel rational hard sciences facts time and time again.

    As one in the Winter of my existence it is neither here nor there for me if humans “wake up and smell the coffee”; but my expectation is we (humans) will extract every BTU of sequestered hydrocarbon we can and inturn pump it into the atmosphere likely raising the total temperature of the Earth by 6-12 degrees C in the not too distant future turning 80-100% of the Earth into a desert. For those who want to snuggle up to a herd of nuclear power plants consider that 50-60 years were spent wrangling about where to store the spent fuel rods and spending $billions in the Nevada desert constructing a facility to do so. Once completed the self same folks who were elated to have those $ billions flowing into Nevada then said “hell no we don’t want that dangerous stuff stored in our state. Today just as in Japan the 100+ nuclear power plants in the US store the spent fuel rods in water tanks on site and unbeknownst to most they are not afforded anywhere near the same level of protection as the fuel in the reactors themselves; however, they are very dangerous.

    Brian there is my best suggestion, reverse the exponential increase of human population and reduce total human numbers to a billion or less. If we do not do it in a measured manner we will do it to ourselves in a catastrophic manner. I believe that is somewhat akin to what Bill McKibbin has been attempting to convey for quite a number of years.

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  48. Two Cent says:

    Read a good book on Tesla. we may have missed a great paradigm shift oppertunity.

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  49. Marvel says:

    Walker you act dissapointed that our emissions are dropping. Is the point to reduce our emmission or not? On a pet capita basis this year we will be the lowest we have been in 40 years. The total has gone down the skate article is pretty accurate. I don’t understand after years of steady increases this is somehow not great news. It is not the economy it is directly attributed to getting rid of coal fired electrical generating plants and replacing them with natural gas powered plants. If we got serious about vehicle conversion that would be really impact full.

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