What we can do to save our children’s future
It’s up to us to do something about the threats to our children’s future – overpopulation, our mushrooming national debt and trade deficit, terrorism, rising pollution and global warming, and the impending energy crisis.The easiest ones are those over which we have control. Zero tolerance for illegal immigration would ease our overpopulation problems. Electing a fiscally responsible Congress and president could rein in our federal deficits. Supporting our industries by buying American (even if it costs a little more), and demanding that China’s currency be fairly valued against world currencies instead of being tied to the U.S. dollar, would reduce our trade imbalance. And we can reduce the terrorism threat by demanding a change from our current foreign policy, which has served only to fan the flames of hatred against our country.We can also take action to reduce air pollution and global warming through energy conservation measures and expanding our use of renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels. Cutting down on imported petroleum expenditures would also shrink our trade deficit. But it is unlikely that realistic conservation measures would reduce our energy use by much more than 10-15 percent, and the practical limits of wind and solar energy probably do not exceed 10 to 20 percent of our current energy use.So where can we turn to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels and the resultant effect on global warming? Nuclear power, fuel cells using hydrogen, and biofuels like ethanol from corn come to mind. But the realities are that the amount of fissionable uranium is also limited; hydrogen is not a new energy source because it requires massive inputs of energy from some other source to produce it; and ethanol from corn also takes a lot of energy for its production (for fertilizer and fuel), and there just isn’t enough agricultural land to produce the corn needed to meet our transportation energy demands with ethanol without sacrificing our food supply.Tar sands and oil shale are being touted as potential reserves of hydrocarbons, rivaling the world’s known petroleum resources. But here again we are faced with the reality that extracting these fuels requires massive amounts of both energy and water, and depending on the method of extraction, has a devastating environmental impact. Returning to coal, a plentiful but highly polluting energy source, is possible only if we can devise a practical means of sequestering the massive amounts of carbon dioxide produced from its combustion (2.75 tons per ton of coal).All of this leaves us still searching for something to take the place of petroleum, on which virtually all forms of mechanized transportation are totally dependent. That is the real dilemma facing us in our quest to assure a livable future for our descendants.In the meantime, we can all do our best to prolong the availability of our current primary energy sources – petroleum and natural gas. Little things like taking ski racks off at the end of the ski season, maintaining optimum tire pressure, minimizing driving trips to school, carpooling, and driving more fuel-efficient vehicles will all help. Sooner or later, as gasoline becomes prohibitively expensive, we are going to have to diminish commuting by car. The amount of fuel burned driving to and from work is obscene, and the cost is enormous. We should start now to reform society and our housing patterns to shrink the distance between home and work. It would reduce fuel consumption, global warming and our trade deficit.Finally, we should all recognize that it takes energy to produce and transport nearly everything we use in our daily lives. It follows that everything we can do to reuse and recycle, turn off lights, TV sets and computers when they are not needed, and run dishwashers and washing machines only when they are fully loaded can positively affect the future of those we love. Glenwood Springs resident Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.
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