Environment, Infrastructure and Energy: Need Engineering and Energetic People to Fix

Today is an interesting day: Fidel Castro stepping aside, new JFK files ‘suddenly’ appearing after 44 years + in cold storage and President Bush ‘in the Bush’ of Africa. But this post won’t discuss those things.

This morning on The History Channel they played a 30+ year old segment on Energy development and challenges. You know the type: the ones we watched in class on the days the substitute teacher brought in a reel-to-reel projector, had difficulty in setting it up and told us we were to stay awake during it because she would quiz us on the information. (Never doing it because the bell rung.)

In several voice-over passages, “The United States dependence on foreign oil may continue for the next 15-20 years,” and “new technologies are just around the corner, including nuclear fusion,” and finally, “it is important to make sacrifices to ensure our energy needs are meet.”

What I find interesting is exactly how we haven’t addressed the problems seen in 1975, when I was 3, but instead have only become more dependent and deeply entrenched in the same geo-political world that was at the crux of the 1970’s Oil crises.

Certainly, it is more than oil and the prices (again above $100 today) that bother me. It is the entire landscape of this all-encompassing American & World problem.

Infrastructure. I noticed daily that our highways and byways are progressively getting worse. Most were assembled during the 1950’s, and only a specific few have seen major overhauls during the last 20 years. Locally, we see the damages every year (in the north) due to water sabotaging roads creating potholes and damage to vehicles. Bridges are also deficient, as was horribly seen in the Minneapolis tragedy. Water & Sewage is also going south, as California, the largest American state economy, is in a dilemma.

We find ourselves lacking the ability to change over to new technologies and better investment in right-thinking avenues. The ability to give up single-passenger vehicles to go to work. Using public transport and developing those options in suburban areas.

Envisioning sound Urban, County, State and Federal planning to properly use the resources we have. Things like multi-story (more than 3) housing in the suburbs, tight restraints on development of agriculture & forest areas and saving rivers and lakes from over commericalization and capitalistic greed. We also might have to acknowledge that historic landmarks that are costly to maintain or serve only a modest purpose, are available for destruction. To offset this, we have the technology to give virtual tours of entire buildings and structures, right now. We can salvage so much, but we have to fix wherever we can, our infrastructure in order to compete in the world.

Energy & Environment. Much of what is written about the dangers of nuclear energy is overblown and worst-case scenario thinking, ignoring actual near-zero probabilities. Exactly how many people died as a direct result of 3-Mile Island in Pennsylvania? None.

But to hear it from proponents of coal and oil industries, you might believe thousands perished.
Meanwhile, in 2006 and 2007, at least 2 mining accidents in Utah and West Virginia took place, killing 16 men in West Virginia alone.

The Nuclear Industry is likely the most regulated of all American Industries. It has a nearly flawless safety record – meaning no major catastrophies or numerous violations at a particular plant. We currently receive nearly 20% of our energy from nuclear power, and barely think about it due to the efforts of people in that industry.

Yet, we are still locked into coal & oil-based energy platforms due to politics and money. (The Republican party is supported heavily by St. Louis-based energy giant Peabody Energy, the largest coal company in the world, and supplier of 10% of the United States energy and 3% of the World Output. Bush placed 3 Peabody executives on his transition team after his 1st nomination.)

Quote from Nuvo.net:

After winning the 2000 presidential election, George Bush named three Peabody Energy executives to his transition team as advisors for the new administration’s energy policies. Steve Chancellor, president of Black Beauty Coal, was named as an advisor to the Bush-Cheney energy policy transition team; Irl Engelhardt, Peabody Energy chairman of the board, was named to the transition advisory team for the EPA and for a while his name was in the running for secretary of energy; John Wootten, Peabody Energy VP served with Chancellor on the energy advisory panel.
In addition to serving as policy advisors, Peabody and its executives were also some of the Bush-Cheney team’s biggest campaign contributors. Since 2000, Peabody Energy has donated nearly $2 million, Irl Engelhardt has personally donated $350,000 and Steve Chancellor has donated another $350,000. So generous are the Peabody executives that Engelhardt has been called “a major player” by the Republican National Committee, and Chancellor was invited to go on a golf trip to Spain with George Bush Sr. and other “friends” of the campaign.

In reading, “Power to Save the World” by Gwyneth Cravens, who was not a supporter of Nuclear Energy prior to her research, you get a broader and yet detailed account of what Nuclear Power is and what it can do to supplant coal as the major player, without being overly preachy.

Anti-nuclear activists focus on the instability of uranium-235 and plutonium-239, saying it cannot be trusted given it is used in weapons of mass destruction. Even our current President shined on America in a State of the Union saying that the terrorists had plans of our nuclear facilities. Nuclear facilities are filled with security measures and numerous shutdown protocols that no terrorist or group of terrorists could set off anything like a China Syndrome tragedy. But the myth will continue nonetheless.

Of course, each side of the energy debate wants to play up its advantages. And money is part of that advantage. As it was once said, “the only real danger of Capitalism is Capitalists.” Greed has kept the same players doing the same things, regardless of the impact it has on America.

Another viable avenue could be the usage of Automotive Industry layoffs/payoffs to explore Wind, Solar, Wave, Tidal and GeoThermal Energy avenues with the support of our U.S. government. We currently subsidized heavily the Agriculture industry to produce inefficient ethanol, when you compare it to Brazilian ethanol production. Why not use the experienced labor force to generate the new generation of energy producers?

We face difficult decisions on the Infrastructure, Energy and Environmental fronts. If the United States does not make a plan, go a direction and leave behind ill-suited, environmentally-dubious and ineffective policies, we may find ourselves moving backward to 1900 more than forward to 2100.



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Comments

  • cooper  On February 21, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    I never saw a reel to reel until college and that was at a museum.

    Energy is something I am fairly ignorant on, the pros and cons of this and that I read about but have yet to have the time to read enough to come to a substantive opinion.

    I do know th world nuclear send most people in to a panic state.

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