06 April 2009

A Sustainable Future: Youth and the Environment

Here on Blogspot, most of the posts that I have written thus far have been related to particular alternative energy sources or the ways in which this field is moving forward. This week, however, I decided to examine the environmental/alternative energy movement itself by commenting on two blog posts at sustainablog.org and TreeHugger (which I mentioned in my first post) that explain the role of youth and how to raise the next generation to be environmentally-friendly, respectively. Rachel Barge’s post copied at sustainablog.org, entitled “Media Savvy Youth are Blogging Coal to Death” explains how independent bloggers popularize anti-coal campaigns through organizations like Technorati and digg, thus creating an extremely negative image that stands in opposition to “clean coal,” something I have mentioned in previous posts. The TreeHugger entry, however, is written by Earthwatch Institute’s Alan Fortescue, who describes the connection between time spent outside as a child and an involvement with and love for nature. Although these posts are not directly related, I believe they highlight some important aspects of the campaign for cleaner power. The entry at sustainablog reveals how important the young age bracket is in pushing for governmental action and how it is often instrumental in debunking propaganda issued by economically entrenched fossil fuel conglomerates. The first post’s relation to the second at TreeHugger was an interesting one for me: since the benefits (or consequences) of today’s programs will not be experienced for many years, and since fossil fuels will eventually run out, teaching the next generation about preservation and responsible consumption is of paramount importance. Accordingly, Fortescue places a due responsibility on parents to raise their children in a manner that will open their minds to these of issues and give them a stake in maintaining a healthy Earth. My comments, posted below and linked to their original locations, display my agreement with these writers and my feelings that this is a fight that will be largely affected (and perhaps won) by the young and future generations.

"Media Savvy Youth are Blogging Coal to Death"

As a 21-year-old blogger that promotes alternative energy, this post truly hits home. First, let me express my happiness with how effective the work you cite has been: I have often heard of the power of the 18-25 age bracket at election time, and the last presidential election was the first time I was able to be a part of it. Indeed, this group of voters was extremely active even in the primaries, and the fact that they sometimes favored Obama to McCain two-to-one (see below) shows how influential they can be. Second, although your article speaks mostly only about the demise of coal at the hands of young bloggers, I believe that the internet “movement” is one that will be instrumental in fulfilling Obama’s promises for a greener future. The transition to renewable energy sources will be a hard-fought battle for as long as fossil fuels last, and in a government where lobbyists seem to have a great deal of sway over Congress, interest groups and large businesses continue to prosper. Thus, it is important that campaigns like the ones you mention are debunked, lest the public be fooled into supporting such farce (if I may speak so freely). Luckily, though, and as you write, as American use of the internet increases and as more anti-coal groups appear higher on Google search results, less people will buy into the commercials they see on television. This means that fewer people will tolerate the times when their legislators bow to heavy polluting conglomerates by giving them tax credits. Unfortunately, this process reveals what I believe is a larger quality of the American public today in regards to alternative energy: one of the biggest reasons renewable technologies have not taken off is that many people do not understand how they work. They see sources like coal as cheap, while solar and wind are thought to be unreliable. It therefore gives me great pleasure to read your article, and I will leave you with a question: do you believe that blogging can actually fast-track alternative energy? Or will it simply be one of the elements that encourage its unimpressively gradual introduction?

"Raising Environmentally-Conscious Kids"

As an individual who ran around barefoot outside for a great deal of my childhood, and as a blogger that supports environmental issues, I do believe that there is a connection between time spent outside as a child and how a person feels about nature. Indeed, I believe that this connection is rather basic in its qualities: it is hard to understand something—let alone care about it or defend it—without experiencing it. This is true for most things, and I think it is especially so for the environment. True, pictures of nature can be quite beautiful, especially when done by photographers like Ansel Adams, but I can personally attest (I am both a photographer and a lover of nature) to the fact that it is not the same as actually feeling the grass or sand between your toes.

I am also glad to see that someone is assigning the responsibility to raise environmentally-conscious children to parents. The environmental movement itself is one that must be carried on in the long-term, for drastic overnight changes are—so far—physically impossible. This means that the current reproducing generation must teach their kids about the environment and ensure that they have an interest in its preservation lest global warming have its way with the earth. Luckily, and as referenced by other sources, the generation that will soon be having children is having a large positive effect on this battle, and their advocacy is pushing forward important causes like alternative energy.

However, an unfortunate fact that you mention is that video games, which decrease creativity and discourage activeness and playing outside, are increasing in popularity. It is for this reason that public service announcement campaigns like VERB are important, as they promote going outdoors and games like tag as substitutes for Xbox or the Wii. Another problem that you mentioned, however, comes from germophobic parents—something that little can be done about. What, if any, are your suggestions for fighting this trend? For all I can think, the only course of action is to support clean parks and recreation areas in legislation and hope that Huggies continues to make commercials showing that getting a little dirty is okay.

All in all, I very much enjoyed your post and will be sure to send my kids outside when I am a father.

30 March 2009

The Kyoto Protocol: Is America Undercutting Progress?

At the end of my last post, I mentioned the Kyoto Protocol and the recalcitrance of the United States to ratify this international agreement. Briefly described, it requires thirty-seven of the major industrialized nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by a particular amount before 2012 (this amount is country-specific), and those ratifying the treaty are bound to its terms. It may not be readily apparent, but U.S. refusal to participate in this regime has extremely significant ramifications for the field of alternative energy. A simple analysis of carbon dioxide release—one of the most important greenhouse gases regulated in the Protocol—reveals that the largest sources are coal (see below), oil, and gas power plants, as well as gasoline-burning automobiles. Thus, any U.S. involvement would produce huge changes for industries and possibly force more vigorous development of alternative energies. American refusal to ratify the treaty seems to continue, however: the New York Times recently reported that the Obama administration has invited leaders from the European Union and sixteen of the world’s major economies to Washington, D.C. for the purpose of discussing energy and climate issues. Written by Andrew Revkin, the article notes that the “Major Economies Meetings on Energy Security and Climate Change” are an extension of similar talks organized by the Bush administration and part of an American attempt to skirt Kyoto and develop its own solution.

This longstanding effort had sparked an argument over whether these kinds of meetings undermine United Nations-brokered treaties like the one under discussion. The Times explains that most of the criticism of summits akin to Obama's hails from developing countries, which believe that the U.S. and other industrialized states are simply attempting to circumvent true global agreement and shut out smaller governments. Other prominent environmentalists, however, believe that despite the fact that these meetings do not take place in a U.N. setting, they are nonetheless essential in that they help find “common ground among the world’s biggest emitters of heat-trapping gases.” As a scholar of international relations, I feel a responsibility to address this issue. Are talks of this nature helpful, or do they simply create an exclusive camp that argues in opposition to the developing community when it comes time to negotiate at the United Nations? It is my belief that, although exclusive in nature, the Major Economies Meetings on Energy Security and Climate Change will be important because they can bring the United States to the negotiating table on an issue that they have traditionally been very disinclined to discuss. It is this kind of meeting that may lead to some of the most needed developments in alternative energy and combat climate change.

The battle for environmental causes is not a new one. It was only in 1997, however, that the Kyoto Protocol was signed. Internationally renowned, the Protocol represents one of the first truly compulsory international covenants on greenhouse gases, but continued U.S. refusal to ratify it is an indicator that there are some critical flaws. Indeed, domestic support is still very weak because Kyoto does not place binding targets on some of the heaviest polluting developing countries. In order to understand why an alternative treaty is a necessity, we must flush out a few important conditions. First, I note that serious terms are imposed upon some industrialized countries while exempting many others such as Ch
ina—one of the world’s leading emitters—from mandatory standards. Second, it must be acknowledged that the United States has historically been among the top five highest polluters (see right). Lastly, recall that the U.S. government has repeatedly voiced its refusal to sign any environmental accord that exempts others, citing economic concerns. Specifically, the U.S. is concerned about its industries’ competitiveness when restricted by the Protocol when other international companies are not. Combined, these factors practically force the need for an additional agreement that brings in the United States. Indeed, as the BBC reported, U.S. non-participation would produce less than a 5% average reduction in world greenhouse gas emissions, thus rendering it ineffective. And, nearly four years after the treaty came into effect, it is obvious that the U.S. will not be changing its policy toward the pact in time to make any real difference (Kyoto’s terms end in 2012). Obama has already become known as a president that has reversed some of the previous administration’s decisions rather quickly. Unfortunately for Kyoto, Obama’s call for an independent meeting of leading economies is compelling evidence that he has no intentions of reversing the Bush administration's position in this matter.

I do not believe that the international community should reward what appears to be diplomatically immature behavior on the part of the United States, but I agree with National Wildlife Fund president Larry Schweiger in that policy makers should recognize the extreme consequences of not having this economic giant on board and consider any reasonable alternate efforts the U.S. makes to reduce its emissions. True enough, Obama’s meetings will shut out many developing countries. The Protocol does not currently obligate these states to make any reductions, however, the meetings will involve those that are subject to targets while also including some key governments that are not (China), making it not entirely private in nature. Additionally, this makeup is perhaps an appropriate one: without sounding too pretentious, it must be acknowledged that those invited include both the worst offenders and the biggest economies in the world. And if the hurdles rendering Kyoto ineffective are economic ones, then an independent meeting of countries party to these problems may be the only way to achieve any real progress. These kinds of agreements place necessary pressure on world governments, and by forcing reductions of harmful emissions they can encourage the growth of alternative energy. I contend that complaints about exclusivity, especially when voiced by a group that is not coerced into action, undercut the true spirit of environmental cooperation. Accentuating petty differences to stop any potential moves forward is deplorable, and as a generation that will greatly affect the environment's future, we have a responsibility take action.

09 March 2009

Green Government: The Administration's Role in Cultivating a Greener America

In a previous post, I discussed the benefits afforded to the green energy industry by the recently passed stimulus package, noting that the effort to save these companies will be long-term despite the excellent boost provided in the legislation. This week, however, I thought it necessary to delve deeper into the government's role in the transition of America's economy to a greener one, using two posts that I discovered through the BBC and the New York Times. The first post, coincidentally written by the previously cited Kate Galbraith, details a meeting of the "Middle Class Task Force," whose members include the Vice President and some of his advisors. Galbraith notes some of the highlights of this Philadelphia meeting, placing particular reverence on the statements of Van Jones, the founder of the non-governmental organization Green For All, who stated that green jobs should be used to clean up the ghettos first. The second post I will address is part of Justin Rowlatt's "Ethical Man" blog (see left), a series in which Rowlatt chronicles his trip across America examining solutions to global warming. A congenial and pleasant writer, Rowlatt recently wrote about the importance of America's contribution to the climate change campaign, calling its involvement a true "game changer," and admitting that his trip has begun to raise his hopes for a global agreement on climate change in general. Though these posts are relatively broad in scope, I felt it important to spend some time addressing the part the United States government will play in reference to alternative energy and even the effort to stem climate change in general. My responses to these posts display my sentiments that the current administration is pushing in the right direction, filling some important shoes in the international fight against global warming. I have, as previously done, linked to my comments at their original sites, but also pasted them here to avoid any access-related problems.

"Biden, Luminaries Promote Green Jobs"

Kate, thank you so much for taking some time to focus on the efforts of our current administration. I feel that we have reached a turning point in the fight against climate change, and as a proponent of alternative energy I am so encouraged by the meeting you have discussed in this post.

I would like to ask you about a particular part of your post. In your description of the Middle Class Task Force's meeting, you state that "it was Van Jones, a green-jobs activist and one of the panelists, who brought down the house," noting that his suggestion that we use green jobs to encourage the decline of violence in ghettos. Do you feel that this is an achievable objective? During my research on alternative energy, I have often read and even posted about the green sector's potential to create enough jobs to pull the American economy out of the gutter, but I have never read about its ability to reduce violence in ghettos. Clearly, though, Van Jones has immense faith in the green industry's ability to lift people out of poverty, and I think this is an admirable and unique approach to take on the subject. Indeed, Green for All's website states that the creation of "green-collar" jobs will pair "two crucial concerns about survival - the environment and making a living." The transition to a green economy will undoubtedly produce many opportunities and Jones's Green for All movement is an example of the diverse groups that believe in this fact. Personally, I feel that full dedication to the green movement is the only way that we can see a change both in the American economy and in global emissions, and such changes have the ability to bring out a complete restructuring of these realms, including the creation of several new financial sectors, like those seen in Silicon Valley or even downtown areas in general. I am proud to have voted for an administration that has formed a Middle Class Task Force, and its conversation about the opportunities of green-collar jobs enhances my faith in the abilities of the transition we are experiencing.

"Why America is the game-changer on climate"

Justin, first allow me to voice my excitement and say that I greatly enjoy your blog. What a great way to experience the emerging green industries and explore America's efforts on climate change! That being said, I would like to address some of the facets of your post about America's role in the fight against global warming.

I am glad you have pointed out that, while there are economic risks involved with becoming the first "low carbon economy," Obama is not willing to stand by and watch American industries and consumers continue to degrade the environment. The cap-and-trade idea has been controversial to say the least, but it is wrong for us to expect a perfect solution. Some environmentalists argue that this is one way that economically productive polluters stay entrenched in their position: by pointing out only the flaws in potential solutions and arguing that we must wait for comprehensive tactic that will show immediate results without causing any collateral damage. To counter this argument and risk sounding colloquial, you have to crack some eggs if you want to make an omelet: while I do not believe that America will be economically crippled by a leading position on climate change, we must accept that some changes will be made. The result, however, is something Dr. Hansen, cited in your post, said: we will avoid "catastrophic climate change." I do, however, wonder about your position on the issue. Do you believe the economic hurdles are too great to conquer this issue? Do you believe that the alternative energy cause will die before it is truly developed?

Secondly, I would like to commend Hillary Clinton (see right), who has been putting climate change at the heart of her foreign policy trips. This is important, for as you said, any plan to stop climate change (such as the cap-and-trade system) "will need to try to ensure that no country seeks to profit from the rest of the world's attempt to tackle global warming by operating as a kind of off-store high-carbon industrial centre." Thus, implementing these concerns in foreign policy is imperative, especially if America wishes to construct its own alternative to the Kyoto Protocol. To conclude and to respond to your question, America will definitely be the game-changer on climate. It is extremely influential, and the inclusion of climate change in foreign policy will allow it to push this movement forward.

02 March 2009

Smart Grids: An Important First Step

In recent posts, I have spent time discussing some alternatives to traditional sources of electricity, and weighed the costs and benefits of a few of those currently under development. As these entries pointed out, advances in this field are becoming more and more possible due to the benevolent political environment ushered in by Barack Obama's inauguration and evidenced by the stimulus package's provisions for a new, greener energy sector. I have no doubts that Obama's policies will push these technologies forward. However, I do believe that this transition will be a long and difficult one and that America must do whatever it can to continue in this direction at every moment. It is for this reason that a General Electric commercial (see left) advertising "smart grids" caught my eye in the past week. Further research led me to a CNN article that gave me a better understanding of what smart grids can do: increase America's energy efficiency, thereby reducing both its impact on the environment as well as its dependence on foreign oil. The argument is simple and to the point. Smart grids lower the amount of electricity wasted, significantly cutting down on the total amount that America uses. But how useful will these grids be, and will they really affect or greatly change America's energy industry? Additionally, what effects will they have on alternative energy sources? By discussing the CNN article and this new technology in general, I will show that each of these questions yields a positive answer. Smart grid governance will restructure individual Americans' experiences, lowering cost and increasing public participation in the industry, all the while making it easier for alternative energy to gain a bigger edge in the market.

Let us tackle these questions one at a time, beginning with the question of utility. The CNN article states that smart grids use digital methods to distribute electricity more efficiently. The benefits of such a change are immense: "According to research sponsored by the U.S. Government, improving the efficiency of the national electricity grid by 5 per cent would be the equivalent of eliminating the fuel use and carbon emissions of 53 million cars." This is a staggering statistic, especially when we combine it with GE's data that utilization of the technology in question by only 50% of American homes would result in a CO2 reduction of over 18 million tons-an amount that some countries could not even imagine emitting, let alone cutting. If we define these efforts as important, which we must, then smart grids are extremely useful. Second, full implementation of these grids will greatly alter the way Americans interact with their energy companies. In addition to inherently lower costs, consumers that produce electricity on their own, such as those with solar panels on their roof (see right) or even a coal furnace in their home, will be able to sell any power they produce in home back to the grid. This surely changes the nature of consumption, but the technology goes even further. Homeowners will have the ability to monitor their energy usage and determine what amount each appliance or object in their home is utilizing by checking their smart meters, allowing for more cost-efficient lifestyles. At a fundamental level, too, smart grids will also require massive restructuring of the existing grid system, needing nation-wide changes and participation to be truly effective; it is not as impressive on a micro-scale. Lastly, and in view of this blog’s main topic, we must consider what smart grids can do for alternative energy. The CNN article explains that one of the major contributions is the decentralization of the industry, making each source of power, regardless of type or size, regionally important. Indeed, CNN writes, “your future home would be as likely to be powered by electricity from a neighbor's roof-top solar panel, or a biomass generator on the edge of town, as from a traditional power plant 50 or 100 miles away.” As others have written, the smart grid’s storage capabilities also dispel concerns about alternative energy’s reliability, a problem I have previously discussed, by essentially saving up what is not used.

It is at this point that I wish to bring other dimensions to the discussion. In particular, combining this strategy with other alternative energy projects will make for a comprehensively effective way to combat global warming and reduce America’s carbon emissions. A recent article shows how individual electric cars may some day influence the amount of power surging through a grid, making them one of the potential sources to power a microwave or refrigerator at home. Indeed, industry experts and businesspeople in Michigan found the relationship between electric cars and smart grid technology so compelling that they held a forum guided by an exploration of this connection and the effect it will have on Michigan’s future. Others still are investigating how to directly associate wind power’s input with electric cars’ strain on grids, using smart grid technology to enhance efficiency and better manage fluctuations in production and consumption. There are undoubtedly additional direct connections under research, and a consideration of the relationship at a basic level-electric grid, electric vehicle-reveals a strong case for continuing such research. Indeed, breaking America’s foreign oil dependency may not only prove environmentally helpful, but it is possible that it will actually enhance its security as well, as Thomas L. Friedman argues in the April 15, 2007 issue of New York Times Magazine. After detailing numerous reasons why smart grids are useful and how they will change the face of the energy industry while enhancing the prospects for alternative energy, however, I wish to close by returning to recurring theme in previous posts: continuing development in this sector will provide more jobs for a struggling American economy. The CNN article also supports this argument, specifically stating that “every $1 billion in government spending would lead to approximately 30,000 jobs per year.” Unfortunately, a theory that has been offered in the past to explain why alternative energy has not caught on is one that I subscribe to: people do not understand new technologies and do not want to support them because of it. This, too, is a concern detailed in the article, but it is my hope that smart grid technology will catch on as it is fundamentally an improvement of existing infrastructure. With so many concrete benefits, it would be foolish not to support these measures.

23 February 2009

Alternative Energy: Cut-throat Industry, Stimulus Beneficiary?

My previous entry delved into the debate surrounding the production of electricity by coal plants, highlighting some of the difficulties in shifting away from this method and advocating cleaner methods of energy production like solar and wind power. I also touched briefly on newly inaugurated President Obama’s possible move later this year to tax the coal industry in order to accelerate the U.S.’s transition to a greener economy. A corollary to this possibility is the question of how much the stimulus package Obama (see left) so vigorously promoted will assist the emerging clean energy industry-a question raised in a recent blog post by Kate Galbraith, a New York Times’ Green Inc. blog writer who previously worked as a correspondent for The Economist. Finding Galbraith’s post both insightful as well as relevant to the topic of my blog, I have taken time to read and comment upon it at the New York Times’ website, expressing my hope and excitement that the silver lining of the economy cloud may be the green industry’s potential to flourish. The other post I will consider here (originally published by The New American but cited by Eric Leech at TreeHugger) addresses safety issues of nuclear power, suggesting that nuclear plants are much safer and have a better record than solar or wind power in terms of accidents and deaths. I feel that this topic is an interesting one when considering the future of the energy economy, especially since new government funding means new lobbying for this assistance. These two posts have generated much discussion at their respective sites-the nuclear vs. solar/wind energy post especially so. In order to frame my comments to these posts, the reader may examine them at their original sites, to which I have linked. I have also copied them below to circumvent any technical difficulties.

"Will the Stimulus Help Wind and Solar?"

It is clear that Americans will prove to be rather polarized on an issue like renewable energy and its subsidization during the economic downturn (see: this post’s comments). This is a logical response, considering that an economy like the one the U.S. is experiencing is, by nature, frightening to both investors and individual consumers. For this reason, alternative energy’s needs as a fledgling industry may be at quite a disadvantage. Therefore, there are some facets of green energy’s investment climate (no pun intended) that I would like to address.

First, I would like to point out that those who are considering investments in the green energy industry are still most likely looking at a long term benefits picture despite the years of extreme growth that the industry experienced before the recession hit. The statements you have made regarding the stimulus package’s inability to produce an immediate rebound for companies like Renewable Energy Systems Americas are significant: I have serious doubts that any developments (short of every American suddenly feeling financially secure and spending vast amounts of their savings) in the near future will produce a macroeconomic miracle. Thus, it is important for any potential investor to realize the concrete benefits green energy industries are receiving through the stimulus package, yet not expect too much, if we have any hopes of giving companies like Mr. Kruse’s the capital they need to move forward with these technologies.

Second, and more succinctly, I would like to voice my optimism for the prospects of alternative energy in general. Jack Lesard raised an important point when he assured another commenter that coal is also subsidized; the notion that we are subsidizing an “expensive” industry is absurd, as our government does indeed have “Big Energy” in mind, and whether that means solar, wind, nuclear, or coal is pretty much irrelevant, considering that many of these industries are mixed. For many reasons, I feel that alternative energy gives America an opportunity to create jobs when they are desperately needed as well as allows us to secure a cleaner future for our children. I would appreciate any opinions you (or other posters) might have regarding alternative energy’s ability (or inability) to help the U.S. out of its economic rut.

"Wind vs. Nuclear Energy: Wind Power Deemed Far More Dangerous"

The article you have cited here seems to reek of interest group mentality-something you appear to have noticed as you dub those involved “spin-mysters.” I appreciate your bringing this article to the TreeHugger community so it may be discussed by an audience other than The New American’s.

It has been widely addressed in the comments prior to mine that the statistics gathered by the original article are skewed and inaccurate, and this is important to realize. As the first poster pointed out, The New American (see below right) is an affiliate of the John Birch Society, and following a few easy-to-find links informs us that this organization endorses continued development of coal power as well as increased harvesting in Alaska. Thus, as an affiliate of the John Birch Society, The New American is hardly looking to publish articles praising alternative energies like wind and solar. I am sure we could find alarming statistics about nuclear and coal power if we were to read a report done by an affiliate of Greenpeace, and in fact, I would welcome any such statistics you or those that have commented might be able to offer. The point, though, is that we must really consider these findings with a grain of salt.

To conclude my comment, I will offer my own opinion on the matter. It appears to me that, just like any other emerging market, the alternative energy industry will be characterized by different companies (solar, wind, nuclear, geothermal) competing for investors and government subsidies, and these companies will undoubtedly publish negative findings about other sources in order to secure these benefits for themselves (and I thought we had just left the election behind). However, if there is anything that I have learned about the future of alternative energy, it is that it cannot be perfectly focused. If we are going to devote ourselves to a cleaner future, we must realize the risks and deficiencies of each source, whether these manifest themselves as a nuclear meltdown or simple noise pollution. Thus, it is my opinion that we need not make the alternative energy industry a zero-sum game; every new source has its benefits and its drawbacks and we must produce a comprehensive plan for it to work.

18 February 2009

Kicking Our Coal Habit: America's Clean Energy Hurdle

While the notion that global warming is caused or at least accelerated by human actions was initially greeted by skepticism, the politicization and popularization of the issue by individuals like Al Gore has led to what may be considered a general acceptance that something must be done to slow down the process. As a result, transnational interest groups and domestic lobbyists have been pressuring governments to fund research for and encourage the development of alternative energy sources in order to minimize the impact humans have on the environment. Surely, any doubts that efficiency has reached the forefront of American concerns can be quelled by a sampling of current automobile commercials, as the majority of them highlight any upgrades in the miles-per-gallon statistics of their models. The discussion on renewable energy is not limited to the elimination of gasoline usage in cars, however, and it is important to explore other realms as well. A case in point was portrayed in a recent New York Times article that examines one of the American energy program’s biggest problems: the use of coal as a source of electricity. The article opens with and spends a large amount of time detailing the story of James Rogers, the chief executive of Charlotte, North Carolina based Duke Energy, who repeatedly finds himself the victim of environmental protests. This is not a surprising fact, however, considering the evidence the article provides: when combining several of Duke's solar energy endeavors with some of its wind power projects we see the production of 124 megawatts of electricity, while just one of its new coal plants will produce 800 megawatts. At first glance, this statistic may cause some to believe that coal energy is more efficient and thus should not be phased out of use. True enough, coal energy is traditionally very cheap to produce and the article’s appropriate title asks, “Is America ready to quit coal?” This is an important question to ask and it is my opinion that America is indeed up to the task.

The movement away from coal power will most likely heat up as the Obama administration settles in. For now, though, allow me to consider the difficulties and benefits of migrating to cleaner sources of energy. The New York Times article presents several reasons to support both sides of the debate and serves as a good jumping off point for a more thorough examination of the evidence. On the coal producers’ team are those who point out that some states depend more heavily on this type of power than others, and say that these states will therefore feel more of an economic burden. Their tendency to use coal is due to these plants' cheapness and easy construction, which gives them an obvious advantage over alternative energy plants that must be built in conjunction with one another to produce the same amount of electricity. This inherent difficulty is compounded by the economic difficulties being confronted in America—it is hard for citizens to find themselves in a position to pay more for electricity when they are trying to cut costs and balance their accounts. In fact, the commodity has become so expensive for some consumers that there has been an increase in the sale of coal furnaces (see above left) used to heat homes—an alternative to buying electricity from utility companies. Still others believe that the changeover to clean energy will not be as easy as its proponents say, complaining that the many types available will not be as reliable, which is not a new argument by any stretch of the imagination: one of the classic critiques of the alternative energy industry is that solar panels cannot produce power during bad weather, likewise with wind turbines where it is not windy. Thus, the argument concludes, any attempt to rely solely on methods such as these will result in failure. Additionally, the Times article explains that new infrastructure could cost hundreds of billions of dollars, and investment in emerging technologies will require even more funding. In the end, many coal producers find themselves holding out for “clean coal,” and a campaign to pursue this idea has been launched alongside a commercial supporting coal’s image.

These reasons, however, do not convince me that coal is the way of the future. Soon after the release of the clean coal commercial, activist groups joined the fight with their own commercials, and campaigns like Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s and This is Reality (see below) debunk the myth that coal can ever be clean. The attack on the reliability of alternative energy is unfounded as well, as strategies pairing energy storage with limited natural gas power conquer this concern. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that we can continue using fundamentally unclean methods of energy production when there is much opportunity in the field of green technology. A report by the Worldwatch Institute, for example, explains that over 400,000 people are employed by the wind power industry alone, and that governments around the world are using the transition to green energy as a way to create jobs. Surely, Obama’s intention to encourage employment opportunities in order to stem the economic downturn can be supplemented by the beginning of such an effort, and the Times article seems to point to his support of discontinuing coal power production by referencing the possibility of additional fees for these plants later this year. It is true that many alternative energy sources such as geothermal energy will require additional funding well into the future, but donations like one made by Google point to the willingness of American companies to fund this type of research. Additionally, any semblance of clean coal, which so far has been accomplished through a “capture and store” method, could double the price of the electricity produced. If we are attempting to clean up our emissions, why should we waste our time building more coal plants that will never truly produce clean energy? Not only are we denying ourselves plenty of new jobs and more electricity, but with the production of alternative energy plants we would be buying the unquantifiable commodity of a cleaner atmosphere for the future. We must not believe the clean coal commercials funded by executives at the head of companies responsible for one-third of America’s emissions, and instead of installing coal furnaces at home we should continue to think of more creative ways to prepare our homes for energy’s future. It is in America's best interest to prepare for the move away from coal.

09 February 2009

Alternative Energy: A Discovery of the Web's Resources

As a new participant in the blogosphere, and as a scholar interested in environmental issues, I hope to create a blog that will contain information relevant to the field of alternative energy. With this in mind and as a responsible blogger, I felt it necessary to provide a set of links for visitors to explore so they may conduct further research in this field. To facilitate my search for these resources, I used web directories like USA.gov and the Internet Public Library as well as blog search engines like the one at Technorati. The results may be perused via the linkroll (see right), which lists a number of sites that I feel are valuable when considering the environment and/or alternative energy. Some of the links, like the BBC's Green Room, are news sites that publish articles about the environment and alternative energy in general, while others point to particular environmental NGOs or specific alternative energy programs. There are also a few blogs in the linkroll, such as TreeHugger (see below) - a popular green blog that offers advice on "how to go green" in everyday life as well as a plethora of green topics to browse through. To ensure the quality of these links, I followed the guidelines provided by the Webby Awards and the IMSA for websites and blogs, respectively. Thus, the websites I selected meet or exceed the Webby Awards' standards for content, structure and navigation, visual design, functionality, interactivity, authority, and overall experience. The World Energy Council, for example, is an informative website for those wishing to research international efforts to promote sustainable energy. Its effective organization and provision of official WEC documents give it a functional and helpful interface; it even provides documents in three additional languages. An examination of TreeHugger will show that the blogs in the linkroll follow the IMSA guidelines. TreeHugger's affiliation with Discovery Communications makes its authors credible, while its addition of "over 30 posts each day" ensures that it is current and active. Its visual design alone is stunning, and the ability to jump to the next post so that it fits the user's screen perfectly makes TreeHugger all the more enjoyable to read. The IMSA guidelines' concern about a blog's influence is also satiated by the fact that TreeHugger has over 60,000 subscribers and undoubtedly many more casual viewers. Additionally, the blog covers a wide range of topics in its postings, from green artwork to garbage-powered garbage trucks. In sum, I have applied the standards referenced in this post to each item in the linkroll, and though I hope that visitors to The Windmill will find my postings informative and interesting, I also feel that the links I have included will provide additional helpful resources for those wishing to look further into alternative energy.
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