Wind Farms, Dead Birds, Electric Cars, & Oh Yeah, Oil
Not many people will argue that climate change is a real thing. Except perhaps some Republican presidential candidates. Climate change used to be called global warming, but ultra-cold winters and mega storms weren’t inclusive enough, hence the more PC name change.
Anyway, there are many reasons for climate change, not the least of which is the use of fossil fuels, making it not only a major issue in the current presidential campaign, but also a subject that causes friends within the oil and gas industry to argue at length about the future of fossil fuels.
Will we ever be able to replace fossil fuels completely? As Kramer used to say on Seinfeld, “Not bloody likely.”
We will try. Oh, man, are we trying. But unless we plan on going back to the horse-and-buggy, many of the alternatives are either too expensive, aesthetically ugly, or actually more polluting than oil and gas.
Take for example the electric car and the hybrid. One would think, just looking at the surface, that these types of vehicles would be the answer to the CO2 emissions produced by regular cars. Not so.
According to the EPA, in most American cities, the personal automobile is the largest overall polluter, spewing millions of pounds of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide and sulfur oxide into the atmosphere. But what about hybrids? According to a study by the U.S. Department of Energy, hybrids require more energy to produce than regular cars, creating more greenhouse gasses and burning more fossil fuels during manufacturing.
And what about those batteries? In an article in Popular Mechanics about a year ago, the author pointed to government studies that said emissions from electric car battery production makes electric vehicles “worse for public health than gasoline vehicles.”
So, I’m guessing that until a better way is found to manufacture batteries for cars (not to mention the underwhelming number of charging stations), we’re not going to see much change in the fossil fuel side of driving. They just need to make the cars more fuel-efficient and less polluting.
Now, let’s move on to power generation for your home or business. Apparently we have this thing called “clean burning coal” which sounds to me like the energy equivalent of “non-alcoholic beer.” Coal is still used to power many electric plants, but more and more we are seeing the switch to natural gas — obviously a fossil fuel. There are many upsides to this, and very few downsides. It is abundant, it’s cheap (at least for now), and without a doubt, it is clean. Compare that to nuclear (can you say “Chernobyl?”). We won’t even get into that discussion now.
The two most popular forms of alternative energy for power generation are solar and wind. Both have their inherent problems. First of all, solar power is only good when the sun shines. Even though companies are working on ways to store the energy (such as Tesla), that process is expensive, not yet reliable, and again, requires storage batteries which generate pollution in their production (see above). It may be many decades before we see affordable, non-polluting ways to store solar power and make it available for personal use.
So that leaves us with wind power.
According to an April article in The Daily Caller, wind turbines kill more birds than the BP oil spill of 2010. An example: environmentalists believe that about 800,000 birds were killed as a result of the spill (from 2010 until now). Compare that to a 2013 Wildlife Society study which found that on average, 573,000 birds and 888,000 bats are killed every year by wind turbines.
Of those, about 83,000 are considered raptors, including hawks and yes, the symbol of America, the Bald Eagle.
And then there is the problem of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). A couple years ago, a plan was developed in Cape Cod to build an offshore wind farm which would generate enough power for the entire area. It would have been pollution-free, far enough offshore to not have a bird problem, and significantly lower their personal electric bills. The voters rejected it, primarily on the grounds that no one wanted to sit on their back porch, sipping their Scotch, and watch 1,000-foot turbines turning (even though they would be a mile offshore, they would still be slightly visible).
So, returning to our original question: Will we ever be able to replace fossil fuels completely? Based on people’s attitudes, scientific studies, and dead birds, I think Kramer had it right.
Not bloody likely.