It’s Not Easy Being Green

Leave it to a spindly frog puppet* to encapsulate such deep wisdom into five simple words.

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In a world where information travels as fast as light, and telling fact from fiction is more difficult than cooking a perfect soufflé, it can be extremely tough to know what to believe about climate science. But one thing is for sure, whether from anthropomorphic causes or tectonic activity beyond our control, our world is getting warmer. The real question is, do we ignore it and carry on like stupid creatures, or do we take a proactive approach to living with the environment, just in case?

Being green can be hard. Do you buy halogen, compact fluorescent or LED? Paper or plastic? Efficient gasoline fueled or hybrid? What about solar power? Wind? Hydro? Nuclear?

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As energy demand rises, the prospects of an all-renewable energy sector grow ever more slight. The environmental impacts – biologically incompatible chemical bi-products, land consumption, capacity intermittentcy replacement needs (wind power has a capacity factor between 20-40%) – we would need to overcome in order to replace baseload nuclear power with solar panels and wind power are enormous. Nearly 2.3 billion earth-warming metric tons of carbon dioxide were pumped into the atmosphere by fossil fuel energy production in the U.S. alone in 2011. Nuclear energy helps avoid 650 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year. Politicians are right to tout an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy as the best option for sustaining the production needed to support economic growth and national security interests.

So frequently, “greens” and so-called environmentalists are loathe to embrace new energy development opportunities, and instead are more likely to criticize innovation for its possible negative environmental impact. But such impact is the consequence of improving the human existence. The trick is to balance the good with the not-so-good, and minimize the consequences of our work. Now, more and more environmentalists are acknowledging the important role nuclear power must play in ensuring the future of our country and the habitability of our planet.

Our planet has a sordid 4.5 billion-year history – human’s role in it a blink of the eye by comparison. But our influence on the future of this tiny rock should not be underestimated. If our species manages not extinct itself by other means – disease or war – it will grow ever more imperative to avoid actions that could contribute to a runaway greenhouse effect like that on Venus.

I am not too keen on the vision of a hot, baren, acid haloed Earth. But I like my smartphone, and my computer, and my car, and my big tv.

So instead of poo-pooing energy development – new Generation III+ nuclear plants, Keystone pipeline, oil-sands, wind farms, hydro dams, coal scrubbers – bring it on. As long as new capacity is developed with a mind to minimizing (not preventing, because that’s impossible) environmental impact, protecting the future of our planet is in lock step with new nuclear development.

*Or Jim Henson. Whatever…

References:

  1. U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Electric Power Annual 2011.”
  2. Wind capacity factors: Wind Energy Center, University of Massachusetts Amherst, “Wind Power:  Capacity Factor, Intermittency,  and what happens when the wind doesn’t blow?”
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Author: NuclearGrrl

Nuclear engineer, afro queen, black mamba, feminist, clinic escort, beer aficionado and all around spectacular human being.