Energy consumers everywhere, we
need to clean up our act! Anti- fossil fuel activists are
nodding their heads at that one. Except, I’m thinking about something
a little different than what they’re thinking. I’m referring to the commonly used
phrase, “clean energy.” All of us, even those who understand
that oil, natural gas and coal run the world, often refer to wind
and solar as “clean” without even questioning it. It’s time to do some questioning. What
is it that makes wind and solar clean and fossil fuels dirty? Well, with wind and solar you
don’t see anything getting burned like you do with oil, natural gas
and coal. And it’s the burning that
creates pollution. Fair enough. But let’s take a closer look at that. Air pollution from the burning
of fossil fuels in the United States has been in steep
decline since 1970. And that dramatic drop across
all six pollutants the EPA classifies as dangerous took place as Americans
increased their fossil fuel use by 40%. From 1980 to 2015
our vehicle miles traveled have more than doubled! So as our nation as grown we’ve
used more fossil energy, traveled a lot more and yet the
air we breathe has continued to get cleaner. That’s amazing! And, for those who are worried about
energy-related CO2 emissions, they’ve been in decline for
more than a decade. Oh, and here’s one more amazing fact.
Since 1970, the pollution coming out of the tailpipes of our cars
and trucks has been reduced by 99%. Seriously. 99 percent! I’m not
kidding. You can ask the EPA. Now, what about wind and solar? We feel like they’re clean because
we don’t burn them. Well, not directly. But, let’s be real.
They aren’t born of unicorns and pixie dust. Producing solar panels and
windmills require a lot of mining for resources, especially
for rare earth minerals. China owns 95% of the rare earth
market and the Chinese government isn’t all that protective
of the environment. Their mining projects are creating
giant, toxic and radioactive lakes. It’s a serious problem they will
be dealing with for decades. And what about land use? The
US Energy Information Administration estimates that natural gas, and
coal use about 12 acres of land per megawatt of electricity produced. Solar and wind gobble up 4 and 6
times the amount of land that coal and natural gas do. So, what’s so clean about that? There are other environmental
impacts to consider. Industrial wind and solar projects
kill a lot of wildlife. Wind turbines alone are estimated
to kill 600-thousand birds a year along with a million bats. The bats
are very important to our ecosystem because they are essential
to pollination. Wind turbines cause visual blight
and have negative health impacts for people who live around them
like noise, shadow flicker and vibrations. Let’s keep in mind that fossil fuels have been running the world since
they began fueling the industrial revolution and still carry more
than 80% of the load. Wind and solar contribute less
than 3% to our energy use and for that small amount of power we’re dealing
with a significant amount of environmental nastiness. The point of all this is not to
disparage wind and solar, but to talk about them in a
way that makes sense. It’s ridiculous to say fossil fuels
are dirty while wind and solar are clean. They’re not. All energy sources and
technologies have their impacts, but in the case of oil, natural
gas and coal, there have been astonishing improvements
over the past half-century. They are much, much cleaner and
getting more so all the time. So all you energy consumers
clean up your act. Stop using the word “clean”
when talking about wind and solar. For the Clear Energy Alliance,
I’m Mark Mathis. Power On.