Prometheus stole the sacred fire for mankind and we can’t live without it.
The Industrial Revolution replaced the ancient external fires with the internal fires of machines. The dirty desire for energy increased. The world’s insatiable demand for fire pollutes, which is good for making machines chug along, but bad for living things.
Some essential fires we have become addicted to:
- Wood → Early mankind kindled open fires for warmth, protection, and food. All this, depending on who you consult, was a primary cause of global warming. The emissions from burning wood contain carbon monoxide and soot. The EPA says wood burning stoves are responsible for 5% of the smallest, deadliest particles emitted into the air in the U.S.
- Coal → One of fossil fuels that powered the Industrial Revolution, it is the leading cause of pollutants such as smog, acid rain, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, mercury, arsenic, and lead. Coal mining disrupts the ecology and endangers the lives of miners daily.
- Oil → Another fossil fuel that fueled the Industrial Revolution is a non-renewable, energy rich hydrocarbon. Burning oil pollutes with carbon dioxide, sulfates, and nitrates. Oil drilling and extraction disturbs the water and land. Accidental spills at the drill site or during land and water transport disrupts ecology. The disposal of products made from oil, such as plastics, creates more waste problems.
- Water → Fire from water, one of the oldest ways to produce energy. Water wheels, mills, and dams alter the habitats of fish and restricts water passage. Water power pollutes less, but to be effective, great quantities of water and land are necessary and that comes at a great financial cost.
- Geothermal → While drilling for geothermal energy, harmful gas can escape from deep within the earth. Also after the expense that comes with building a geothermal plant, the heat within the earth can stop providing heated water for years at a time, making this an undependable form of energy.
- Natural Gas → Natural gas is odorless and colorless and mostly consists of methane. It burns cleaner than coal and oil. It releases 45% less carbon dioxide than coal and 30% less than oil. It burns with no soot or sulfur dioxide and is widely available. It is lighter than air so when leaks occur it can dissipate with a lower chance of explosion. Still it is a non-renewable fossil fuel. Other drawbacks are transportation problems whether through pipelines, tankers, or barges. If used in cars and trucks, the mileage is lower than gasoline.
- Nuclear → The newest and possibly most controversial of all energy sources. Will it provide safe, abundant energy for years to come or kill us all? Patrick Moor, an early member of Greenpeace, protested against U.S. nuclear testing in 1971. After 15 years with Greenpeace he left and became an advocate for some of his prior environmental targets. He now believes that nuclear energy is the only technology besides fossil fuels that is a reliable energy source. Nuclear energy proponents tout the safety record of the industry. They say Chernobyl was an anomaly and the rest of the would uses safer methods. Natural disasters care nothing for risk management methods as Japan came to understand. Besides, some nuclear waste lives practically forever. We can barely handle landfill toxins, how will nuclear waste play out?
- Solar → Gathering solar energy with solar panels creates little pollution in itself aside from the manufacture and shipping of the panels. It is a quiet source of energy and can be used easier and cheaper in remote locations. The installation of solar panels can cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars for a house. The energy savings payback can take years. Cloudy weather and pollution can hinder solar cell efficiency. In the deserts of the American west, people oppose solar energy farms since they spoil the desert scenery.
- Wind → At last, windmills must be our salvation. Yet people complain that they too spoil the scenery of the land and sea where they take root. People living near windmills claim that the turbines are a visual and auditory threat. Some people insist that the noisy whirling blades cause them great stress. A wind farm on the horizon reduces tourism and lowers home values in the areas they go up. Wind turbines must exist in areas with the strongest winds which are often the same places that birds migrate and nest. The eagle that tore into the liver of Prometheus each day, now gets torn apart by the blades of our modern-day windmills.
The fires we need for basic survival and to feed the machinery that we love come with destructive forces. Perhaps Prometheus and not Pandora unleashed the real evils in this world.
Without fire and the technology it unleashed, humankind may have failed to thrive and died with a very different history. Certainly the planet would be cleaner today.
I know a 24-year-old nurse that gives her time to Doctors Without Borders and cares about the health of the planet. One time she surprised me with an offhand comment. She mentioned that she is tired of her human legs and arms which are so weak. She wants the strength of a machine, a bionic women of sorts I guess.
Science fiction and reality fuse people with machines. What human/machine ratio would cease to view energy-driven pollution as a crisis? Today the ubiquitous phone/computer may as well be embedded within the bodies of my friends and relatives. At some point, no one may care to look out a window to enjoy a Goldfinch perched on a tree branch. The windows to the soul are owned by Microsoft.