Sunday, March 22, 2009

Stop thinking of alternative fuels and start thinking of conservation

As of lately, all I hear is that we need to have a source of energy that is sustainable and not reliable on foreign oil. A new source that we need to use that is clean. A source or energy that has little impact on the environment. We are exploring for new sources of energy, wind, solar, hydropower, nuclear, etc., that we can use instead of oil. I also hear that we don’t need to rely on other countries and we can drill for oil off of our coast or have little impact and drill in pristine habitat. What I don’t hear is conservation. Let’s stop. With our exploration of alternative fuels, we don’t see how they still impact our climate.

Bio-fuels: What a bad idea. First off, for us to grow corn, soy beans, switch grass, etc. we need land that is not already in production for food. One of the worst ideas was to take our food source and make it into a source of energy. That alone has drove up the price of food. Alone almost everything has high fructose corn syrup in it. So instead, we clear lands to make them able for production. When clear lands of natural habitat, this releases carbon that we try to sequester back into the atmosphere. By one estimate, Searchinger et al. (2008) found that by using corn-base ethanol, instead of producing a 20% saving in greenhouse gas, it nearly doubles it over 30 years and increases greenhouse gases for 167 years. This “bio-fuel carbon debt” releases 17 to 420 times more carbon dioxide that the annual greenhouse gas reduction that these bio-fuels would provide by displacing fossil fuels (Fargione et al. 2008).

Hydropower: Today, by estimate, there are at least 75,000 dams in U.S. rivers alone. These dams stop the flood pulses that rivers require to be healthy. Dams stop natural migration of fish. Behind dams, lie sediments and decaying organic matter that releases methane, another greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere (Giles 2006). So, instead of harnessing water for power, it impacts the environments in different ways.

Nuclear: As of December 31, 2007, there are 104 commercial nuclear power generators in the U.S., according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). For us to make nuclear power we need to mine radioactive ore and once the ore has depleted in the reactor it becomes waste. Mining ore from the earth pollutes the land and nearby streams and getting rid of the radioactive waste is highly problematic. Where do we put it? One solution is to bury deep down under a mountain. Is that the best that they can come up with?

Solar: This is a great idea, except that we have to mine for elements that are found in solar cells that harness the suns energy. Of all of these, I can see this as one that doesn’t impact the environment as much as others, but it still does.

Wind: Again, you need to material to build windmills that will last and that requires mining or stripping the land. Then there is the issue of visual or noise pollution and interfering with song-bird migration, which is a federal offense and protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that decreed that all migratory birds and their parts (including eggs, nests, and feathers) were fully protected. But again, I see this is one that doesn’t impacts the environment as much as others.

From what I see, there is no answer to our problem. For mor information on official energy statistic from the U.S. government, visit the EIA website. Conservation is our only answer. Instead of being reliant on things that require sources outside of your area, make a change so that you can get everything that you need from inside of your community. This is the change that is needed.

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