The force unleashed by Mother Nature this past week is a stark and somber reminder of the limits to human power. The earthquake and subsequent tsunami were neither caused by nor could be corralled by the most monumental of human efforts. And if there is a singular lesson to be gleaned from the disaster it should be this: namely, it behooves us to work in tandem with the incredible strength and power in her vast arsenal. Specifically, I refer to our efforts to create enough energy to feed the ongoing population explosion that will rock this planet Earth over the next half century by capturing what it has to offer, namely wind and sunshine.
Regardless of mankind's Herculean efforts to plumb the depths of the Earth to root out every conceivable fossil fuel source, those efforts will simply be fool's gold, short-term, and ultimately destructive of the environment that is supposed to sustain populations of the future. Rather than spending and expending significant amounts of resources, both capital and natural, on tapping finite pockets of profit we must begin in earnest to harness what is infinite, inexhaustible, and far more sustainable. Unless we accept and embark on a large-scale program to shift the economic paradigm that governs our global society from one dependent on fossil fuels to one that relies upon "fuels from heaven" our efforts will prove costly more in terms of survival than anything else.
Also, the current disaster in Japan should give pause to those who may be teetering on the verge of accepting nuclear energy as a panacea. The lengthy hiatus that has prevailed on development of nuclear energy in this country may prove to have been far-sighted and prudent, but at the very least the human costs of a nuclear meltdown, despite man's best efforts to protect against such, should cause us to soberly reflect upon any desires to pursue this path.
There is currently a healthy debate brewing in states all across the nation on the potential costs and benefits of unbridled natural gas development. Unfortunately the forces of restraint and evaluation are heavily overmatched by corporate profiteers who can spend outrageous amounts of financial resources on a disingenuous and fallacious public relations campaign designed to capitalize on pure greed and the hopelessness spawned by an economy based upon a level of income inequality unseen since the days of the "robber barons."
There are glaring gaps in the evidence over the extent to which hydraulic fracturing, the process of extracting natural gas, impacts the environment. The process of drilling for natural gas requires boundless amounts of water removal from natural streams and rivers; the pressure with which this water, mixed with an assortment of toxic chemicals, is injected a mile into the Earth, calls into question the collateral damage of contamination to both private and public water systems; the disposal of returning water, "produced water," raises serious questions over safety to drinking water for large population centers; and the resulting methane release into the atmosphere, a greenhouse gas 25-30 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, begs for further examination into the potentially adverse impacts upon climate change and global warming.
There is no consensus in the scientific community on the relative merits of the argument that natural gas extraction is significantly cleaner than coal. In other words, the avalanche of public advertising on behalf of the oil and gas lobby is carrying the day and once again the regulators, both at the Federal and state levels, have to play catch-up at the same time they are experiencing the threats of significant cutbacks in funding. We should have some reasonable degree of confidence that before we turn to natural gas as a transitional bridge fuel it actually is a better alternative to coal, at this point that is not the case.
Imagine if we sunk as much energy into development of a nationwide solar grid to capture and disseminate power generated from the sun or conducted a full-scale assault on capturing energy generated from wind. It would be profitable from the standpoint of jobs creation and sustainability.
We need to think BIG, we need to act BIG, because the energy needs are, well, BIG. And if the unfolding developments in the Middle East are not cause enough we need to seriously reassess our dependence upon an energy source that is pushing prices at the pump to levels that are unmanageable to a larger and larger portion of our population, you know the 80 percent who have not participated in the great wealth heist of the past thirty years.
Thirty-four years ago Jimmy Carter called out the American public to face up to the growing inability of our nation to withstand a growing dependence on foreign oil. He talked turkey to the American people, declaring the "moral equivalent of war," was roundly and soundly rejected by politicians of both parties and ultimately by the power of the voters who preferred to fantasize a return to a time that never existed, except in the movies. The solar panels were removed from the roof of the White House and we embarked upon the realm of unreality. And here we are.
We need to divert our attention away from blaming the teachers, the public employees, the unions, and the poor and we only have to look into the mirror. We have ourselves to blame and now we must face the music. But don't be fooled by the promises of a magic solution, it does not exist. It is not the Marcellus Shale play, or the Utica Shale, or whatever source we find hidden in the earth. We must turn our heads to the heavens and realize what it is that hits us directly in the face, the answer lies there, right in front of us, and it is not surprisingly a gift from Mother Nature. The answer lies in working with her majesty not in trying to fool her. And for those who find the need to look back in time for a clue, remember the 1970's margarine commercial whose tag line was "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature."
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