Oil, coal disasters should point us toward the sun


Oil drilling disasters
Since 2001, there have been 69 deaths, 1,349 injuries and 858 fires on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.
Source = U.S. Federal Minerals Management Service.

Two recent disasters in the United States once again underscored the social and environmental significance of replacing your gas-powered car with a solar-charged electric car:

  • The mining tragedy in West Virginia which claimed the lives of 29 men;
  • The deathly explosion on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 workers and which has resulted in the flow of about 42,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf per day. As of Tuesday, the oil slick from the BP rig had expanded to cover 1,800-square miles.

Though they seem far away to most of us – no closer, really, than the latest media account – we are all implicated in both of these tragedies.

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The refined oil that allows you, and I, to zip around in our personal automobile in our own little corner of the earth comes from somewhere. And its recovery, refinement and transportation involves the hard, often dangerous work, of real human beings who risk their lives every day so that you, or I, can hop in the car and pick up the hamburger buns we forgot for the Saturday barbeque.

The same is true of the coal that is likely partially (or even pretty close to fully) powering the computer you’re reading this on and the computer I wrote it on (by June 2, 2010 my computer will be solar-powered, by way of a 5.5 kW home solar system!).

Real people risk their lives for our energy
Real people, often working in extremely dangerous conditions, put their lives on the line every day so that you – and I – can exchange ideas, thoughts and views on solar, solar-charged driving, and the future of our fossil-fueled modern society.

The fact that real people must produce the goods, and energy, we use seems an “obvious” truth. However, few truisms are more overlooked by more people more often every day than this one.

When is the last time you heard about the deaths of dozens of workers who mine the raw materials for solar panels?

The basic reality of the connected nature of human social life doesn’t go away when we choose to switch our primary mode of transportation from a gas-powered, air-pollution spewing automobile to a solar-charged, essentially air pollution free electric car.

We still need to concern ourselves with the conditions of the workers who help make this incredible – and, in comparison to gas-powered driving, far more environmentally friendly option — a possibility, meaning we must make ourselves aware of the conditions of, among others, those who mine the raw materials needed to make the solar panels, the lithium for the EV battery, the steel for the EV, etc.

We also have to stay focused on the environmental repercussions of the production, distribution and consumption processes involved in solar-charged driving.

Driving less is best answer
While these repercussions are not trivial – and, in the end, they point to the fact that the best approach to driving is to drive less, they are far less severe, environmentally speaking, than the filthy trail a gas-powered car leaves, from the air pollution it spouts directly into your, and my lungs, to the oil slick that is expanding as I write this, and you read this, in the Gulf of Mexico. (It’s amazing how all the pro-offshore drilling folks ignore the very real environmental hazards that opening up more areas to drilling entails).

Just as important, the human cost of solar power pales in comparison to the human cost of coal and oil.

Don’t believe me?

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Then ask yourself: When is the last time you heard about the deaths of dozens of workers who mine the raw materials for solar panels?

In the end, making the decision to replace one (or both) of your gas-powered cars with a solar-charged electric car, isn’t just about the environment – although it is certainly about this (even if that’s not your motivation to solar-charge), it’s also about reducing the human toll the entire fossil fuel machine takes, from the mostly “invisible” oil rig workers and coal miners to the gasoline tanker truck drivers who deliver the gasoline to the local fill-up station.

Think about that the next time that you plug into the colossal – and hugely inefficient — fossil fuel pipeline rather than plugging into the clean, locally generated power of the sun.

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