5.05.2010

Reduce!


The United States uses more oil per day than any other country in the world. In fact, the US uses triple the amount than the second highest user, China. That is approximately 20 million barrels per day compared to China's 7 million per day. Also, the US uses the most nuclear energy in the world by almost double. Wind and water power usage puts America at third and fourth place respectively. Although, in the United States, oil and nuclear power are obviously favored, energy consumption of all types is extremely high. Switching the numbers for the amount of energy used from oil to wind, for example, may ease the burden on the environment, but reducing overall consumption of energy is a simpler way to ensure continued sustainability with our current resources; not to mention cleaner and healthier living for everyone.

At our current rate, energy consumption between 2006 and 2030 is expected to continue to increase by 44% (1). As most people know, oil is not a renewable energy source and wind/solar/hydro energy doesn't output as highly. That means many more nuclear power plants are likely to be built and 40 more would have to be built over the next 30 years to simply keep up with this current rate. Nuclear power will be a major key in future energy production because of the limited supply of oil which we are tearing through at a ferocious rate, while also reducing CO2 emissions that are the destructive force behind energy from oil (2). Though oil fuel's negative affects are, by now, quite evident, nuclear power isn't without it's own, even more dangerous drawbacks.

One negative effect of nuclear energy is the waste. Radioactive uranium 235 has a half life of 704 million years so it's waste storage must be in an extremely secure and monitored facility; but there is no way to completely safegaurd from the waste's effects. For example, in a South Carolina waste processing facility, their two main buildings are so contaminated that there is no way they can ever be decommissioned. Leaks and spills of radioactivity happen there all the time. In one such spill the contamination rose higher than their instruments could measure and with several casualties. If anything were to happen to the electricity or man power behind keeping the waste secure, the radioactvity would be devastating to all surrounding life (see chapter 10 of The World Without Us).

Besides the radiation, uranium itself is a toxic metal and you do not need to handle it to be affected. Studies have found that people living near government facilities, weapons testing grounds (current or in the past), or uranium processing plants easily inhale and ingest uranium dust that causes reproductive defects and failure of the kidney, brain, lungs, and heart. Do not think that this doesn't affect you where you live. Did you know that there is a nuclear reactor on the University of Utah campus? There's also one in Point Beach and Kewaunee, Wisconsin. They are all over and, as described above, more and more will be built in the future. Your region is not safe from a nuclear build site (3).

Moving on, wind energy is a much better alternative to using oil or nuclear power because it doesn't create emissions or hazardous waste. However, it is not without negative impacts. Wind can be unreliable and not produce the same amount of energy as other methods and so many turbines have to be built to get the same amount of power. The more turbines that are built the more they displace wildlife: overall disrupting the ecosystem. This is also the case with dams for hydroelectricity. Likewise, panels for solar power, though having less of an impact when used on a small scale because they can be placed on already existing buildings, displace animals when large areas are levelled and many hundred panels are installed. Overall, the draw backs to cleaner produced power like wind/hydro/solar are far less damaging and better alternatives than oil and nuclear energy. Yet, if we use energy at such a critically increasing rate, the amount of turbines, dams, and panels that would need to be erected is quite a feat and not welcome in our already shrinking wild lands.


So what can you do? If all forms of energy production have side effects how can we reduce the impact on the Earth? The answer is to use your own energy. The sun and water give life to plants and animals which humans eat to get energy. You can then use that energy to chop wood and build a fire. With that fire you can heat your home, cook your food, see in the dark, then use the wood ashes to fertilize your garden. This is maybe a quaint example but it holds true as an idealistic model. Obviously, however, not everyone has a fireplace or the space to cook food over a fire, but there are other ways to chip into energy reduction as well.

Reducing consumption of energy in your home isn't as hard as it seems. Unplug electronics that aren't being used, insulate your home and wear warm clothing instead of turning up the heat, or you could wash your clothes by hand once in a while to not have to turn on the washer/dryer. Also, try picking one day out of the month that you only use candles at home instead turning the lights on: it's not as inconvenient as you think. You can view a government website detailing energy usage in the home and how to reduce it HERE. Of course using some oil/nuclear/wind/etc energy isn't completely bad and that is not what this article is meant to convey. However, we are not only using "some", we are using so much all at once that our habitat will not be able to sustain it, so considering some reduction is a reasonable and ultimately life saving request.

Bottom line, in an age when consumption of energy, especially oil, is rising and it is clear that other methods of energy production need to be utilized, why haven't more steps been taken in the right direction? Maybe it has something to do with how the top 4 out of 5 most profitable companies in the world are oil companies; including Shell, Exxon, BP, and Chevron (the one non-oil company, if you're curious, is Walmart). Even though nuclear power is second most used in the US, it still only accounts for about 20% of our energy making oil a huge American dependency (and an expensive one). Fuels made from things as simple as corn can be very efficient, but research and actual production of them is quite stifled. In the end, we can try to reduce our own energy consumption which helps greatly, but it's clear that something larger is controlling the energy industry and exploiting it to the max.

Let's re-explore our own options in the reduction of energy consumption, but let's also hold accountable the companies who control the puppet strings of the energy consumer market.

3 comments:

HH said...

Another option is to make our energy capture more efficient. A huge amount of power is lost in dams that could be captured if there was funding for R&D. Solar panels as well are getting more efficient so that smaller panels capture more energy. Instead of abandoning our power sources we should make them better.
I also believe that downsizing our living helps too. Larger houses cost more in energy than do smaller houses. Could children share rooms? Is it necessary to have a sitting room and a family room? Is it necessary to have a gas guzzler for status reasons? Anyway, your article is great, and once again you've inspired me to learn more!

Jayna said...

Thank you HH!

The other suggestions you've just mentioned are really good ideas and I agree with you completely. One thing I should also take into account is the progress in technology like the smaller solar panels and how that may a positive note for the future.

Thanks again for reading, commenting, and sharing.

Mindbender said...

I wouldn't be surprised if in a few years from now some houses would have lots of different power generators (small solar panels, small wind generators). One for the TV. One for the lights. One for your computer ect....I believe this will eventually happen in some places of the world.

Great post!!