It isn’t the intent of this article to discuss whether or not global warming is a reality. To be completely honest, it really doesn’t matter either way where this article is concerned. The fact of the matter is that we need to figure out a way to live more harmoniously with our planet.
Currently, the way humanity works it to move into an area and exploit all the available resources. We mine minerals, cut down trees, dam the rivers, etc. If there is a specie of flora or fauna we don’t like we eradicate it or bring in another specie that will destroy it for us. Until very recently in our history we haven’t concerned ourselves with the consequences of our actions. In the last 50 years or so we have finally begun to realize that our actions have a lot of unintended consequences. In some cases, the “cure” for a problem has turned out to be worse than the original problem. Invasive species introduced into an ecosystem can overwhelm an area because there are no natural predators.
In recent years, humans have finally begun to consider the consequences of their actions. Unfortunately, in many cases, it is already too late. Entire ecosystems are under constant attack from foreign invasive species introduced to control an indigenous specie. In the Florida Everglades, for example, people must work every day in an effort to control several foreign invasive species of flora and fauna. Some of these species were introduced intentionally and others accidentally. Either way, humans now have to diligently monitor these species and hunt or destroy them when their population levels threaten to overwhelm the natives.
As the only reasoning specie on the planet, we are, by default, the planet’s guardians. It is up to us to ensure the survival of our bright blue sphere and its inhabitants. At the same time, we should not be expected to give up our quality of life and technological advancement. The greatest threat to our planet is our insatiable need for energy. Currently, the greatest source of energy used on our planet is oil followed closely by coal. These fossil fuels, when converted into workable energy, cause massive and destructive pollution. If this pollution could be contained in a single area, this would not be a very big deal as the inhabitants of that area would quickly die off and the pollution would end. The problem is, pollution does not stay put. It travels around the world. Recent satellite photos have shown airborne pollutants traveling from the East Coast of the United States to the West Coasts of Africa and Europe. Additionally, airborne pollution from China has been photographed traveling across the Pacific to Hawaii and the West Coasts of North and South America.
While the effects of this traveling pollution on health in those areas is obvious, what is not so obvious is its effect on weather phenomena. This increased pollution has been linked, though not conclusively as yet, to the increased number and intensity of hurricanes. Also, pollution has been blamed for the shift in weather patterns in Europe and Asia. It has been suggested the United States’ weather pattern shift could also be linked to pollution, but the corporations most responsible for the greatest quantity of pollution in America have denied this claim.
Scientists and environmentalists across the world all seem to agree that pollution is having a negative effect on the planet and that the effect is compounding yearly. The planet can absorb much of the pollutants man creates but we are now creating more than the Earth can reabsorb. This is not necessarily bad news, though. Since mankind has determined that this problem needs to be dealt with immediately for the survival of the planet and its inhabitants, we have begun to research myriad of means to help the planet absorb our pollution.
Reabsorbing pollution is only half of the solution, though. The other half of the solution is to cease generating pollution, or, at the very least, drastically reduce the amounts of pollutants we create. Again, human ingenuity is developing many methods to generate pollution free energy, so called Green Energy. Advances in wind and solar energy technology are promising and will certainly help reduce air pollution. Geothermal technology is very slow in developing and is quite expensive causing it to be a seldom selected option for creating energy.
Energy companies are working to find cleaner ways to use existing fossil fuels. Clean coal, while not really clean, decreases the amount of carbon based pollutants released into the atmosphere significantly. Oil companies are developing cleaner burning gasoline. Automobile companies are working to increase gas mileage of their vehicle fleets. Hybrid vehicles are a good interim alternative but are so expensive as to not make them practical for the typical American consumer. Advances in battery technology may change this situation in a few years.
Hydrogen fuel cells and liquid hydrogen powered vehicles are the best alternative to replace our fossil fuel burning SUV’s and super-sized pick up trucks. Again, these vehicles are currently too expensive to build and there isn’t enough demand to justify retooling current manufacturing facilities. The lack of proper infrastructure to support these vehicles, like liquid hydrogen fueling stations, for example, also serves to stymie demand.
There is one area, though, where we could do more to reduce our energy dependence. Housing. As America begins the difficult task of pulling itself out of economic disaster, the time is perfect to make a minor adjustment in housing. Rather than building new houses to be merely energy efficient, we should begin building them to be energy self sufficient. There is no reason at all why we cannot incorporate solar and/or wind power generation methods in every house or other structure we build.
The biggest objection to this is cost. Contractors claim that incorporating these technologies in new homes will increase housing prices by thousands of dollars. They claim that a $150,000 home would now cost upwards of $200,000. This claim is based on the idea that homes would have to be designed in a manner that would accommodate the technology, the devices themselves and the labor costs involved will drive the prices up.
This is not the case, though. At our current level of technology, it is unrealistic to expect to build a home to be 100% energy sufficient. Wind generators and solar arrays just don’t create enough energy, even in combination, to run an entire house 24 hours a day without a substantial financial commitment. Even adding deep cycle batteries for energy storage for night time usage won’t solve the problem.
The idea is to reduce the home’s dependence on the power grid. With today’s technology, it is possible to reduce a home’s grid dependency by 50% or more depending on environmental factors like location, average wind speeds, solar intensity, etc. Therefore, we don’t need to add $50,000 worth of equipment to the structure, rather, a mere $2,000 to $5,000 will suffice. Now your cost increase is less than $10,000. Since the homebuyer is financing that over 20 to 30 years, the impact on the homeowner’s pocketbook is negligible.
Looking at it from a big picture point of view, the only people who lose in this endeavor is the local power company. Here is why. Obviously, the manufacturers of the wind and solar generators win due to increased demand. This increased demand also drives the cost down. The resellers of the products also win due to increased sales. The contractor wins because the value of the house increases making him more money. The subcontractors who install the devices win because of increased work. The homeowner wins due to overall lower energy costs. The general economy improves. Unemployment rates fall.
The power company loses because they aren’t selling as much energy AND they are required by law to buy back any extra power the devices generate not used by the homeowner.
Let’s take a closer look at that last issue. That extra energy is put into the grid and consumed by other customers. The power company is required to purchase that power from the homeowner. They then turn around and sell that same energy to your neighbor at three or four times their purchase price. So they aren’t really losing any money on that deal.
If America takes the lead in this area it will reduce our dependency on foreign energy sources. By how much is anybody’s guess. At first, the reduction would not be significant, but as time goes on, that reduction increases exponentially. Eventually we will be at the point where we will have eliminated our dependency on foreign energy.
Why is that important? Currently, oil is one of the ways we generate electricity. We consume millions of barrels of oil every year to accomplish this. By building alternative energy generation sources into homes, this reduces the amount of oil we need to purchase abroad. That much less money is being used to support regimes that are enemies of the United States.
Beyond that issue, look at how much pollution will be decreased. We currently import 21 million barrels of oil every day. In other words, we import almost 25% of the world’s total oil production every single day. While only a percentage of that oil is used to generate electricity, look at these statistics.
- Oil power plants produce nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide, methane, sulfur dioxide, and mercury compounds. Sulfur dioxide and mercury compound amounts can vary greatly depending on the sulfur and mercury content of the oil burned.
- On average the emission rates in the United States from electricity generation from oil are: 1672 lbs/MWh of carbon dioxide, 12 lbs/MWh of sulfur dioxide, and 4 lbs/MWh of nitrogen oxides.
- Additionally, oil wells and oil collection equipment emit methane, a greenhouse gas.
- The vehicles and equipment used in drilling, production, and transportation of oil burn natural gas or diesel which also produce pollution.
Decreasing the amount of electricity produced by oil alone will dramatically decrease noxious pollutants put into the atmosphere. When you add the reduction of coal and natural gas generated pollution one can see how much cleaner our air will become. Remember, this article is only dealing with the reduction of air pollution. Oil, coal and natural gas electric plants generate other contaminants which find their way into our water supply and the ground.
If we all sponsored legislation in our respective states requiring alternative energy generators to be built into all new buildings, we can go a very long way toward cleaning up our planet and reducing our dependency on foreign energy sources. This solution will not solve all our energy problems, but it will solve a very large portion of them.