Feb. 22, 2019

renewable vs. fossil

   As the human race moves forward into the next evolutionary cycle, we are faced with some interesting dilemmas.  Our environment is certainly paramount to our existence, yet man has advanced technologically because of our ability to alter our environment to suit our needs and the needs of an ever expanding population.  The harnessing and development of fossil fuels was one of the advances that allowed expansion of civilization, with human presence now extending beyond the confines of our own planet.  Man has an innate desire to move beyond established boundaries whether by walking, using rafts or sailing ships, airplanes or rockets. We relish the opportunity to travel quickly and effeciently whenever and wherever possible.  Although this might not always be the best for thing for man or the environment, it is a fact we have all come to accept and around which all advancing civilizations are built.  Perhaps a good question to ask would be this...are we willing to give up the advances made as well as the speed which which things are accomplished in order to eliminate the use of fossil fuels and if the answer is 'yes', are other civilizations around the world willing to do the same? 

     At the present time, technology does not exist to efficiently produce an alternative source of power that can meet our needs in America or any other industrialized civilization. Only nuclear power as a 'clean' alternative is available. Nuclear, although 'clean', is subject to producing other biohazards that could be catastrophic. Even the small amounts of luminous radium used on watch faces in WWII caused cancer in the unprotected workers making those watches.  Energy produced by wind, solar, or water currents need a method to store the energy in quantities large enough to satisfy demands, and at present, that involves batteries.  Batteries require their own set of biohazards for production, maintenance, and disposal.  Considering batteries as a storage method is trading one environmental hazard of exhaust emmissions, for another.  A real consideration for fossil fuel use, however, is the expansion of the use of natural gas or CNG.  It burns cleaner than gasoline, diesel fuels, or kerosene, it is readily available at low cost and the technology already exists for it's widespread implementation for transportation and other needs. 

    If 'green' or 'renewable' energy becomes the only short term goal as advanced by some extremists, there are many other, far reaching consequences that could irreversibly damage our modern, technologically advanced society.  From an economic standpoint, those that live outside large metropolitan areas where mass transit is feasible would be faced with the immediate consequence of owning expensive vehicles that would no longer have any value. The independent trucker with a $100,000 diesel truck would be forced to start all over, losing a huge asset in exchange for having to purchase something requiring expensive battery replacement every few years ( just imagine replacing only 4 batteries in a golf cart at cost of $500...then expand that to a large truck). The struggling single mother/father with their $3,000 basic transportation needed for work would be forced to purchase a very expensive new energy compliant car or face losing their job...then going on public assistance for survival !  Would we deny entrance into the United States any airplanes burning fossil fuels since we would deny our own carriers its use ? Would trade with europe and asia now depend on sailing ships and would they wait for our products when similar could be made available from other countries using 'old fossil fuel technology' ?  Would infrastructure materials like asphalt no longer be available since it requires fossil fuel to produce ? 

   Many 'environmentalists' also want to eliminate meat production and the inefficiency of raising farm animals for slaughter, preferring a purely vegetarian type diet.  Currently 99% of all heavy farm equipment and construction equipment is powered by fossil fuels with few electric types that can generate the sustained power necessary for long hours of use as well as having the lifting power required to accomplish a task in a timely and efficient manner.  If the billions of dollars of equipment was scrapped, who pays the replacement costs or the high prices that would then be charged for those vegetables ?  What about the environmental damage caused by chemical fertilizers since farm animals would be non-existent to produce natural fertilizer ? What would replace the millions of jobs associated with meat industries from production of the animal to presentation at a 4-star restaurant.  Unintended consequences are the product of poorly devised plans.

   Alternate forms of energy are desireable goals to set for future generations but until technology exists that makes it practical and affordable, mandating it's use is a gaffe that cannot reasonably be considered in a world that depends on the rapid movement of supplies and manpower.  Only tunnel-visioned ultracrepidarians would ever consider such a thing at this time in our world's history.

    Perhaps a better direction for our fervor is to think of new ways to 'scrub' excess CO2 and other gas emissions from the air.  Just as nature devised a way to use CO2 for plant growth, producing as a bi-product the gas oxygen (which co-incidentally was a noxious, piosonous gas to the environment of the time), man could focus on similar technologies.  Newer systems using magnets, gravity and bio-electricity are being explored, some with promising results.  As with every new technology, however, time and money is needed to perfect and advance these ideas to a useful and practical form.  The future is bright and man's desire to expand beyond existing horizons will continue to open many doors.  We just need to be careful about shutting doors behind us, especially when those are the very ones that propelled us rapidly into the future.

Apr. 29, 2014

unintended consequences

It is most interesting to watch the change in public response regarding recent increases in gasoline prices compared to what we saw several years ago. Has the general public forgotten the furor raised over past increases in price and the clamor over how that affected our expendable income, thus decreasing the purchase of products with that in turn reducing productivity ? Perhaps we have just resigned ourselves to the ever increasing costs associated with owning the icon of American freedom, the automobile.  Although the government has made much to do about how important it is to attain energy independence by producing more green energy in order to reduce fuel costs, the reality is that just the opposite has occurred.  Is green energy really the answer, or is it just what information we choose to accept as fact that determines our response and the eventual decisions the government makes. While the national media and subsidized farmers want you to believe that things like ethanol improve our environment and decrease dependence on oil imports, the truth is that fertilizers, produced by oil fueled plants, are used in excess to produce huge corn yields and in turn pollute the watershed with excess nitrogen that eventually runs from the "corn belt" of middle America into the Gulf of Mexico.  The result is a "dead zone" extending miles into the gulf, a consequence many times worse than the BP oil spill. This is information that seldom gets discussed in an open forum. Ethanol infused gasoline also clogs and destroys small engines over short periods of time ( ever wonder why you have to replace your weedeater or small chain saw every year?). I wonder if anyone has factored those costs into calculating the real cost of using ethanol based fuels! Unintended consequences seldom make headlines and certainly are not part of the conversation in Washington.

In reality, it is a matter of what and how information is reported in the "news" that seems to affect our response.  Unbiased news reporting, familiar to so many raised in the Walter Cronkite era, has now been replaced with "infonews" where public opinion is shaped by what the pundits choose to report and the way in which they report it. This is most unfortunate and is a major contributing factor to the polarization of the American public.  Enemies outside our borders can simply sit on the sidelines and watch us destroy ourselves from within.