Sunday, March 28, 2010

Forced Energy Choices

Are natural gas and nuclear power going to be our energy future? They probably will be, but not because they are our best energy solutions. Despite all the controversy about how we should power our existence as our population grows and our planet warms up, at the end of the day we’ll be scared into bad energy solutions.

Our best energy solutions are conservation and renewable energy sources like wind and solar. They could compete for our baseload energy needs if our government subsidized, stimulated, and greased the political wheels for battery storage research like our government does for nuclear, oil, and gas production. If we approached our future energy needs according to the most prudent solutions for our precarious future—climate change, pollution, and health concerns—we could have a bright future for everyone.

Instead, we’re probably going to focus on natural gas (because there’s lots of it underground) and nuclear (because of a perceived desperation). I say perceived desperation because nuclear power, given enough power plants, can provide baseload power without contributing to greenhouse gases. And many groups, as well as the President, are heralding this power source as our savior. Endless power from a whiz-bang source.

But it’s a dangerous gamble. Simply saying that nuclear power is dangerous and equating it with falling wind turbine blades or solar power bugaboos is misleading. In truth, nuclear power is dangerous in a way that is factors beyond the dangers of any other power source. Radiation from a nuclear power plant gone bad, for whatever reason, has the potential to mess up chromosomes—ours and other life forms unlucky enough to get in the way. Putting back together a broken and radiated Humpty-Dumpty is beyond anything our best and brightest can handle.

And though an ocean of natural gas lies at our feet here in the Northeast (and not the Mideast), it still emits greenhouse gases when burned. Fracturing chemicals and poisoned wells aside, this energy source won’t bring us a secure future because we cannot be energy independent from the laws of thermodynamics. When we use it on a grand scale that we now use oil and gasoline, our atmosphere will warm to the tipping point.

However, as I have said, we’ll probably go with nuclear and gas because they’re convenient. We won’t upset the economic, political, and corporate system already ensconced—even though, like our banking and health systems, they are driving us out of existence. Wind and solar get dismissed as minimal players in our energy future not because they cannot take on the job (given the backing that other energy sources have received), but because we don’t have the will to change direction. To say we must bend to the political, cultural, corporate, and economic realities and go with these imperfect energy sources shows how little we actually comprehend our present environmental reality.

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