Going, Going... Green

Written by Lydia Benedict.

A while back my 15-year-old son Tennyson wrote a compelling essay on global warming, which I featured as a blog post. Not everyone agreed with him and some adults wrote me to say that my son, while well meaning, was just misinformed. In other words, global warming is a non-issue. Well, Tennyson has written a response. Here it is.

Tennyson Benedict

When it comes to global warming, there are two schools of thought. Some believe that human consumption of fossil fuels contributes to global warming. Others argue that human behavior has nothing to do with global warming. Those in the latter camp site research claiming that our planet goes through periods of heating and cooling. “We also need not worry about environmental calamities… Earth has been much warmer during the past 3000 years with no calamities,” claims one recent study. Be that as it may, there are still good reasons for us to cut down our use of non-reusable energy sources and try to find renewable sources of energy.

Non-renewable energy sources such as oil and coal are called “non-renewable” for a reason: they are not limitless. These fossil fuels were formed millions of years ago from dead and decomposing plants. You can’t grow more oil the same way you grow a bush. If we can’t come up with practical alternatives, what are people going to do when we run out of oil? Eventually we will have to find another fuel source. So why not start now? After all, it may take some time to find viable alternatives.

Valdez Oil Spill Map

Meantime, drilling for oil continues to pose environmental risks. The Exxon Valdez spill and the BP disaster are great examples of human error leading to the destruction of coastline, which provides homes for humans and animals alike. In the Exxon Valdez oil spill, an approximate 11 million gallons of oil were spilled. Only 10 percent of the spilled oil was recovered. This spill killed so much marine life that it put hundreds of fisherman and canneries out of business. This spill was also responsible for killing at least 247 bald eagles. It is ironic that these birds – the symbol of our nation – were destroyed by our thirst for oil.

While the BP oil spill and the Exxon Valdez spill may be the most famous spills, they are not the only ones. With the exception of 1995, we have had at least one oil spill each year between 1990 and 2011. Oil also has geopolitical consequences. Our vital interest in the Middle East is tied to oil. Roughly 43 percent of our oil comes from the Middle East. If we were not so dependent on imported fuel, perhaps we wouldn’t have fought in so many wars in this volatile area of the world. Politicians speak of how we need to stop meddling in the affairs of other countries, but while we still rely on imported oil, it seems unlikely that we will be able to do so.

Coal miner wearing mask for protection from Black Lung Disease
Oil isn’t the only energy source that threatens our environment. Coal does, too. But with coal we don’t have to worry about spills. Instead, the problem is in mining. Coal mines pollute our environment with every blast of dynamite. When coal miners ignite dynamite, carbon monoxide is released. Most homes have carbon monoxide alarms alongside their smoke alarms because it is so dangerous to inhale these fumes. Yet coal miners breathe this stuff all day long. They are also exposed to methane emissions, dust, and coal particles. These can lead to deadly respiratory problems.

However, it is not just the miners who are affected by this business. People who live near coal mines have a 70 percent increased chance of kidney failure, a 64 percent increased chance of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and a 30 percent increased chance of high blood pressure. Furthermore, the same pollutants that cause these illnesses can find their way into the groundwater, which can subsequently pollute rivers, lakes, and aquifers.

Landfill web600w

Garbage is another problem. America produces more trash than any other country. On average, each American produces over 1,600 pounds of trash per year. However, as a country, we only recycle approximately 31 percent of this trash. For instance, one statistic shows that 250,000 plastic bottles are dumped every hour in America. One plastic bottle takes hundreds of years to decompose. Not many people realize that when they throw away a plastic bottle, or a tin can, they are throwing away potential job opportunities. Studies show that there are more job openings at recycling centers than jobs created at landfills or mining raw materials. It is also much more energy efficient to recycle. For example, it is 70 percent more energy efficient to recycle paper than make virgin paper. Approximately every ton of paper recycled is the equivalent of saving 14 trees, which would reduce air pollutants by 165,142 tons.

Solar Power Plant

Solar and wind energy are increasingly viable options for alternative sources of energy. And, unlike fossil fuels, they don’t harm the planet when consumed. With rising fuel prices, cutting down energy/fuel bills have become a major concern for American families. If we could take advantage of these natural, yet largely ignored resources, it will simultaneously weaken our dependence on fossil fuels. Admittedly, these energy sources aren’t perfect. For example, the sun may not be a reliable source in the Pacific Northwest. Also, the upfront cost of solar panels or wind turbines is prohibitive for many. However, if Americans continue to buy these products and demonstrate a need for electricians and engineers in solar and wind energy, it will lead to better and more cost-effective products. And even though solar panels and wind turbines are costly, they will more than pay for themselves in the long run.

America is built on the principles of freedom and liberty. But how can we be free if we rely so heavily on other countries – some of which have adverse interests – for the energy we constantly need? And what do we do when those oil wells run out? We must come up with a way to break our political ties with fossil fuels. If we use alternative resources like the sun and wind, we don’t have to worry about the politics of another country threatening our perpetual need for energy. Going green makes political sense, economic sense, and moral sense. From simple steps like recycling to the more vexing issues surrounding coal mines, there are many ways and reasons for America to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. We can argue about global warming till the cows come home, but at the end of the day we— and the world we live in — would be better off adopting a greener lifestyle.