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The Need for Clean Energy

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Message Craig Harrington

As it currently stands, we spend tens of billions of dollars annually on imported oil.  The only way to stop this outflow is to stop using oil.  Not only would this keep our money out of the hands of foreign countries – many of whom are not particularly friendly toward the United States – but it could also put the U.S. at the head of the movement to decrease pollution worldwide.


The previous presidential administration largely dragged its feet on this issue, and Congress did very little to pass legislation to lead the way.  However, President Obama has made clean, renewable, alternative energy sources a major part of his platform.  Appropriations were included in the $787 billion stimulus program for alternative energy sources, but it was not nearly enough.  This country needs to step up and put real time and investment into potentially world-changing technological breakthroughs.


In the United States one of the biggest lobbies in the alternative energy field is coal – it is also the largest lobby in the traditional energy field.  The coal lobby claims that “clean coal” can be the wave of the future.  The United States has massive coal resources which, at current consumption, could last potentially hundreds of years.  Clean coal would be almost completely home-grown, and the industry already has an extensive infrastructure in place. 


Unfortunately, there are drawbacks to this proposal.  The world’s first commercially viable “clean coal” plant opened in Spremberg, Germany, last year.  It burns coal in a conventional way, but it captures the emitted carbon dioxide for underground storage.  The problem with clean coal is that the equipment necessary to “scrub” the emissions, the coal, or both, is incredibly expensive.  Furthermore, as stated by the plant’s own builders, clean coal is just a band-aid solution.  It is not the wave of the future, but rather a stop-gap between then and now.


This is not to say that the U.S. should not pursue clean coal. simply argues that the U.S. should not pursue clean coal and then ignore all other options.  For decades we ran on the faulty assumption that oil would be in perpetual supply, and would continue to be one of the least expensive liquids on the planet.  Things did not turn out that way.  Now, after having lost decades of potential research and development, the U.S. is playing catch-up.  We realized that oil was a dinosaur long after the rest of the world, and now we are lagging behind.


The United States needs comprehensive funding for coal, biofuel, advanced petroleum, clean diesel, solar, wind, geothermal, and nuclear energy research.  We need to use all of them, not just one or two.  The best part is that we have the technology ready and available; we just need the will to act.


Nuclear power produces zero carbon emissions, it is the most environmentally safe of the “old school” technologies so long as the waste is stored properly – disposing of nuclear waste is surprisingly simple, yet politicians have turned it into a quagmire.


Solar and wind energy are not 100 percent reliable all the time, but they are perfectly reasonable for use in specific areas.  Offshore wind supplies are nearly constant, yet nearly 99 percent of the world’s wind power comes from land-based turbines.  Solar power supplies are affected by seasonal variations, but that is only a problem if we are totally dependent on solar power.  Also, with expected advances in battery technology, we may be able to store more electricity for a longer period than ever before, nullifying the effects of these variations.


Biodiesel and clean coal will not be able to carry the entire energy load, but they can be an integral part of the solution program.  The United States is a massive country with vast natural resources; we need to start using all of them in conjuncture with one another.


The U.S. has dragged its feet long enough.  Regardless of one’s personal views on climate change, the fact that humans are polluting our climate to a horrendous extent is certifiable.  Who cares if there is no global warming if the planet is irrevocably damaged by human induced filth?


For the first time in a long time, the leaders at the top are making this a primary issue.  Alternative energies could potentially jump start our economy, induce job growth, diminish our addiction to foreign oil, and save the environment which we cherish.  Is that not a cause worth fighting for?


The United States needs to follow the lead of Japan and Europe – and to some extent China – and put its money into an investment for our future.  We have already gotten the ball rolling, now is time to put the full force of our nation behind the cause.


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Craig Harrington is pursuing a degree in History and Political Science at The Ohio State University. He is also a journalist for
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