Energy makes a first world country. Without electricity and the generation of power to move cars, turn on lights, talk on cell phones, type on computers, chill our food, or make our lattes, we are relegated to third world status. Lose power; people die.
When I practiced medicine in Africa, we could do surgeries as long as the electricity was reliable. That’s why a generator was always on stand-by, and we didn’t start an operation if the gasoline was impure. In Africa, a regulator is attached to the electrical grid because the electrical supply itself is so irregular with surges and drops that it alone will destroy electrical equipment or cause a fire. We have so much in America that we lose sight of how most of the world lives.
This country has produced the majority of its electrical power through coal fired power plants built in the 1960s and 70s with technology from the 1800s. These plants are built on waterways because water is needed to make steam. The steam is then used to turn turbines for electricity. The products of coal combustion are fly ash, which destroys our native waters, and greenhouse gasses, which heat our planet. The products of combustion (sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides which make acid rain) are no longer present due to a Cap and Trade program created by the EPA. Now, we are in a process of swapping coal fired plants for natural gas, which means no more fly ash but plenty of greenhouse gasses.
The harvesting of raw materials, fossil fuels, for the production of power is inherently a messy process. Recall the Exxon Valdese and the Deep Water Platform Horizon, and as of the writing of this article (October 17, 2017), an oil rig in New Orleans is on fire. It’s just messy, and the mining of coal is worse. Black lung disease has killed thousands of miners. The harvesting of these raw materials for the production of energy in all forms is as lethal to the workers as it is to the environment. We persist in the harvesting of fossil fuels because we need them, and it’s lucrative. The fact is that so much money is created that the incentive to find another, safer way is abandoned before it is explored..
Independence is an American virtue. “Leave me alone. I can manage it myself just fine, thank you.” But what could be more independent than independence from the need to purchase power from Big Oil or Big Coal? What could be more independent than one’s own power produced from harvesting solar rays or capturing wind or whatever we have yet to discover? What could provide more security for America than a secure, stable, independent source of energy?
Some might say, “This new technology would require tremendous government intrusion into a free American market.” Well, the oil industry is not exactly a free market. The oil industry is subsidized by the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. The coal industry is subsidized by Medicare and Social Security because you can be sure Big Coal does not pay for the lingering health problems that cause black lung and early death nor do they pay for funerals.
Americans are innovators. We are a courageous people. We do more with less. “We The People” need to seize the narrative that we own this place, and we’re tired of other people trashing it. Let’s find another way, a better way to make our own power. Let’s move away from the sloppy technology of 100 years ago. If we put our minds and our collective will to the task, we can do better; after all, we own this place.