Rather than only focus upon the 40% fresh water use by electric power generation, it is critical to recognize that climate disruption, occurring as a result of human-caused GHG emissions, has an impact upon water supplies. “Disruption of climate causes alterations to the hydrological cycle such as drought, flooding, increasing intensity to tropical storms, changes in the aquifer, loss of wetlands, loss of arable land,
changes in the state of water from solid to liquid to gaseous.”
DeCock asks us not only to consider how degradation of the atmosphere results in water shortages, but he also asks us to consider that the dirty energy that contributes most to climate change also can degrade our precious water supply. Those very technologies, “which create a false economy of greenhouse gas reduction, are the very technologies that pollute water and disrupt hydrological systems.”
- #1. Coal
The pervasive water impacts of coal begin with mining. Mountain Top Removal devastates and pollutes watersheds. Coal sludge can destroy ecosystems. The burning of coal, while generating massive amounts of CO2 also pollutes our air and water with mercury which ends up in fish and in humans. Mercury causes organic brain damage and is a growing public health crisis.
The operation of a coal plant requires billions and billions of gallons of water per year. This water is diverted from the natural flow and alters the hydrological balance and ecosystems in communities near coal plants and downstream. If you’re a fish or a plant or any part of the natural system of a stream or river, you really don’t want to be sucked up into a coal plant. When the water comes out the other end, it will not exactly be sustaining life.
- #2. Nuclear Power
As with coal, radioactive materials to power nuclear plants must be mined. This mining brings with it the same impacts in terms of watershed destruction, but also adds the risk of polluting water sources with radioactive materials.
Nuclear power plants, depending on their size, must withdraw a billion or more gallons of water from an ecosystem every day. That water is superheated, carries a risk of exposure to radioactive material, and is then dumped back into the watershed. Not only does this badly distort the natural systems, it draws water away from drinking water and agricultural supplies. After the nuclear fuel is spent, it is remains a substantial threat to water. Technology for storing radioactive waste is not sufficiently developed to ensure that water sources will be safe from radioactive leakage for even a relatively short amount of time relative to the half life of the materials used.
- #3. Corn ethanol
Cultivating corn for conversion to ethanol is a water intensive form of agriculture that encourages monoculture and impacts water resources available for food production. Fertilizers and pesticides from the large agribusiness farms growing corn for ethanol pollute regional lakes, streams, rivers and aquifers. The amount of pesticide running into the Mississippi River system is causing an unprecedented and devastating expansion of the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, a region in which no life can be sustained. Combined the the massive amount of water required for the industrial process of converting the corn into fuel it takes as much as bout 1,200 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol.
The enterprise of cultivating and refining corn ethanol is itself a very carbon intensive process that brings along with it all of the direct water impacts of CO2 generated sources of energy with little or no net benefit in terms of mitigation of green house gases.
“Following six decades of attempting to find a ‘safe’ and dependable way of storing radioactive waste from nuclear plants, experts still have no solution. These materials will remain a major public health threat for thousands of years. The more such materials we use, transport and store, the greater that threat becomes.” So, ask yourself why we continue with such detrimental policy?
The cartoon gives a good illustration of energy intensive farming practices that form the basis of corn to ethanol, and why its EROEI (Energy Return On Energy Invested) is so poor. It also suggests that we consider the cost of the fuel and the pollution associated with production from field to wheel.
Yet it would seem that federal policy makers are intent on acting counter to the interests of the people in the United States and the global community. “The three energy sources listed above,” writes deCock, “are the most heavily subsidized, both in terms of payments and guarantees from the government and our costs for picking up the ecosystem and public health expenses associated with all of the damage they cause.”
H.R. 2454 left the House for Senate consideration with weakened targets and incredibly large bailouts awarded to the fossil fuel industry. Now as the Senate takes their turn, we catch glimpses of even more concentrated, corporate political power.
As the battle is waged against efforts to pass clean energy reform, powerful interests have been revealed, puppets identified, and massive investment in deception and misinformation uncovered. What were once “credible sources” no longer are credible. What offices were entrusted with power, no longer can be trusted.
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