Some random and, I hope, interesting thoughts on a variety of things related to solar-charged driving and a greener, cleaner world for us all:
Rising gas prices. I wrote about how rising gas prices had me smiling three weeks ago. I’m still smiling while I watch gasoline prices go up in the U.S. Rising prices are the only thing that’s going to motivate average Americans to: a) buy more fuel efficient gasoline cars; b) take a serious look at getting ½ way off of gas by considering plug-in hybrid electric vehicles such as the Chevy Volt; c) take a serious look at getting off gasoline altogether, by considering cars such as the Nissan LEAF, Tesla S Model, Ford Focus Electric, and the many other pure electrics that are either already on the market in many places in the U.S., or will soon be. Who knows, higher gas prices might even get more Americans to reduce the amount they drive and to walk, bike and/or take public transit more.
How green is natural gas? Natural gas, which has been pretty much getting a free ride in the American mainstream media for awhile, is finally starting get some of the critical scrutiny it deserves. For instance, The New York Times recently ran a series of articles about the highly questionable drilling method referred to as “fracking” which involves injecting a “secret” mix of chemicals deep underground to force out natural gas from, in particular, shale rock formations (Does anyone seriously believe that at least some of these are not highly toxic? Otherwise, why all the emphasis on secrecy?). The Times also just ran a piece about the whole life cycle of natural gas, meaning from the well to the pipeline to end use, and it was surprisingly critical. Just check out the headline: “Poking Holes in a Green Image: Studies Say Life Cycle of Natural Gas Makes It a Dirty Fuel, Too”. The biggest free-ride for natural gas so far has been the fact that the methane natural gas wells release into the atmosphere has been essentially ignored by the American mainstream media – until now. This seems patently ridiculous, not to mention almost unbelievable, until you consider the fact that good, hard, seemingly obvious questions that ought to be asked by journalists, politicians, and the general public, about natural gas and, yes, solar, which has its own “dirty” secret, namely some of the toxic materials used in solar panels, hardly every get asked. Why not? Two words: Mainstream ideology.
Obsessed with carbon? The UK Guardian recently published an interesting and reflective piece (Is our carbon obsession healthy?) that takes a critical look at the world’s near one-dimensional focus on carbon dioxide. Written by Trewin Restorick, chief executive of Global Action Plan, the piece points out – correctly – that a single-minded focus on carbon has some downsides, most notably, the ways it can undermine broader goals such as global sustainability. One example Restorick uses in his column: The use of toxic metals such as mercury and cadmium in the construction of solar panels. I’ve never understood why solar panels have to be made with toxic materials. And I’m deeply troubled by the near total lack of a recycling plan for the millions of solar panels going up around the world. Well, actually, I do understand: The presence of toxic materials in solar panels reflects our obsession with the economic bottom line, humanity’s relentless propensity toward short-term thinking, and, finally, as Restorick points out, our singular focus on carbon. Some other downsides to our singular focus on carbon dioxide: A tendency to ignore other pollutants, including ones we breathe in and drink every day. Among them: carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrous oxide, mercury, sulfur dioxide, and particulate pollution. About a year ago, SolarChargedDriving.Com started an “Obsessed with Carbon Wall of Shame” feature. Shamefully, we haven’t kept it up — in part because of a sense that doing so would be considered “politically incorrect”. Yup, we’re not totally immune to the social pressures of the world.
Selfish Americans? Finally, a grab from a regular feature on the front-page of USA Today, the so-called USA Today “Snapshot”, a daily graphic that highlights some interesting statistic or “factoid”. From a recent Harris Poll: Just 36% of Americans indicate “they are concerned about the planet they are leaving for future generations.” This is a dismaying, though, for me, also relatively un-surprising statistic. It just re-confirms what I’ve believed for a long time: The majority of Americans are basically short-sighted, indifferent and, yes, selfish when it comes to environmental issues. Of course, well over ⅓ of Americans have children, which raises a basic, if also, blunt question: What the hell are they thinking? Don’t they want a planet that’s in reasonable shape for their children and their grandchildren? And, if not, why the hell not?
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