Further, our scientists at the Department of Energy tell us that fossil fuel fired plants are the largest source of mercury air pollution, emitting 50 tons of mercury pollution a year in the U.S. alone. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that every year hundreds of thousands of American newborns are at risk of problems with fine motor skills and learning difficulties as a result of their mother’s fish consumption during pregnancy. Mercury accumulates in fish and poisons people through their consumption of contaminated fish. Check out the EPA on mercury for additional details.
Acid rain is another by-product of fossil fuel emissions. Acid rain is caused by emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from power plants, cars and factories. Winds can sweep up emissions from high smokestacks and carry pollutants far from their original sources, crossing state lines and national borders. Acid rain causes acidification of lakes and streams and contributes to the damage of trees at high elevations and many sensitive forest soils. Further, acid rain accelerates the decay of building materials and paints including historic buildings, art, sculpture all part of our heritage. For further information on acid rain you will find the EPA site on acid rain to be useful.
The Energy Debate: Renewable v/s Non-Renewable Our planet’s energy sources are classified into renewable and non-renewable sources. Renewable energy sources can be replenished, either instantly or within a very short period of time, while non-renewable sources are finite and once consumed will not replenish. The major renewable sources of energy are biomass, hydroelectric, geothermal, wind, and solar. The Department of Energy, through its Energy Information Administration office, has a good Basic 101 section on renewable energy.
Except for biomass, all renewable energy sources are virtually emissions free and not susceptible to fluctuations in fuel cost. Though biomass is a renewable fuel and is commonly considered “a carbon neutral” fuel, using it contributes to global warming, albeit to a substantially lower extent than fossil fuels. Biomass such as plants absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere reducing greenhouse gases in the air.
Photosynthesis is how plants use light and water to make sugar. Sugar is created in the green parts of a plant and every animal on earth depends on it. Without plants we would have no food to eat or oxygen to breath. The chart below shows how photosynthesis works. Photo means light and synthesis means put together.
Now you know why planting a tree is an offset to the carbon we release from our energy use. Plants absorb our carbon dioxide and give us oxygen. We encourage you to participate in campaigns around the country and the world to plant a tree. Under Carbon Footprint you will be able to measure the amount of carbon you use and try to offset it by positive action such as planting trees. We have also committed to plant a tree in your name for every purchase of $100 with a certificate sent to you by mail.
Non-renewable energy resources are finite or limited in availability. Non-renewable resources comprise fossil fuels and nuclear energy. Fossil fuels include coal, crude oil, and natural and propane gases. They are called fossil fuels because they were formed from the buried remains of animals and plants which lived millions of years ago. Their scarcity as demand grows makes for their longer term costs going up. At the same time while their immediate direct costs may be manageable, their indirect costs are quite high. Consider the carbon emissions released from fossil fuels which cause pollutions and global warming. While some contend global warming is exaggerated few question the validity of the pollution effect. Just because pollution is less dramatic than global warming does not make it less destructive to humanity and the universe we live in. Once people, corporations and governments account for the destructive impact of pollutants then the cost of using fossil fuels becomes much more expensive. In the case of crude oil, the U.S has invested an enormous amount to protect the oil shipping lanes in both men and military gear. These high costs are not included in the comparison equation with alternative energy. Once these costs are included the real costs of fossil fuel are not as appealing as thought.
Finally on the subject of costs, it is worth mentioning that renewable energy is based on new technologies and these always start with a higher cost. However, as consumption of new technologies spread, unit costs drop substantially as the law of large scale takes hold. A very simple example is the computing market. For many of us who were around the first computer sold for close to $5,000 (and did not even have a hard drive). Compare it to the present and you get the idea. The same applies for many other technologies. We believe “ The more we use energy efficient products and renewable energy, the cheaper it becomes and the faster we will improve our way of life, leaving a better planet for our kids and future generations”.
We can sum up the salient features of renewable and non-renewable energy as follows:
- In some cases cheaper short term costs, in most cases cheaper medium and long term costs. Adds to tremendous direct savings
-Can expect steadily decreasing short term direct costs. As technology improves and more people use renewable energy, direct costs will decline
-Clean with no adverse impact to our environment. Allows us to transfer a better world to future generations
-Long term energy independence and leadership
-Matches American spirit of innovation and problem solving
Non-Renewables: -In many instances lower direct short term costs. Costs will only go up as more people in the developing world grow out of poverty and consume more energy
- While initial cost is low, total and life-cycle cost is very high
- Causes pollution. Pollution destroys people, plants and animals
- Spreads mercury in our environment
- Causes acid rain
- Higher spending on military for protection of energy sea lanes
- High cost of remedies for global warming