April 15, 2004

Environmental Utopy 

There is one truism people must recognize regarding power generation and human activities in general: there is no zero-impact activity.

Human impact on the surrounding environment started well before the Industrial Revolution. In fact, it started with the invention of agriculture, some 10 000 years ago. When, by the way, there were no Western White Men and Zionist Agents around.
Before that time, humans could only survive through hunting and gathering (and probably scavenging): their population was limited by the naturally available resources.
Then, humans started cultivating foodstocks and breeding cattle, and thus they became able to produce more food, sustain more population that in turn needed more food. Humans started to change landscape to fit their own needs, and things went downhill from that moment.

Now, there are environmentalists asking for something ill-defined, but I can figure it out: it’s zero-impact power generation. Sorry guys, it does not exist.
Even renewable power sources have environmental impact: hydro power needs dams and lakes and other structures; geothermal needs lots of above-ground pipelines (visit Larderello in Italy to get an idea of the matter) and releases stinking substances. Wind turbines are highly visible (According to Materials World, 12(1), 2004, they can even interfere with military and civil air traffic control radars), quite noisy, and tend to kill a real lot of birds. Biomass combustion needs structures similar to those of coal-fired power stations and prduces ashes and fumes. Solar cells are energy-intensive to produce, use a lot of surface… and they will adsorb light that otherwise would heat the ground: this may cause local climate changes. And so on.

What we need to solve the problem of power generation is not whining, neither ideological preference for one source or the other. We need serious, open-minded risk assessment and cost/benefit evaluation for all the available sources and systems, and after that we can decide which is the best one for any given area and situation. In any case there is a price to pay, so we must figure out a way to pay the smallest price for the biggest gain.


Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?