Energy to Stay Alive

Coal is a dirty business, and sadly, as the world saw last week, a deadly one. What happened in Turkey (a mining explosion killing 238 people, followed by a violent protest – for those just tuning in) may have been a result of outdated working regulations, however it was an accident that could have – and has – happened anywhere, even in the US. Those who do not work in or know anyone who works in the coal mining industry are likely only conscious of the harm that coal causes once burned – that heavy, visible air pollution in the form of carbon dioxide-laden smog. But the process of extracting the coal to burn for energy like electricity – which still comprises 37% of our nation’s energy use – is immediately more threatening to human health.

PHOTOGRAPH BY PIERO CASTELLANO/PACIFIC PRESS/SIPA VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS, COURTESY OF NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
PHOTOGRAPH BY PIERO CASTELLANO/PACIFIC PRESS/SIPA VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS, COURTESY OF NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

In Turkey, the explosion was a combination of reactions between trapped methane and coal dust that were somehow ignited. Sources at National Geographic reported that even the slightest spark could have triggered an explosion this destructive, given the conditions down in the mines. Even worse, the depths of these mines are almost record length, with pressure from the government to dig even deeper to meet domestic energy demands. Without proper ventilation and buffering any mine in the same condition as the one in Turkey would have exploded. While in the US we now enforce proper regulations to prevent these types of tragedies, it was only a few decades ago that our own miners could have faced a similar fate. And for what – cheap, non-renewable, mediocre fuel?

Coal dust by itself is just like gunpowder…If you have a methane explosion [that] just kicks up more coal dust, it becomes like a huge bomb.” – Greg Norman, administrator for the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training, via National Geographic

Much debate surrounds what the next big energy movement will be. There are several alternatives, some cleaner than others, though conversely, some cheaper. Different motives back the voices supporting each. The one thing every party can agree on is that we have reached the point of no return in terms of technology, and technology that requires energy to run. Going back to simpler times is not an option – we can’t return to the Stone Age or read by candlelight. The quickest, yet least likely solution, is to practice efficiency. However, between stubbornness and lack of awareness, this shift will not occur fast enough. We need a source that can sustain life at the pace we live it at, and for that force to never cease. But where will we ever find such a reliable, powerful source of energy?…

The Sun

…If you’re already working on energy efficiency on an individual level, kudos. The next step is curtailing your dependence on conventional energy – because sadly the term conventional is still associated with practices that are unsustainable. What if you could charge your life (which for most of us is in the palm of our hands via our cell phones) with the one source that has, since the beginning of time, charged all life? Solar power is, in my opinion, the future of stored energy, at least at the personal and residential level. Panels are built directly on top of the structures that need them, alleviating the burden of transporting and distributing energy. While, yes, weather conditions could cause fluctuations in the efficiency of the panels, solar energy will never not exist, will never emit any byproducts, and is not prejudice or advantageous towards any human. And while entire nations may not be ready to collectively hop on board with solar energy – the most powerful renewable source of energy – individuals have the option to power their homes via the sun for the time being, cutting down, at least, on personal footprints and expenses. What more – it’s affordable and not the least bit intrusive. In fact, its products like this that recharged an entire city devastated by (arguably human caused) natural disaster (See “Voltaic Turns The Lights Back On.”) As the world falls deeper into a contradictory war for energy, take back your own dependence on the power that charges your life, and puts others’ lives at risk.

Voltaic - Charging Phone

Allison Beauregard

Allison is a New York City based writer with a focus on sustainability. Her work demonstrates how it is possible to have the “things” that make us happy without compromising the resources that provide these goods. With this vision, Allison sees a future where environmental degradation is reversed and the quality of human life is equally distributed. She is the Category Editor of The Franklin Report and was among the top 5 contributors for Elephant Journal in October 2014.

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