Until we cease using coal as an energy source, we must properly use or dispose of coal ash. It has many industrial uses, but poor storage and accidental release cause great ecological damage. Its composition can vary depending on the type of coal and where it was mined. The majority of coal ash is silicon dioxide, aluminum oxide, iron oxide, and calcium oxide, along with a whole host of trace toxic elements, including hexavalent chromium, lead, mercury, and uranium. With over 130 million tons of fly ash produced each year, and about 43% of it is reused, that leaves over 73 million tons every year in this country that are usually disposed of in large slurry ponds that occasionally fail, spilling out into the surrounding land and water to contaminate and destroy anything in the vicinity of the deluge. Coal ash needs to be dealt with in an ecologically friendly manner as it is being produced in order to keep massive releases from occurring. Slurry ponds are just a disaster waiting to happen, and have the potential to cause groundwater and aquifer pollution. Thorough, efficient methods for dealing with ALL of the coal ash produced must be mandated or else we are going to continue to have accidents and destruction from this mess.
Sustainability goes hand-in-hand with conservation. Good conservation practices will automatically provide basic sustainability. Critically limited resources require additional techniques to preserve. Sustainability is going to be harder and harder to be able to achieve due to the continually increasing numbers of humans that inhabit the planet; and growing numbers of those people are becoming more financially able to buy more things, thus further depleting limited resources. Renewable energy, conservation, recycling, and ecologically friendly agricultural methods are some of the biggest contributors to being able to provide a sustainable existence.
Pollution impacts everyone, whether it is blown into the air, buried in the ground or dumped in the water. Clean air, land, and water are not corporately negotiable items, they are a social necessity. We must not get rid of the EPA, we must not remove regulation, we must not abandon the Paris Accords -- all are necessary adjuncts to attempting to maintain an environment that is not totally corrupted by pollution. Pollution is harmful to everyone, even those people who may not be directly impacted by dirty water, diseased land, and toxic air.
Agriculture feeds everyone, whether it is soybeans and wheat in the Midwest or fruits and vegetables in the west. Sustainable agriculture initiatives need to be funded for healthy food production. Farmers tend the land that produces all of our food. Without farmers, the population of the world would be about the same as it was 10,000 years ago and we’d all still be living in tiny communities of hunter-gatherers. We must support our farmers however is necessary in order to ensure that they are not forced into bankruptcy, that they cannot afford to do their job any longer, that they are taxed into oblivion. Supporting farming and farmers is not only sensible fiscal policy, but socially and culturally necessary for the continuation of our species.
Clean air is a necessity for healthy living. Using fossil fuels, especially coal, derails the ability to have clean air for everyone to breathe. Greener alternatives for energy production are needed. Air pollution causes many problems, both to the environment and to people. The emissions from vehicles, fuel-burning power plants, industrial discharge; methane from cows, from landfills, from melting permafrost; aerosols that contain ozone-depleting chemicals, excess ozone at the surface, particulates -- all of these and more contribute to the dirtying of the air we all need in order to breathe, for animals to live, for plants to thrive and provide oxygen. Polluted air increases disease and mortality. Having a sitting President declare that there will be no more war on coal does not bode well for improving the quality of the air we breathe. Clean air is a necessity and requires the proper combination of regulation and support of non-combustion renewable energy sources.
A Federally mandated carbon tax upon producers of and first-line users of (power plants and major industry) fossil fuels is a realistic and effective way of moving the cost of using polluting energy sources to the entities responsible for those uses. It will help to move the entities away from using carbon-based fuels thus promoting non-polluting renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and geothermal. Proper oversight and regulation is necessary in order to keep the initial payers from moving those costs down to the consumer, as that is a regressive tax because the average consumer is not wealthy and would not be able to reasonably afford a large increase in their electric bill or fuel bill. Additionally, while placing a small increase to the gasoline tax is probably reasonable, a significant increase in the gas tax is again unfair to the average consumer who is absolutely reliant on fuel to get to work and to shop for necessities. Ensuring that the producers and first-line users of fossil fuels pay for the tax themselves without passing on that tax will greatly enhance their desire to fund projects that use renewable fuel so that they can resume normal operations without having to lose great sums of money on carbon taxation. Also, emerging nations will require assistance so that they are not dependent upon fossil fuels for energy.
Green Energy; Clean Energy; Renewable Energy:
Green energy is essentially renewable energy under a different name. Renewable energy is going to be necessary in order for us to continue living on this planet and improving our lives. Policies aimed at increasing our use of clean energy sources must be a priority if we want to continue to use electrically-powered devices. This includes storage methods for the energy produced. Many forms of renewable energy are available; some are more location-dependent than others. Solar and wind power are the most common. Geothermal, hydroelectric, tidal power, wave power, biomass power, and anaerobic digestion are also available. All by itself, we could fairly easily utilize solar energy to provide power to the entire Earth; enough solar radiation hits the Earth to power everything we use every day, and will not abate for billions of years. (See ‘Renewable Energy’ in the “Energy” category for more.)
Clean water is a requirement of all higher forms of life on Earth: No clean water, life generally disappears. As far as we know, water is required for life to exist and proliferate. If we want to continue living, we must ensure that the water we have is free from pollution and available to everyone. Only 2.5% of all the water on the surface of the Earth is freshwater, and a meager 0.3% of that is in rivers, lakes, and in the atmosphere. There are still almost a billion people on this planet that do not have access to clean water, and three times that many do not have access to good sanitation. Clean water for people is a problem right now, even in the United States, and it is a crisis in many places around the globe. Not being able to have clean water has been shown to have a direct effect on per capita GDP -- bad water, low income. It also affects industry, as many require clean water to produce their goods. Protection of our waters, and providing that water to people are of vital importance for all aspects of living.
Global warming is a consequence of the ongoing activities of human beings. The use of carbon-based fuels produces carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which then increases the temperature. This isn’t hoodoo, voodoo, or a small booboo. It is physics and chemistry. Denying that the ongoing climate change that we are experiencing, and have been giving input to for the last 150 years, is to become friends with those who deny that the Earth is round, or deny that the Earth is not the center of the solar system, or any other scientifically explained and proven phenomena. If we do not stop this now and move to energy sources that do not require burning fuel, we will destroy the planet. As we pump more CO2, methane, and other GHG’s into the atmosphere, the resulting increase in temperature is not a straight line up a slight incline, the temperature begins to increase faster and faster. At the rate that oil companies continue to pour obscene amounts of money into keeping us on an oil-slicked ride into oblivion, we are in for some serious trouble. This is not an us or them issue, it is an everyone issue, because if we don’t control it right now there won’t be anyone left to be partisan. Massive governmental and industrial funding of renewable energy is needed right now and into the future in order to get us off this calamitous track of runaway global warming.
Conservation comes from 'conserve', which means to use only in the amount necessary, not frivolously or needlessly. This is an important policy regardless of the area it is being applied to. Just because we are Americans does not mean that we can continue to use resources and plunder the Earth in order to have more stuff while so many people suffer needlessly. We must put into effect teaching, training, policies, and regulations that will help promote, foster, and incorporate conservation into all things that we do every day.
Recycling decreases both energy use and negative environmental impacts from mining. We have limited resources to draw on for manufacturing. Recycling can be a big part of conservation, as it reuses resources that have already been mined or produced. Paper, aluminum, steel, plastics -- all of these can be recycled into new products without having to use nearly the amount of resources as were required for their initial production. Aluminum mining and refining alone consumes an enormous amount of electricity -- 1% of all the electricity generated in this country goes into the production of aluminum. But recycling used aluminum during the end-process of initial manufacturing only uses five percent of the electricity that the initial manufacture requires. Recycling needs to become a higher priority for all since the natural resources of this planet are finite; we must re-use those resources when and where we can. Incentives for large businesses and corporations that engage in a comprehensive recycling program could be created; also, incentives for entrepreneurs to create companies whose sole purpose is the recycling of materials could be investigated.
Energy consumption is increasing everywhere. We must invest heavily in cleaner alternative sources of energy. Renewable energy is the best way for us to meet our power demands now and in the future. Energy consumption can also be a part of conservation. While there are more devices now that require electricity, we have the ability to make them more efficient, thereby lowering the use of energy. We also need to continue to have regulations that require automobiles to be more energy-efficient, ie. improved MPG ratings. Devices that automatically power down after a certain period of time is another way of reducing energy consumption. Lots of little things add up to a lot of unnecessary energy usage: Leaving lights on when not in use, turning off fans, smart thermostats for furnaces and air-conditioners, using LED’s when possible. Funding innovation for ways to produce products that require less electricity/energy to do the work they are used for is necessary.
As with any other process that impacts the environment, fracking needs to be done carefully and with the best technology and remediation plans available in case of accident or unforeseen difficulties. Fracking has been used in well-drilling since 1950. Without it, we would be considerably worse-off resource-wise. But it must be used responsibly and in as environmentally-sustainable a way as it can. Drilling is very much similar to mining in that both actions disturb the formerly stable ground in an oftentimes highly impactful manner. Drilling, particularly when used with the fracturing process (fracking) can lead to groundwater contamination and does pose a small risk of seismic disturbances. There are many chemicals that can be used to hydraulically fracture difficult to reach petroleum and gas deposits. It should be obvious that using the least damaging and offensive of these chemicals, especially anywhere near aquifers must be done in order to pose the least risk to the environment. Cleanup of any site that used fracking also needs to be fully completed, including soil and water. Since roughly 5% of the oil brought to the surface is used in producing goods, if we were to use renewable energy -- solar and wind mostly -- the need to use fracking on such a widespread basis would decrease dramatically. Wells will continue to be necessary in order to retrieve oil from the ground, but if we can limit the amount of oil that requires drilling for, then the negative effects of fracking will be almost completely removed from the equation.
Public lands require the input of the people who use them and or live on/near them to best determine how to manage them so that future generations will still have public lands available to use and enjoy. This requires many governmental agencies. The USA contains about 2.27 billion acres. Of that, roughly 640 million acres of land is owned by the Federal Government. Five agencies manage 97% of that land: The BLM, the Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and the much smaller DOD; other agencies deal with the remaining 3%. There has been debate about the use and procurement of Federal lands since the Government began operation in 1789. Overall, there are fewer acres under Federal Governmental ownership now than in there were 25 years ago, and the amount of land that the government owns fluctuates up and down over time. What really is at stake here is how are the lands being managed -- are they being dealt with professionally, thoroughly, quickly, and fairly, or are they being left to deteriorate due to poor management and a lack of upkeep and failing infrastructure? This question is at the center, and it is one that should be dealt with both in the Federal budget, and on a case-by-case basis versus agency-wide proclamations that determine how every single acre that a given agency has under its jurisdiction is treated. This will continue to be a debated topic, in some places more hotly than others, but it can be dealt with reasonably if the people being affected and the agencies overseeing the land come together to talk, to trade information, and to reach a consensus on the best way to manage the land.
Environmental protection is protection of our species. Without such protections as have been provided by the EPA, the Earth would quite quickly become a very inhospitable and dangerous place to live. The lands and waters of this nation would revert to being polluted, toxic, brown, smelly, fire-prone, and disease-laden; it would be an unpleasant continent. Environmental protection and regulation go hand-in-hand: The regulations that the EPA tries to enforce are there because without them, the mad dash for money and profit quickly overwhelm the morals and sense of those people and businesses whose stated goal is business -- to make as much money as possible while spending as little as possible. And regulation and environmental protection cost money.
Climate change is happening all the time: Seasons vary, environmental influences (volcanoes; permafrost melting) alter it, but the earth/sun relationship in space produces the most dramatic shifts.
The climate change that has been recorded over the last 150 years is due almost solely to the exponential growth of the human population on this planet, and the introduction of fossil fuels to support our various cultures. Prior to those two focal points, the Earth experienced, and still experiences, climate changes based on volcanic activity (in small part, unless there is a truly stupendous strato-volcano that erupts, in which case it will have an effect immediately and then long-term), and much more importantly, our position in space relative to the sun -- the seasonal distance between us and the sun, orbital tilt, precession, and wobble. Technically, we should currently be in the very beginning phase of a cool-down based on the approximately 100,000 cycle of the wobble I just mentioned, but because there are billions of people creating and engrossing industries which inject all sorts of chemicals into the air that due to physics and chemistry trap and re-release heat energy into the atmosphere/biosphere, the Earth is warming up. This is strictly science, it is not voodoo, hoodoo, fear-mongering, paranoia, or any other word/phrase you wish to use in order to deny the very facts that are being presented to you. Denial is one of the most basic and strongest of all human emotions -- overcoming it requires the application of intellect and reasoning.
The contention that the actions of Homo Sapiens is not the causal agent of our currently warming planet makes no sense for an historical reason: The planet has only been warming gradually since human beings began to alter the world around them. Prior to humans, the dinosaurs ruled this world for hundreds of millions of years without any kind of negatively-impactful dinosaur-caused climate change. The only change that has occurred within the last (approximately) three million years is the evolution of Homo sapiens. Until there were enough people living all at the same time, there was no real concentrated, sustained ability to alter the environment through the use of science to impact our lives and thus the world as a whole. Once there were large population centers, communication between people allowed us to begin understanding the very nature of the world around us. At that point, we began to change our world in order to better our existence. This has, inexorably, led to more people doing more things in order to better themselves.
Not counting the anywhere from 60 to 100 billions humans that have been estimated to have lived and died on the Earth so far, there are currently approximately 7.5 billion humans alive right at this moment, and we are using natural resources at a furious and increasing pace. Now we get to the single greatest event impacting the continually increasing temperature of the Earth: The discovery and use of fossil fuels. Prior to that discovery, the climate remained essentially unchanged excepting seasonal fluctuations, and occasionally due to impacts from volcanic eruptions and various astronomical influences -- solar radiation output changes, the position of the Earth related to the sun via the orbit of the Earth and the tilt of the Earth. The temperature of the Earth has been steadily climbing since people began to extensively use fossil fuels. If only one household out of all the households on earth were to use fossil fuels in order to heat and energize their home, it would produce virtually no impact to the global environment. But there are far more than just a single household using oil for heat, electricity, and transportation. I think part of the problem of getting people to understand and accept that the actions of humans are causing the alterations in the climate is one of 'reporting scale': When a person hears or reads that the average overall increase in the global temperature is three-tenths of a degree Celsius, the train of thought is, ‘Well, that's nothing! I can't even feel that difference!’ While this may indeed be true, that person's thoughts relate it to a local scale that they can understand -- if you are trying to judge the difference between 68 and 68.3 degrees in your living room, it would most likely go unnoticed. However, you must realize that while it doesn't take much energy to increase the temperature of your living room by three-tenths of a degree, it DOES take a truly unbelievably monumental amount of energy to alter the temperature of the entire biosphere (air, land, and water) by three-tenths of a degree. Consider this: How much natural gas or fuel oil or coal or propane or wood does a person have to burn in order to change the temperature of their living room by three-tenths of a degree, and then try to estimate the amount of those same products it has taken in order to raise the temperature of THE ENTIRE EARTH by three-tenths of a degree. Now it may be easier to understand that all of the chemicals that we’ve been churning into the atmosphere for the last couple hundred years have indeed made a difference, and that difference is increasing. We all, as a species, must come together in cooperation so that the processes that are causing the heating up of the planet can be stopped before it is too late. Significant resources and funding are going to be required in order to fix the mistakes of our own hubris. I support all technologies and methods that are available, along with continuing investigation and research, that will help to decrease our negative impact on the atmosphere.