I had an interesting discussion with a coworker today that has, paired with Japan's looming nuclear disaster, got me thinking about alternative energy sources. My friend had been listening to a Living on Earth podcast: The Future of Biofuels and the Weather by Lisa Raffensperger. In it she discusses the ecological impact of switchgrass being grown on non-food farmable land for the ethanol industry. Researchers have linked the extensive plantings of switchgrass to changing weather patterns in the area- increased tornadoes and violent storms.
Made me wonder: Just what are we to do if even our 'green power' cannot be trusted to provide us with our energy needs sans ecological and social destruction?
And nuclear power--- while not a green energy, its certainly touted in Alberta as a better alternative energy source from our carbon spewing coal plants. But after the last few days of events in Japan? I don't know- its an experiment that has ZERO wiggle room for mistakes. In what other scenario is making a mistake NOT AN OPTION? Perhaps walking on a tight rope over Niagara falls? Or free climbing sheer cliffs? Or fighting a rabid tiger?
Who does that stuff?
Maybe one could argue there are zero-wiggle room scenarios like brain surgery that are conducted every day, but one mistake there means one guy dead... not thousands. Am I off in my logic here?
I can't get enough information on the events in Japan. I have friends who live there and Japanese friends who live here.
30% of their power supply is nuclear (in a country smack overtop a fault line). But before I raise my eyes at that, I know that even in this province- heavy with oil producers and coal generators- our thirst for energy will eventually bring us back to the Blessed Stream of Nuclear Options. When we use the kind of energy that we do-- we will continue to make health and environmental concessions and take risks that to other generations may look like crazy-making. ("What the f*$^ were they thinking?")
While safety is always the primary discussion regarding nuclear power-- the other problem with this energy source as a solution to our oil dependance is its dependance on non-renewable heavy metals (by some estimates, even if the world converted to nuclear energy there may not be enough uranium to build a second generation of plants.)
Looking at other 'greener' sources, no one can conclusively say if these alternatives are necessarily sustainable in the long term: Hydro power changes ecosystems and displaces communities. Wind power disrupts migratory birds. Solar power requires non-renewal heavy metals for its technology. And ethanol requires vast stretches of land to grow fuel for cars instead of fuel for bodies (and includes grasses that mess with the weather). The only way we'll know the impacts to our complex ecological system is living with it over a long period of time.
There's no doubt about it, human life impacts the earth: for good and bad. There are some really smart, ardent people out there who are working hard to figure out how we can become sustainable in terms of fossil fuel dependence, in terms of food and agriculture, in terms of manufacturing and development. Conrad at greenedmonton.ca is experimenting with this personally with his 'net-zero' house in Edmonton. Check out Johan Rockstrom TED talks: he positively and passionately offers the parameters of what is actually 'sustainable' for our planet.
This post is mostly me processing. I'm a layperson on all this: I'm an energy user and earth abuser. But I strive to do better.
"Remember the five simple rules to be happy:
1. Free your heart from hatred.
2. Free your mind from worries.
3. Live simply.
4. Give more.
5. Expect less"