An Energy Discussion
“We have to get rid of coal-fired power plants. They’re dirty, their emissions contribute to global warming, and extracting the coal devastates the land.”
“Okay. So natural gas then?”
“Well, natural gas is cleaner, but no, we can’t use that. Hydrofracking to extract it pollutes the water supplies, the hydraulic solvents (made of who knows what other than the energy companies) are toxic and where they’re pumped into the ground to get rid of them, it’s causing earthquakes. And the gas still contributes to global warming.”
“No, we can’t use that either.”
“So you don’t like us being dependent on middle-east fiefdoms for our energy—fair enough. What about the oil in the Dakotas and the Manitoba oil sands?”
“Extracting the oil from the sand requires a lot of energy in and of itself, to say nothing of the resulting waste. But more importantly, it’s dangerous to transport the stuff by train for refining. It might derail in a city and kill people.”
“Oh, so the pipeline.”
“No. Pipelines leak and oil companies are evil capitalists that don’t care about the environment, so a pipeline will be devastating to the environment. And oil contributes to global warming too.”
“Nuclear plants then?”
“Hello! Chernobyl, Fukushima, three-mile island? Waste we have no idea what to do with?”
“Yeah, that’s why we should build some forth-generation plants that can consume the spent fuel from the current generation of plants, while operating with a much higher level of safety.”
“No nuclear plant can be operated safely.”
“A hell of a lot more safely than the current aging current nuke plants though. And it solves the waste problem.”
“Nuclear plants will never be safe.”
“Dams for hydroelectric impact native species of fish, and damage fragile downstream ecosystems. Besides, the best locations for hydro have already been taken; there’s diminishing returns for creating more.”
“Do you know how many birds those kill? When an early windfarm was installed in a California Valley, it—”
“Yeah, I know about that. We’ve learned not to put them where they slaughter birds like Purdue plant with a fresh truck from the tunnel-barn. A windmill installed in an agricultural area kills about 2 birds a year—less than a domestic housecat.”
“Yeah, but it’s still killing some, right? And they’re unsightly and the health risks haven’t been studied adequately.”
“Solar then? Massive battery banks to get us through the night and any cloudy days?”
“They take enormous energy to produce, with a chemically hazardous manufacturing process. Large-scale batteries are lead-based, so that’s an environmental disaster—”
“Lithium batteries have a higher capacity—”
“They’re still hazardous.”
“So, given the US isn’t a great place for geothermal, what’s the plan? We can’t use any fossil fuels, nuclear, solar, wind, or hydroelectric.”
Ending Choice 1
“We’re going to conserve. Oh, I need to run down and move my laundry to the dryer.”
“You know, you have space for a clothesline in your back yard.”
“A clothesline? How ugly and lower-class. Who do you think I am? Besides, I don’t have time for such things. The drier is easier and faster. Hey, afterwards want to hop in my SUV, run down to the store and buy some steaks for dinner?”
I sigh deeply. “Sure.”
Ending Choice 2
“So what are we doing to do, switch to magic for all our energy needs?”
“We’re just a few years from new science that will provide us with infinite amounts of low-cost, no-impact energy. And then all our problems will be solved.”
“What’s DDT got to do with energy.”
“I was drawing a comparison. DDT was hailed as a wonderful, cheap and safe pesticide brought to us by the future. Then we started using it and found out it does have environmental impact, such as reducing bird reproduction by weakening eggs.”
“But what’s that got to do with energy?”
I sigh deeply. “Never mind.”
Ending Choice 3
“So what are we going to do, give up our energy society and go back to farming the land by hand like peasants?”
“Well… given the way the capitalists are pushing wages down, that’ll happen anyway when we can’t afford the energy.”
“I’m not sure you’re wrong on that.”
“A simpler society would be much better anyway. All this ‘science’ is just The Man screwing us. Hey, let’s embrace a simpler life right now! I’ve got some bolt cutters, I’m gonna disconnect from the grid right now!”
“Are you gonna get rid of your mobile phone too?” There is a crunching sound of smartphone glass underboot. “Okay then… I’ll put the ladder up. You can climb up and clip the wires from the transformer, okay? Oh, make sure you cut the phone cable for your landline first, to prevent all that unnecessary communication.”
“Good idea, thanks!” Snip. Snip. Zzzzzot! Thump.
I sight deeply. I’d call 911, if only there was a working phone around.
I used to be solidly liberal, and I thought conservatives were mislead. Anytime I talked with them, their justification for opinions seemed incredibly shallow.
At some point, I realized the liberals I agreed with substantially had the same shallow knowledge and reasons. It’s just that I agreed with them, so I hadn’t noticed.
I’ve met a couple of knowledgeable Republicans recently, and they can justify their opinions effectively. I don’t always agree, but sometimes I’ve been persuaded, and they do have some good points.
At the same time, I’ve become aware of Democrats that have circular, unresolvable or simply missing arguments for what they believe.
As for me, I think I’m now moderate. I don’t have faith that anything will get fixed, when so few have a good knowledge base. No wonder the two parties manipulate the masses so effectively—would that be true if we took civic engagement as seriously as we take basketball, football, baseball and the Stanley and World Cups?
As for the energy: well-placed windmills, because it’s renewable and creates good skilled-trade jobs to maintain them. Maybe a little hydro, but we need to be better about dams. Solar, where it’s sensible. Fourth-generation nuclear, to improve safety and solve the current waste problem we’ve made that we ignore. Live more simply, be less consumerist, and eat less beef. Conserve, and to that end, get good at understanding energy consumption of things. Invest some in new tech, in hopes we might find a silver-bullet for the energy problem; but don’t put all our eggs in that basket. And, key despite being forgotten since the 1970s, work on attaining a sustainable population level.