Several students commented to me about misleading statements on energy that they heard at a recent campus talk by Rudy Giuliani. Unfortunately, unscrupulous politicians today are minions of the fossil fuel industry. In 2007, running for the Republican presidential nomination, Giuliani received more money from fossil fuel companies than the next two candidates combined.
According to a Trinitonian article, Giuliani referred to wind and solar energy reliance as “just plain stupid,” while promoting coal, hydroelectric, nuclear and “fracking” operations. I would like to comment on that. Coal’s major contributions to atmospheric carbon dioxide pollution and global warming are well-documented, as are its detrimental roles with acid rain and mercury contamination over much of North America. In addition, its extraction has led to hundreds of mountains being reduced to rubble and surrounding ecosystems ruined in Appalachia, as well as destruction of Native American lands and livelihoods in the West. Regarding the potential of hydroelectric power, the United States currently gets about 7 percent of its electricity from this resource. It has significant advantages and disadvantages, but consequences of global warming are reducing its potential, and the United States Geological Survey states that “most of the good spots to locate hydro plants have already been taken.” Maybe Giuliani knows more than the USGS, or maybe hydropower is his smokescreen to take attention away from wind and solar. Nuclear fission actually has tremendous potential for providing energy, but also potential for disasters. Unfortunately, here in the United States, we’re still stuck with old problematic nuclear technology as industry tries to cut corners to make quick profits. In order to realize the advantages of this technology, we will have to move beyond our current reactors that burn dwindling supplies of uranium-235. “Fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing, involves the injection of millions of gallons of valuable water, laced with hundreds of chemicals (including numerous known toxins and carcinogens) into shale rock formations, where ultra-high pressure fractures the rock and facilitates increased extraction of fossil fuels. This is an old technology that is being used recently in much more destructive and dangerous ways. Problems are rampant because the industry is effectively unregulated. During 2005, Vice President and former CEO of Halliburton Dick Cheney pushed through a law called the “Halliburton Loophole,” whereby fracking cannot be federally regulated under major aspects of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Safe Drinking Water Acts. There have been thousands of reports of water, air, and people being compromised near fracking operations. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency has documented dangerous levels of carcinogens like benzene in wells and aquifers, and research at Cornell University as well as at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicates that methane emissions from fracking probably cause more global warming per amount of energy obtained than would result from burning coal.
Going back to wind and solar again, the energy available is totally renewable, it’s continuously more than 10,000 times what we currently use and it’s clean. Wind energy is surging in the world, but, in the U.S., fossil fuel companies are blocking it as their paid minions in Congress recently took away any tax incentives for further development of wind resources. In the case of solar power, I like to consider an illustrative example comparing its potential with fossil fuels. If the totally devastated land at the Cheviot coal mine in Canada were covered with inexpensive, off-the-shelf solar panels, we could get ten times as much energy over time compared with that from the coal extracted and we would still have the land for future uses. How is that “just plain stupid”?
Gordon MacAlpine is a professor of physics and astronomy.