Over the past few years, I’ve had to do a lot of research on energy and energy policies. This comes from multiple angles: sustainability, policy, environmental impacts, social factors, and political factors among others. Many things about our energy policies don’t make a lot of good sense until you look at all the factors. By synthesizing the information from a number of sources, one can glean a pretty decent picture of what is actually going on. Some things, like hydroelectric and coal power plants, seem to have risks that far outweigh their benefits[i]. Then there’s the nuclear option, which seems like a brilliant idea until you consider the crippling financial burden, potential risks to the environment and humanity, along with the ramifications of nuclear proliferation[ii]. So, let’s take nuclear off the table – as developed nations have been doing for the last thirty or so years[iii]. Just looking at our options for ‘Clean Energy’, the obvious winners are wind and solar, as they passively generate electricity from natural processes and have very little impact on the environment[iv]. There’s an argument made against them relating to wildlife mortality, but that is a drop in the bucket compared to the ecosystem altering effects of dams and the biosphere altering effects of fossil fuels[v]. So, we’re trying to do the greatest good for the greatest many here.
The United States is the largest consumer of renewable energy, but renewables only constitute about 10% of the energy consumed there[vi]. This is no small feat for such a large republic, and that 10% used actually comprises about 22% of the total global consumption of renewable energy sources[vii]. Of course, European Union countries in general – and Denmark as a shining example – have taken very proactive policy measures to move to sustainable energy sources[viii]. In step with the changing societal mores, and under pressure from the international community at large, the United States has started working on their energy priorities[ix]. An integral part of the clean energy policies in the U.S. is the use of two words that don’t belong in the same sentence – clean coal. Saying ‘clean coal’ is any better for the environment is much akin to saying a filtered cigarette is good for your health. It has been suggested that clean coal actually contributes to a significant increase in carbon emissions[x]. This is just plain silliness, but it’s the world we live in. A world where what is best for us is decided by who gives the most money to the politicians. Not only are we driving the environment into the ground by letting this sort of thing happen, we’re also lying to ourselves thinking that this is still a representative democracy! More like a plutocracy, and money talks.
[i] John Muir, ‘Hetch Hetchy Damming Scheme’, 1908 <http://www.intimeandplace.org/HetchHetchy/damhetchhetchy/debate/muir.html>; Benjamin H. Strauss, Scott Kulp, and Anders Levermann, ‘Carbon Choices Determine US Cities Committed to Futures below Sea Level’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112.44 (2015), 13508–13 <https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1511186112>.
[ii] ‘The Center for Land Use Interpretation’ <http://clui.org/ludb/site/satsop-nuclear-plants> [accessed 9 February 2017]; ‘Electric Utility Companies; Entergy to Close James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant in Central New York’, Energy & Ecology Business; Atlanta, 2015, 184; Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Environmental Issues, ed. by Thomas A Easton, 15th ed. (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2013).
[iv] Jeffrey E. Lovich and Joshua R. Ennen, ‘Wildlife Conservation and Solar Energy Development in the Desert Southwest, United States’, BioScience, 61.12 (2011), 982–92 <https://doi.org/10.1525/bio.2011.61.12.8>; Joe Ryan, ‘Tall Buildings Are Bigger Threat to Birds Than Wind Power’, Bloomberg.com, 27 May 2016 <https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2016-05-27/tall-buildings-are-bigger-threat-to-birds-than-wind-power>.
[v] Linda Feinstein Kareff, ‘Pollution Prevention: A New and Improved Approach to Environmental Protection’, Policy Perspectives, 2.1 (2009) <https://doi.org/10.4079/pp.v2i1.4171>; Fishing Grounds: Defining a New Era for American Fisheries Management, ed. by H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment (Washington, D.C: Island Press, 2000); Daniel J. Fiorino, The New Environmental Regulation (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2006).
[vi] Institute for Energy Research, ‘Renewable Energy’, IER <http://instituteforenergyresearch.org/topics/encyclopedia/renewable-energy/>.
[vii] Institute for Energy Research.
[viii] Steven Hill, ‘US Could Learn Plenty from European Energy Policy’, Common Dreams, 2010 <http://www.commondreams.org/views/2010/07/02/us-could-learn-plenty-european-energy-policy>; Justin Gillis, ‘Denmark Aims for 100 Percent Renewable Energy’, The New York Times, 10 November 2014 <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/11/science/earth/denmark-aims-for-100-percent-renewable-energy.html>.
[ix] International Energy Agency, ‘IEA – Renewable Energy’ <http://www.iea.org/policiesandmeasures/renewableenergy/?country=United%20States> [accessed 18 January 2016].
[x] Michael Bastasch, ‘Obama-Backed “Clean Coal” Plant Creates More CO2 Emissions Than It Captures’, The Daily Caller, 2017 <http://dailycaller.com/2017/01/10/obama-backed-clean-coal-plant-creates-more-co2-emissions-than-it-captures/> [accessed 10 February 2017]; ‘The Obama Administration’s Take on “Clean” Coal’, Scientific American <https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/obama-and-clean-coal/> [accessed 10 February 2017].