Letter: Columnist neglected grim environmental reality


To the editor of THE EAGLE:

This letter is in response to the incredibly short-sighted editorial page column by Matt Kinnaman celebrating the unrestrained use of fossil fuels ("Embrace carbon, embrace life," Feb. 8). Nowhere in his article did he even acknowledge the existence of climate change. Space limitations prevent me from responding in full measure to Kinnaman’s piece, but I would like to point out a couple errors of omission.

If we keep burning fossils fuels at the rate we have been, we will accelerate the release into the atmosphere of billions of tons of his blessed methane that is now trapped in ice under permafrost. (Methane is 24 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2.) He also writes that burning fossils fuels "gets us better health care." A cost/benefit analysis reveals the tens of billions of dollars spent annually on medical care related to the burning of fossil fuels, and cleanup costs related to environmental degradation (at the public’s expense).

Kinnaman points out the relatively minor roles that renewables play in our energy mix. Those numbers reflect only our lack of urgency, not what renewables are capable of contributing. A recently released study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that the technical potential of photovoltaic cells and concentrated solar power in the United States is as much as 200,000 gigawatts, enough to generate about 400,000 TWh of energy annually. Solar collectors covering 0.3 percent of the Sahara could generate enough electricity to power all of Europe. Business Insider Magazine recently published the results of two studies showing that existing wind turbine technology could produce hundreds of trillions of watts of power.

Are you a fan of hydrofracking that requires mixing trillions of gallons of clean water with "proprietary" chemicals and injecting that into our soil and groundwater? Drill a little deeper. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Technical Report No. NREL/TP-840-40665: The geothermal energy within two miles of the Earth’s surface is approximately three million quads, or enough energy to provide for America’s needs for 30,000 years. (1 quad of energy equals 8 billion gallons of gas, or 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, or 25 million tons of oil. The United States uses about 100 quads per year.)

Seattle mayor Mike McGinn observed that we’re the first generation to discover the effects of climate change, and the last generation who can do anything about it. How much might it cost to create those few ambitious projects cited above, and others of equal magnitude? Just curious: Did anyone ask that question when it came to spending trillions on two wars over the past 12 years? Well, you’ll be happy to know it will cost far less than they did. And it will create new jobs; entirely new industries; new exports; improved air, soil and water quality; and might, just might, prevent our species from killing itself off by the end of this century (think of it as only 86 very hot summers from now).

Matt Kinnaman fiddles while the planet burns.




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