Eight Millennium Development Goals cont…
Step Seven: Ensuring Environmental Sustainability
If there is one thing that we should not estimate in dollar value, it is our environment and natural resources that, by definition, are gifts from nature, but are vulnerable and exhaustible as well. Sadly, the World Bank making the equation “No coral reefs = No fish = No income”. Fish is also being attacked by many different enemies: the growing appetite of the growing population of the planet and the polluted water of the World Ocean. Near coral reefs one can see boys with missing limbs – the casualties of home-made bombs to catch fish. In this case, can we easily put our finger on who is the real victim, as fishing is vital in the poor regions of the world. The result of having our oceans polluted is not as simple as “No fish = No income”, because in addition to this, 3 million people die prematurely each year from water borne diseases. The World Health Organization (WHO) also reports that 1 million people die, each year, from urban air pollution and respiratory infections; diarrhea and malaria cause almost 20% of the deaths in developing countries.
Environmental issues go hand in hand with producing and consuming energy, and the growing ‘power hunger’ of societies. As oil supplies are almost exhausted and the price of natural gas is increasing, we rely mainly on coal to satisfy our growing demands for energy. In general, coal-burning power plants consume 25 tons of coal each minute, having turbines that produce more than 3 000mega-watts of electric power and sending a vast ocean of steam into the atmosphere. Of course, significant amounts of damaging substances are emitted in the process, including sulfur dioxide (the main cause for acid rains) and mercury. Such plants supply The United States with half its electricity producing as much climate-warming carbon dioxide as America’s trucks, planes, cars and buses combined. Lester Lefkowitz, a journalist for the National Geographic, comments: “America’s taste for bigger houses, along with population growth in the West and air-conditioning-dependent Southeast, will help push up the U.S. appetite for power by a third over the next twenty years. And in the developing world, especially China, electricity needs will rise even faster as factories burgeon and hundreds of millions of people buy their first refrigerators and TVs. Much of that demand is likely to be met with coal (according to data from the Department of Energy).”
Global warming and the Green House Effect are already alarming issues and yet, of all fossil fuels, the most widely used – coal – produces the most carbon dioxide per unit of energy. The most obvious question one may ask is “Isn’t there a way to reduce the amount if C2O emitted during the burning of coal?” Of course, scientists have already provided a solution for that problem. Julio Friedmann who studies carbon dioxide management at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory explains: “Right now, if you took a plant and slapped a carbon-capture device on it, you’d lose 25 percent of the energy. Needless to mention, few companies will be willing to reduce the amount of energy they produce and even fewer governments will encourage loosing sources of power in the name of Environmental sustainability. Steven Vick, the general manager of the Wabash power plant, in southwestern Indiana, claim to be “The cleanest coal-fired power plant in the world.” Vick explains the company is using a “technology that’s set up for total C2O removal.” Basically, what this method does is inject carbon dioxide deep underground and seal it away from the atmosphere, so that it can no longer cause any harm. However, many scientists argue that this may still be an enormous threat for people , as we do not know enough about the effect of burying C2O underground. Yet, William Rosenberg of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government says: “The fact that it’s proved in Indiana and Florida doesn’t mean executives are going to make a billion-dollar bet on it”. As to enforcing laws in order to preserve the environment, U.S. utilities are still allowed to freely emit as much carbon dioxide as they wish. I wonder how this lack of governmental participation is in accordance with The Eight Millennium Developmental Goals, under which The United States signed their approval? And still we have plenty of time to resolve this issue, as with today’s rates of consummation, we have enough amount of coal to last for the next 250 years. In the meantime, people, like journalist Lester Lefkowitz, will continue discussing “The Coal Paradox – We can’t live without it. But can we survive with it?” while owners of coal-burning power plants, like Angeline Protogore, say gratefully “This is why we’re making all the power” when entering their air-conditioned offices.
The more expensive nuclear reactors are the other main source of energy today, but it is also a most controversial issue that has been argued upon in the course of the last twenty years. More than twenty years ago, before dawn on April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl’s Nuclear Power Plant’s number four reactor exploded, becoming one of the most tragic accidents in human history. Thirty people died in the blast, among the fire flames or were exposed to lethal radiation. But this was only the beginning, because the fallout, 400 times more radioactive than the Hiroshima bomb, triggered an epidemic of thyroid cancer in adults and, especially, children. Normally, the disastrous accident also caused enormous economic losses for Ukraine. Although the families of the victims received compensations, no one can make up for the genetic and psychological damage that has been done and that still causes suffering.
People in Pripyat, the nearest to Chernobyl’s reactor town, were evacuated in the same day and given iodine pills, but the population of nearby Belarus did not receive pills for another week. Political agendas kept people from learning the truth about the explosion and the contamination of the region, so children were drinking milk from cows that have been eating the radioactive grass. That is why, the 230 “excessive” deaths in the 1990s from leukemia, other cancers and heart diseases are blamed upon the Chernobyl crisis. The radioactivity was so powerful, that even under the concrete-and-steel sarcophagus, the remnants of the reactor still hold a threat. One may argue that today we are better prepared to meet an accident of any kind accordingly. Many scientists argue that a “nuclear renaissance” will help preserve the environment while meeting our demands for electricity. Charles Petit, a journalist, reminds that members of the Congress support the idea of embracing the atom again. If we do so, and there is another accident, will the administration take all the responsibility? Will it give people iodine pills immediately, or will it wait for a week?
Being attracted by nuclear industry’s pros, many countries rush into building nuclear reactors. France already owes 78 percent of its energy due to nuclear power. India alone has 15 nuclear reactors already at work and eight more are under construction. Baldev Raj, director of the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, clearly states his credo: “If you have a way to make electricity, then we say, make as much as you can.” Still, however, no one can advocate a worst case scenario.
The debate seems to be going in circles while global dimming and warming have never been that alarming.