Controversies of Alternative Energy Sources

Table Of Contents

Scientific American posted an article in their November 2009 issue that dealt with alternate energy sources, and the good that will come out of them.

Though this new technology will have some repercussions. In order to generate some money for these programs, a feed-in-tariff would have to be implemented. European countries have used this, and some states are already using this tax. This magazine also suggests that fossil fuels should be taxed because they harm the environment. And tax subsidies for fossil fuels should be eliminated to allow alternate energy sources to compete in a more fair market.

There are mixed feelings about this. Coal miners, and other fossil fuel workers and unions are resisting. Why? Because this would put them out of jobs in an economy where it's difficult to find a new job. The magazine suggests that our government will have to be strong and "champion the cause," but, with so much resistance, is that the route they should take? According to Pew Research poll taken in March of 2006, 52% of the country thought that the government should look into alternate energy more so than new places to drill. With the numbers this close, should there be a strong government making one final decision? Is it even the government's role in society to give us incentives to make us switch to alternate energy?

On the other hand, while coal miners' fears of losing their jobs to these new energy sources are legitimate, wouldn't these sources in turn actually provide more jobs? The Earth, according to The University of Oregon, uses approximately 10 Terrawatts of power a day. Sunlight, even when only 47% of light given off by the sun reaches the Earth, provides 84 Terrawatts of power the the Earth every single day. If the sun provides eight-times more energy to the Earth than we use in a day, why is this energy not being captured? 84 Terrawatts of energy are incoming, compared to the energy and work that the coal miners have to do to get less energy out of that. That much power should eventually create more jobs. Cleaner, and easier jobs that are not as taxing and dangerous as coal mining.

The other side would reply that there are no concrete plans of how many jobs would be provided, and exactly what the jobs would entail.

We must also look at potential dangers:

Another problem is the cost and dangers when something goes wrong. The cost of the Three Mile Island cleanup took twelve years and cost approximately $973 million dollars. Luckily, the environment around three mile island went virtually undamaged, but can we always be that lucky?

Though oil and coal also have a dirty past.

Oil. Let's start with the Exxon-Valdez spill. 10.9 million gallons of oil was spilled over 1,100 miles of coastline. This happened in 1989, and as of 2008, Encyclopedia of Earth estimates that about 20 acres still contaminated. reported that it cost roughly 2.1 billion dollars to clean up. In addition to these monetary losses, the wildlife also suffered. Encyclopedia of Earth reported that as of 2008, some species, like the pacific herring, and the harbor seals, have made no recovery in the area as far as numbers go since the spill.

Then, there's the recent oil spill. Oil has been gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for over a month. It is too early to calculate costs, and the amount of oil lost, but as of May 26th, there were 32 million dollars in damage claims, and the estimates of oil spilled ranged from 23.2 million to 92.5 million, according to the New York Times.

Now let's move on to coal. I'm sure that if I simply say Centralia, Pennsylvania you'd get the idea, but I'll elaborate. In 1962, some trash was left burning in a strip mine connected with a vein of a coal mine, catching the mine on fire. The next two decades and some 40 million dollars were spent trying to douse the the fire, but these efforts were unsuccessful. By the 1980's carbon monoxide levels reached life-threatening levels on over 200 acres of land, and the homes on this land had to be abandoned. The fire still burns today, and could potentially burn up to 3,700 acres, and it's curently moving threateningly close to the neighboring town of Ashland.

Solar power is not as clean as it seems. Although they run clean, and efficiently, the way they are made, and disposed of are potentially dangerous. They contain toxic chemicals, including silicon, and if they are not made and disposed of properly, they can cause serious damage. Many lives have been lost due to exposure to silicon in other products. According to the site "Pays to Live Green", there was a small town in China who used silicon products and did not dispose of them properly. Now the land is contaminated, and cannot be used for anything. There is the threat of something going wrong and as a result, toxic chemicals like silicon cuold potentially be released into the air.

And finally, wind energy. this seemingly innocent power source has also had its problems. In November of 2006, in Oldenburg, Germany, heavy winds ripped off a ten foot fragment of a one hundred foot wind turbine, and it landed two hundred feet away. When officials examined other turbines, they realized that a few were also at risk of the same thing happening. There have been more reports of this occurring. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, wind turbines can only last about 5 years. (As opposed to nuclear power plants which, in a few years, according to Scientific American, will have eighty year licenses.) There is clearly no type of energy that is leaps and bounds above the rest. If there was, it would be implemented with far less effort and resistance. The very idea of this proves why government and science are always intertwined. Scientists can create amazing new things, but if the government bans them, or places limits on testing of them, then further development could be compromised. (Example; nuclear test ban treaties.) Though on the other side, the science is what keeps a modern nation competitive with the rest of the world. Energy is what keeps our country running, and it's fair to say that our nation is dependent on it. So, when these alternative energy sources are created, and those who know about them want to implement them, how do they achieve this? And that is where politics comes in. Because politics and government are very complex, there is no one clear cut explanation, only many possible theories. One, is to get the people to back it. If a clear majority of the people want something to happen, chances are that elected officials will listen. In addition to getting the people interested, when big business is interested, (that is, businesses that give generous donations to elected officials) usually the government will listen. Now, the opposite can also happen, and this is the path that Scientific American suggests. If the government wants to implement something, but the people are divided, or opposed, the government will try to sway the people. This is the very basic link between government and science, the scientists create, and it's the politics that have to be used to get a general consensus to be in favor of these creations, especially when the new creations are just as controversial as what they're replacing. When a new product is created, the company must advertise. Alternative energy and its supporters are doing just this, though on a much larger scale.