Category Archives: energy

On Fire or the Dinosaurs Died So That We Can Drive SUVs

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.

A Skewed Bird’s-Eye View

The Earth seen from Apollo 17.

The Earth seen from Apollo 17. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The concern environmental activists have for planet earth illustrates the egocentricity of human nature.

Earth is special. We are made in the image of God. We must settle on other planets just in case our kind cease to exist here. Human life must continue somewhere, somehow. This is so important since the universe must still revolve around the earth.

If we poison our planet and life dies out, the earth will still go on. It may develop new life forms despite the destruction. If we blow up the planet, there are other planets out there.

If a soul exists, it will merge with the spiritual creator and all will be good. If no soul exists, each particle is still in communion with the whole and all will be good. If none of this is good in our eyes, new cycles and patterns will keep going no matter what we think or want.

I recycle and think it is wrong to be wasteful. But I doubt that recycling will save the planet. Every time I deposit my paper, plastic, glass, or metal in the proper recycling bin, I wonder if the energy and resources needed to reuse this material is, on final tally, worth the process. The best remedy is not to use it in the first place.

Moving backwards, against the tide of progress, may prove impossible. Once you bite the apple, there is no turning back. Until the finite resources are used up and no new ones materialize, people will not willingly stop doing what they do.

A undiscovered source of energy may be out there that can replace oil, coal, and other nasty stuff we depend on today. But most likely it will come with its own demons; knowledge doesn’t come free and clear.

If wind power becomes the only energy source available to keep our cellphones alive, or keep our cars humming, even PETA will look the other way when windmills chop up free-flying birds. Our survival and our desires trump virtue. It’s not easy being green.

A Fable: The Snail and the Computer

I still get my utility bills sent to me by snail mail. I would change my ways and have them sent to me by email if it wasn’t too much work.

Each month I get one piece of mail that holds a bill for each utility; very straightforward, no extra frills except for one or two inserts that are easily recognizable as newsletters or product advertisements. You can’t stuff those envelopes with too much information since postage gets too expensive.

Just to contradict my first sentence, I did sign up for electronic delivery of my house and car insurance bills because the insurance company promised a discount. Now I’m not so sure that the discount is worth it.

Three or four times a month I get emails from this company. Some may hold some useful information such as keeping your home safe from burglars. Some encourage me to contact my agent to chat about adding more coverage.

But the only piece of information I really want is the yearly breakdown of my monthly rates. To get to this bill I need to remember my password which I last used twelve months ago. After some digging through papers I either find it or get a new one. Once logged in, I must click on various links that sound hopeful enough to uncover my bill but are dead ends. A half hour later I may find what I’m looking for.

As I see it email is not always a time-saving process. More unsolicited information comes across email than the mailbox in front of my house. I’m afraid I will simply delete some email because I assume it is trying to market a product but ends up holding a piece of information I actually need. Email holds the power to disseminate volumes of information that I don’t want to invade my computer screen.

So to get me to become paperless, email must contain less clutter. I want just the facts and not too many links taking me places I don’t want to go.

Another message brought to you by the grouch living in the past. (I can’t help it, the chaos keeps increasing!)