Our environment; where do we go from here?

Writing and Research
By: Malcolm Page Wednesday April 30, 2003

Nestled in a pristine forest, there lies a small community that goes about its daily business. Driving by, you notice something strange, no power lines on the road side. Weird, you also see that there are strange towers on a mountain ridge near by. You remember that it’s Friday, yet there are no trash cans at the end of the drive ways, and in those drive ways there are parked electric cars. Upon further examination, you also notice solar panels on the roof of every home. At this moment you realize that this town uses clean energy, is waste free, and is self sufficient. This vision of the future may sound far-fetched, but it’s a dream that many would like to see become a reality. With the quality of our environment depleting every day, we must implement new energy solutions if we wish to continue living on this planet. It is widely known that fossil fuels, like coal, oil, and natural gas, are a non-renewable and harm our environment. Clean energy is becoming increasingly important to the prospect of future life on earth. Fossil fuels pollute our environment, by implementing cleaner energy, we might be able to preserve the quality of our planet for future generations.

For all the harm that fossil fuels have done, they have done well by providing us with a short term energy source that was easy to use and inexpensive to buy when compared to the implementation of renewable energy resources. During the industrial revolution there was not a whole lot of concern for environmental quality. We needed an energy source that was easy to get and inexpensive to fuel progress. To this day, oil and other petroleum products are the cheapest sources of energy, but for all their short term affordability, they cost us more in the long run. When compared to the initial cost of instillation of solar panels, for example, oil is much cheaper. After all, why should people pay more money to install solar panels when they already have an oil tank? The answer is simple, for the future. Do it for future generations who deserve to breathe clean air, and if that is not enough, do it because solar panels shortly pay for themselves. Despite the initial cost of implementing new energy sources, the long term benefits are much greater than the short term costs, and these resources once installed, quickly pay for them selves with the energy that they save.

The greenhouse effect is a serious environmental problem that has led to an increase in global temperature, a melting of the ice caps, and if left un-checked, could alter our global environment and make our planet uninhabitable. If you have had your eye on the news, you might have heard of the green house effect. The green house effect is caused buy a build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide then traps sun light reflected from the earth’s surface, and prevents it from going back into space. Instead of reflecting into space, the light is then redirected back to the surface of the earth and becomes trapped. Some find it helpful to think of global warming as a car window, which on a hot summer day lets light and heat in, but then traps it in the car preventing it from escaping. Very quickly the car becomes very hot and so too has the global temperature. So far, the temperature has increased about two degrees, and even though many think that two degree’s is not very significant, it should be known that an increase of two degrees ended the last ice age. The green house effect has been linked to the decreasing size of the polar ice caps, which is leading to an increase in ocean levels. If the greenhouse effect goes unchecked, the global temperature will continue to rise; which will lead to the complete melting of the polar caps, a change in weather patterns, and the depletion of animal and plant species around the world.

About eighty five percent of our energy comes from non-renewable fossil fuels like oil, coal, and natural gas. These fuels are unclean, limited, and a resources that are harming our people and planet. Our country has unfortunately been involved in numerous conflicts with oil producing countries to secure our future supply of oil. Even if we do secure our oil now, what will we do when the oil is gone? Oil will eventually run out because oil is non-renewable, which means that we use it faster than it can regenerate. Instead of fighting for oil, we should evolve and become independent of its necessity. Our country uses millions of barrels of foreign oil a day, and oil is one of the filthiest fuel sources available. This year alone, one hundred and fifty million tons of carbon dioxide will be spewed into the atmosphere by electrical generation plants around our country. The health risks attributed to the people who live near such planets are severe. These electric plants have been linked to a plethora of respiratory failures shorten the lives of an estimated thirty thousand people a year. Fossil fuels add to the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and in turn increase global warming, they pollute our people and planet, and involve us in conflicts that wouldn’t be necessary if were weren’t so dependent on oil. We should separate ourselves from fossil fuels, and make a right choice today for a better tomorrow.

Renewable resources are commodities that can regenerate themselves before they have all been used, they are also clean, abundant, and energy efficient. Our problem as it stands now is that our energy is not clean, and the by products of our energy searching is polluting our air and water. Renewable resources would cut down on air and water pollution. Some non-renewable resources exist in small pockets in scattered locations around the world; but because renewable resources exist naturally through out the world, they are very abundant. This means that any country can utilize them with out having to import costly alternatives. Finally, non-renewable resources are very inefficient, products like oil and gasoline often don’t fully combust and we loose potential energy when we burn them. Renewable resources don’t require combustion, and the only energy they loose is from friction, which is minimal. We will eventually run out of non-renewable resources, and if we are not ready to implement new energy sources, when that day comes we will be in a severe energy crisis that will halt our societies progress.

The answers to all of our problems, air pollution, energy shortage, and global warming, lie within the renewable resources that nature has been utilizing since the birth of the planet. In past summers, California has had such an energy shortage that operators had to shut of sections of the power grid during peak hours to prevent an entire system failure. In other cities, people are issued with smog alerts that tell them when it’s not safe to breathe the air out side. And our earth suffers from the treat of global warming as a result of the pollution we have spewed into the air. Plants and animals have existed on the earth for millions of years before man and lived within it without causing pollution. Plants have been using solar energy for millions of years effectively, and beavers have utilized the power of the river to make their homes. Birds have found ways to effectively use wind power to hunt
and live. Why haven’t humans picked up on nature’s hints and implemented some of its resources? Solar Panels are a very effective way of capturing the sun’s energy and converting it into clean electrical energy. Wind power is also an advancing resource. One wind turbine avoids two thousand tons of carbon dioxide air pollution every year, as well as avoiding tons of sulfur and nitrogen dioxide that cause acid rain. Manufacturers of windmills are learning how to make larger configurations with better gear assembly to get more energy out of fewer turbines. With advances in technology, the new nineteen new wind turbines can produce as much energy as fifty older wind turbines! Hydroelectric power is another efficient resource that can be obtained in almost any country of the world. Furthermore, with advancing knowledge of animal habitats, hydroelectric power dams can be installed in waterways with minimal impact on the surrounding environment. If humans took a lesson from nature, we could eliminate air pollution, energy shortages, and global warming and still live our lives the way we like. It has been estimated that a one hundred and forty square mile site of solar panels in Arizona could supply all the power needed for the United States. Likewise, the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Texas have enough wind resources to supply the entire United States with power. The answers are there we just need to open our eyes and use our minds.

What will happen to us if we don’t change, you ask yourself now. Unfortunately, if you ask a good question, in this case you get a bad answer. The predicted future of our planet if we don’t change is grim, and involves the flooding of our coastal cities, increased occurrences of environmental diseases, and the depletion of our natural habitats. In the past hundred years, the oceans have been estimated to have risen ten to twenty five centimeters, and if they continue to rise at the predicted rate, in another hundred years they will rise between one and seven meters (three to twenty three feet). This would lead to the flooding of many major coastal cities like New Orleans Venice, and many others. Also as a result of air pollution, we can look forward to many more respiratory illnesses like asthma, bronchitis, and acute respiratory failure. Not to mention the increase of malignant melanomas skin cancers as a result of ozone depletion due to human chemical production. And if this picture of the future were not scary enough, deforestation of the tropical rain forests from ‘slash and burn’ practices, the expanse of human civilization by ‘clear cut’ forestry, and the dumping of human trash off shore, has decreased the amount of animal habitats. This small rock we call earth is home for us, and millions of other species of animals trying to make their existence. It would be ignorant of us to think that polluting our environment would not come back to bite us in the rear, and it has. Farmers are forced to implement new technology to cope with lacking crop production. If where we have been is an indication of where we are going, than I think its safe to say that we are up a creek with out a paddle.

By implementing wiser energy conservation techniques we will leave future generations a healthier earth than was left to us. “Recycle, reduce, and reuse”, a popular slogan that was implemented around the United States several years ago in the attempt to curve our energy consumption trend. The main goal of most energy conservationist is to first conserve energy, then reduce energy, and then become completely self-sustaining. During the days following September 11, 2001, the FCC grounded all commercial air travel. In those few days, the positive environmental side effects of zero airliner exhaust, which would normally be contributing to global warming, were seen and it was estimated that the entire earth cooled two degrees. Recently Massachusetts’s legislature has passed a plan to increase renewable energy resource utilization by an additional four percent by the year two thousand and nine. Although this is a small step, it is the right step in the right direction, and with any luck other states will pick up the right idea and implement such steps of their own.

By burning fossil fuels we have destroyed our planet, by implementing new energy conservation techniques, we might pass to future generations what was not passed to us, a clean planet. Plants and animals have existed on this planet for millions of years longer than humans. Yet since we have been around we have changed the earth for the worse. We have polluted the air, melted the polar caps, and continue to do so with no end in sight. We have polluted our planet to such an extent that it can no longer heal itself. If there is one thing that nature has taught us, it’s that every thing is full circle. The planet we pollute is the one that provides us with food, shelter, and warmth. Once we destroy it, we have destroyed ourselves. Energy runs our society; it influences every aspect of our life style. In final twist of irony, during the writing of this paper, the power went out. In just a few seconds, it was very apparent how important energy is to the way we live our lives. As students and librarians walked about the facility with out a thing to do it was apparent how much of a role electricity plays in our society. We just flip on a switch, most of us don’t know where our power comes from or what it took to get it and most of us don’t care until the power is gone. Apathy will be the downfall of our great country, unless we change our ways we are bound to pollute ourselves out of existence. ‘Well what can I do?’ you might ask. Get involved any way you can go to seminars, support legislation, or watch ‘Captain Planet’ cartoons, any attempt to separate yourself from ignorance is a great attempt. Finally I would like to conclude with a quote from the movie “Fight Club” which describes the future, a future in which we don’t pollute the earth and ourselves out of existence, rather one in which we return to embrace our past and incorporate it into our future. “In the world I see — you’re stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You will wear leather clothes that last you the rest of your life. You will climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears

Tower. You will see tiny figures pounding corn and laying-strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of ruins of a superhighway.” Knowledge is power, find out every thing you can and don’t let this be the end of your intellectual search. When you find the facts, write to your government representatives to tell them that you support clean energy. Because after all, we are all in this compost heap together, and if we don’t take care of ourselves, no one will.

Books:
Hinrichs, Roger A., Kleinbach, Merlin. Energy – its use and the environment.
Ed3. Pub. Brooks / Cole. (2002)

Movies:
Fight CLub (1999), Perf. Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter,
Meat Loaf, Director: David Fincher. Producer: Ceán Chaffin, Art Linson, Ross
Bell. Screenwriter: Jim Uhls. Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
Official: http://www.foxmovies.com/fightclub/
Script: http://www.hundland.com/scripts/Fight-Club_third.htm
Related Websites:
Canadian challenge to reduce carbon dioxide air pollution:
http://www.ec.gc.ca/cleanair/index_e.cfm
Energy Information Agency:
http://www.eia.doe.gov
Department of Environmental Protection:
http://www.epa.doe.gov
American Wind Energy:
http://www.awea.org
World Watch Institute:
http://www.worldwatch.org

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