Thursday, December 03, 2009

Human Coal

Physicians for Social Responsibility has issued a report entitled Coal's Assault on Human Health. It makes for very interesting reading. Please, read it. At least the summary at the beginning.

Nearly half of the electricity we use in the United States is produced by burning coal. We burned 1.026 billion tons of it in 2006. For years, human beings have been researching the adverse health effects from pollution produced by coal and its various pollutants. We even have statistics for the number of deaths and illnesses linked to coal pollution per TerraWatt hour of energy produced.

That's an interesting way to think about things. According to these statistics, for instance, we might attribute 50,000 deaths per year in the U.S. might be attributed to coal. It is one thing to quote some unimaginable quantity of coal being consumed each year; but to measure energy use in terms of a body count, throwing 50,000 human lives into the furnace just in our country, it might inspire us to give a little more respect to two principles:

1. being mindful of our energy usage, and avoiding wasteful consumption of energy.

2. demanding a more urgent approach to energy policy, one that funds research and development of other ways to produce (and store) electricity.

Lip service aside, we really need to be further along than we are on transitioning energy technology. Our power plants are spewing too much sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. Cleaner and renewable sources need to be developed and brought on-line so that we can phase out coal plants.

As I say to my elementary school students, so I say to our policymakers: "You can do this; it is a choice."


Pam said...

There seems to be so much on the Federal plate right now that cleaner and new energy sources is not one of the immediate portions anymore.

Also, right now, very few people can afford to do more than try to conserve ( which I've been doing for quite awhile ). Right now most fuel efficient new cars cost quite a bit. Some of us can't afford a new car, period.

Retrofitting homes or building so-called green homes right now is VERY expensive. People are out of jobs and having to cut back on just the basics at this time. This basic survival doesn't include much of new anything.

The pie, the wallet on stretches so far, be it personal or national. Hopefully, some of what is needed in addressing this issue will be affordable to be developed, brought on-line and put into use by the general publin in the near future.

But, on the personal level, no matter the budget, conservation should be a part of every life in many different ways: fuel, energy, water, etc.

Algernon said...

You and I are not considered rich in the United States, but on a global scale we are still among the world's most privileged. A great many ordinary people on this planet think about their use of food and fuel much differently than we do.

I've noticed that whenever I write about human challenges that call for rethinking our way of doing things, you have a resistant response. Resisting change is an understandable response -- even when the alternatives threaten our lives. How many people have refused to quit smoking even when the doctor tells them they *will* die if they don't?

That said, if all you can do is conserve a little, conserve a little. After a while, take another look -- maybe conserving a little more isn't such a big deal after all, and you can do a little more. Maybe, maybe not. Your situation is not the same as mine.

But what's true for both of us is: we can't see what's possible until we open our eyes.

Pam said...

I'm hardly resistant to change. I've had to change my lifestyle considerably in the past year or so.

I'm much more aware of what I spend and where I can save, be it financially, or conservation. It's a necessity. Awareness and practice where I can has become the norm.

I can't afford to replace older, less-efficient appliances at this time. When I must, my choices are more driven by price than by energy efficency. Much of what is rated so-called energy star is questionable, according to recent news reports, and most are out of my price range, anyway.

I guess my general point was that many of us would love to be able to replace our applicances with the truly energy efficient. We'd love to be able to retrofit our homes to be greener and cheaper to maintain. I've love a more fuel efficient car, but I'm sure I"ll my driving my current vehicle for the duration. Replacing my car is not an option.

Right now, the price tag is prohibitive for the majority of us. I also indicated that the administration has so many irons in the fire at the moment that real efforts at addressing the enviroment or doing much more than lip service is just not happening. It has dropped way down on the priority scale.

You often write about these things on a global or abstract scale. I respond on a personal level. In the end that is how things will change, for the most part. On a personal level. The government and corporations have the ability to develop the green technology and to implement it. It it each individual who will make the daily decisions as to how to conserve and use the technologies as they come our way.

So, if my replies are from a single or personal perspective, that's becuase it it. I pay my taxes and the government chooses how to use my tax dollars ( often, not to my liking ).

I have changed my lifestyle out of necessity, hardly due to some noble calling. Would I have done so otherwise? I honestly can't answer that. Possibly not. But, nevertheless, I have become a more aware consumer of my environment and all that entails.

Algernon said...

You do respond on the personal level, and well you should: the personal IS the global. That is a major theme of this blog. So you fit right in.

What I point out is that I notice something that may or may not be of interest to you: that you say "can't" far more often than you say, "Maybe this is possible, or this, or this." And you do not always speak for yourself alone when you enumerate the "can'ts."

There are lots of things I can't do, that I would like to do and think would be of help. But I try to start from where I am and look at what is possible, as opposed to saying, "No I can't." For instance, I can't buy a hybrid car either. But, if I organize myself a little bit differently, I could walk to my rehearsals -- and maybe even walk or bike to work more days than not.

Focusing on stuff you can't do soon makes you feel cynical, futile, or despondent; focusing on what you can do, even if it's a small step in the right direction, makes you strong and creative.

Pam said...

You're right in that focusing on the "can't dos" isn't productive.

I focus on what I can do every day of my life.

While I can't walk or bike to work or to the places I need to go on a regular basis, I do try to combine trips every chance I get.

I conserve water as much as I can and I have lowered/raised my thermostats much of the time. Virtually every light in my house uses the energy-saving bulbs. I'm not overly fond of them, but I use the.

I nag about lights left on or outside doors left open.

I have 2 recycle carts and 1 trash cart. I recycle more than I toss into the trash. I replace air filters on a regular basis.

All these things are little things that I started doing some time ago. They are now engrained and even habits the kids practice without thinking ( well most of the time they do).

So, I do focus on the 'cans'. I'm aware of what I can do in the smaller circles of my life. I do realize that I have little control over what goes on the the ever-expanding circles in my world. However, I also realize that, as each of us does what I do, you do, or anyone else does, we impact the larger circles in this life.

My 2 youngest gransons will recycle as adults as it will be the norm for them rather than the exceptions. They will both be more environmentally aware because that is what they see and do and because the schools they attend are also big on being environmentally conservative.