Monday, December 11, 2006

My plan to save the world--a work in progress

[This is a work in progress. I will be supplying links and further thoughts over a period of time.]

Top threats to our survival:

Global warming
Global warming
Global warming
The dying oceans
The dying oceans
Spiraling U.S. budget and trade deficits
Widespread groundwater depletion
The handing of our political process, including voting process, to private profit-making interests
The coming healthcare crisis
Our dependence on foreign energy

Terrorism? Not even on the radar. Terrorism has always been around; it's just that we've never been hit in a major way before. Solving terrorism is simple: treat all nations in an honorable fashion; develop our own lasting energy solutions; avoid wars of aggression. When we do this, terrorists will quickly lose interest in us and refocus on terrorizing each other.

Sounds glib? Arrogant? Lacking in specifics? Prove me wrong. Let's have some dialogue.

As long as we're being arrogant....

Here's how to solve the energy crisis:
  • Solar panels on every roof--using newer solar technologies that are more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.
  • Wind turbines on every farm in the great plains (and wherever else agriculture and wind coexist).
  • Transfer of research money and tax supports from the oil industry to alternative technology, to perfect solar, wind, tidal and other sources of non-fossil energy.
  • Acknowledgment that when you factor in the cost of tax breaks for the oil industry, health effects of burning fuel, global warming costs and the cost of wars to protect our oil interests, oil and fossil fuels are far more expensive than every known alternative energy source.
  • Mandatory plug-in hybrid technology for every vehicle--the electricity to be generated by by power plants during the night, but even more, by those solar panels on every roof and wind turbines on Midwestern farms.
  • Limited use of biodiesel--there are not enough biodiesel resources to convert our whole automotive fleet to biodiesel, but it can be a component of our fuel supply.
  • A distributed energy model in which energy is produced and distributed locally, rather than massive power plants supplying energy to distant areas.
  • A massive investment in public transportation. Public transportation is a public good, and as such should be subsidized, just as we now subsidize our highways. Just as we don't expect our highways to pay for themselves, we shouldn't expect public transportation to be self-sufficient.
  • Strong government involvement in implementing these changes. Why? because private industry sees no incentive to do it themselves. (Environmentally friendly practices can actually benefit private industry, but that's another story, and few industries are up to speed on the benefits.)
(Here's a story touching on the government role in protecting our environment: I recently had a discussion with my sister-in-law about low-flow toilets. Among the tribulations of the house she bought a few years ago were low-flow toilets that weren't quite up to the task. Why, she asked, did the government have to get involved in mandating toilets that don't work? The answer is, once the technology becomes mandatory, the genius of American manufacturing will come up with solutions. My sister-in-law's toilets from the first--fairly inadequate--generation of low-flow toilets weren't very good, but the toilets being produced today are vastly superior. I've replaced my old-fashioned toilets with them and found them to work just fine. Without the government requirement, low-flow technology might never have advanced. When my sister-in-law gets over her resentment about government intervention in her life and replaces her first-generation low-flow toilets, she will be pleasantly surprised at how well the new ones work.)

How NOT to solve the energy crisis:
  • Ethanol. While there is an argument to be made for using waste materials to generate ethanol, growing corn for that purpose is self-defeating, even though the the taxpayer-funded federal subsidies are a boon for midwestern farmers and the politicians who do their bidding. Growing corn is energy and water intensive. The water comes from our rapidly depleting Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies the Great Plains states with drinking and irrigation water. Massive amounts of petroleum-based fertilizers are required. And by diverting a food staple to fuel, we are compromising our food supply. I'd limit ethanol production to agricultural waste, and even then we have to recognize that by not recycling this waste directly to the fields, we are impoverishing our farmlands.
  • Fuel from coal. Our access to coal is almost unlimited. We could develop technology to convert coal energy to fuel for our cars for 1,000 years. But this doesn't solve the global warming problem. We could develop promising technologies that sequester the carbon dioxide from coal and store it in undergound caves or beneath the sea, but I consider this approach dangerous. Global warming is already releasing naturally stored carbon dioxide in water and frozen land. Besides, the technology already exists to make coal plants more efficient and to reduce costs in the long run, but only one coal plant is using the technology because start-up costs are higher in the beginning.
  • Drilling in the Arctic, Gulf of Mexico, national reserves or wherever. How can we justify despoiling our environment for the tiny supplies of oil this will yield, when every ounce of oil burned will only worsen global warming crisis?


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