Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Removing Rochester’s mountain tops


When we switch on the lights in our homes, we often forget the moral implications of such a common, humdrum act. We flip on lights without thinking; but, that switch is not a magical box. That light switch is connected to wires, which in turn are connected so some source of electrical power: natural gas, hydro electrical, diesel, coal, nuclear, geothermal, wind, solar, petroleum, or biofuels. Usually, something has to burn and something has to turn to create electrical power that runs the power for lights that we switch on. (Solar power has other issues but burning fossil fuels and turning turbines are not two of those.)

According to NYSERDA and the New York State Power Authority the electricity generated in New York was in 2002: 26% natural gas, 25% nuclear, 15% coal, 15% hydro, 9% petroleum, 8% net imported, 2% biofuels - HYDROGEN FACT SHEET -New York State: Case Study

Only two percent of our electrical energy comes from renewable sources—wind and solar. NY's Green Power Program So, when we flip that light switch we are mostly choosing to burn fossil fuels and warm up the planet, or blow the top slick and clean off of somebody’s mountain. We don’t like to think of these things, the simplest little thing we do in our daily lives having big moral implications, that we are just doing what everyone else does unmindful of their consequences, but it is becoming increasing obvious that almost everything we do has environmental implications. Implications that we can no longer ignore because our collective buying habits, how we dispose of trash, how we use products, and how we power our stuff affects our environment. Earth with over 6 billion humans (and growing) has drastically changed this planet’s ecosystems in just 200 years from humanity’s growth and development, an unprecedented change in the 4 billion years of life on this planet. (Think of the very short time our species has occupied this planet ((about 5 million years)) compared to how long it took our environment to evolve in 4 billion years of life.)

We, meaning New Yorkers, have to start thinking of how we get electricity in a larger way. We may not have mountains with coal in our backyard, or easily assessable natural gas deposits, but we do use energy from these natural resources—and so this implicates us in the moral equation. Many of our neighbors have to suffer the consequences of continuing to burn coal for energy. Right now New Yorkers are screaming over the spectacle of having noisy wind turbines far off-shore, but that’s nothing compared to a mining blast or heavy equipment tearing off the head of a mountain, and the toxic tailings pouring into your nearby streams.

If you burn something, a fossil fuel like coal, oil, or natural gas, you are releasing carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. It is causing Climate Change. Also, in order to get at fossil fuels you often have to dig, drill, or blast. These present moral problems, there is no way around it. This moral argument isn’t a conspiracy theory cooked up by a bunch of leaf-chomping greenies. It is physics linking our actions with the health of our planet. Environmental issues are not special interest—they are the issue of our times. Check out this discussion Thursday evening on ourand I’ll see ya there:

Deep Down, an Independent Lens film | WXXI Thu, 11/11/2010 - 7:00pm - 9:00pm "WXXI's Community Cinema invites you to a free screenings of the Independent Lens feature film Deep Down. Join us Thursday, November 11 at 7 p.m. as WXXI's Community Cinema presents a screening of Deep Down. The event is free and open to the public. The screening will be held at WXXI's Studios and followed by a panel discussion with Ed Przybylowicz,  Marcellus Shale Committee; Frank Regan,; and Margie Campaigne, Sierra Club. " WXXI | Go Public.

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