And other words from readers
Re: Let It Be Me
I liked the interview with Emily Saliers. But please suggest to Kathryn that she refer to these “new” energy sources as renewable rather than alternative. I am in the business of designing, installing, and promoting the occasional solar-electric system. As long as we keep calling it “alternative,” guess what it will be? Our home has run on solar power for about 10 years. It is mainstream for me.
Mt. Shasta, Calif.
While most people focus on the problems with waste disposal and meltdowns, the biggest problem with nuclear power is that it requires mining uranium. This is an extremely environmentally destructive activity, as it not only requires digging into the Earth, but also removes radioactive material that should be left where it is, creating more destructive radioactivity on the surface of our planet. (All radioactivity is medically harmful and no level is safe, notwithstanding industry propaganda to the contrary.) Even if the problems of disposal and accidents could be solved, the environmental destruction caused by uranium mining is reason enough to strongly oppose nuclear power.
For those who don’t know, another reason to oppose use of all nuclear material, including by the medical industry, is that in the U.S. uranium is mined almost exclusively by Native Americans, who then suffer the ill health effects from exposure to radiation. This is virtual slavery, using the most economically depressed people in the U.S. to do something that goes totally against their traditional beliefs so that other, more well-off people can benefit.
Forget nukes; we should be promoting energy conservation and renewable power.
San Francisco, Calif.
What’s the point of discussing the cost of producing a kilowatt-hour of energy from a nuclear or coal plant without discussing the capital cost? Nuclear power is more expensive than any other form of conventional electricity. The only people who can get electricity from a nuclear plant for 1.7 cents per kWh are the people who have already paid 8 or 9 or in some cases upwards of 18 cents per kWh to build the plant. If those people are retail customers, they also have to pay the utility’s other costs, including administration, debt service, and profits. Or they are industrial customers who are getting a direct subsidy from the other customers. The price comparison of 1.7 cents for nuclear versus 2 cents for coal is meaningless in any discussion of real-world concerns.
I am an avid reader of your daily emails, but I was very perturbed to read the following quote: “In terms of air pollution, nuclear reactors beat fossil-fuel-burning power plants hands down.”
In 1979, under my coordination, Power Plant Analysts performed what was called the most in-depth analysis of the economics of a single nuclear power plant in the United States. We concluded that the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station west of Phoenix, Ariz. — the largest plant in the nation — was much more expensive than alternative coal-fired generation. Part of why nuclear power is so expensive is that huge amounts of fossil fuels are required to build the plant and to fuel it. Estimates are that it takes the equivalent of about 12 years of electrical output to build the plant, in fossil-fuel outlay.
Please do not concede an argument to the pro-nuclear cheerleaders, when it is such a flawed argument to begin with.
With much respect,
Amanda Griscom altogether failed to bring up the French experience with nuclear power. Yes, I realize that the French are not our best friends these days, but they can still teach us a thing or two — like how to run the most efficient and clean electricity-producing export industry in Europe, thanks to an 80 percent contribution from nuclear.
Mining concerns? The French have taken care of this largely by recycling the spent nuclear fuel, thus minimizing the environmental impact of raw material extraction and enrichment. Sure, the reprocessing still takes lots of electricity, but given that most of that electricity is nuclear-generated, it is largely produced without greenhouse gases.
If anti-nuclear activists are really concerned about proliferation and stopping the benign application of nuclear power, they need to first convince the French to stop their incredibly successful program, since it can used by nuclear supporters to point out how things can be done right.
Re: Pee Ditty
Why do folks not just plain air-dry their hands, or bring their own hanky or napkin, obviating the need for either paper towels or electric gizmos?
Though I believe in keeping as much waste out of the landfill as possible, all organic waste that can’t be composted should be trashed. Environmentally, garbage disposals are a lot worse. First, they use tremendous amounts of water. Second, when cooking fats, oils, and grease are poured down the drain, they tend to collect and stick to household plumbing and sewer lines. Over time blockages occur that lead to sewer backups, sometimes causing sewage to overflow from plumbing fixtures or sewer-system manholes. My town has a good webpage on this topic that even shows a video of a grease-encrusted pipe.
My wife and I were both raised on farms, where nothing organic is wasted. We now live in a city of 100,000+, but our neighborhood is older and tree-covered. There is much wildlife here — deer, woodchucks, opossums, raccoons, squirrels, a fox, hawks, songbirds. We also have a small dog. In short, no even slightly edible materials need go to waste here. We compost and save a few scraps for the dog, and then everything else (vegetable or meat-related) goes “down the hill” behind our house, where no one else can see it. Since the food is always gone the next morning, we’re pretty sure that some of nature’s creatures appreciate the treats. We’re rewarded with an occasional glimpse of wildlife. We have a garbage disposal, but I can’t remember it being used for anything larger than a few lemon seeds.
I very much enjoy your column. You might also recommend that your readers lobby their municipal governments to introduce separated kitchen-waste pickup, as Toronto is now in the process of doing. The collected waste will be centrally composted, with the compost going to public gardens and also available to individual householders. In my mother’s part of the city, where the program has been in place for a few months, there is a very high level of compliance.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Those who are going to have children can reduce the impacts of that decision on population growth in two ways. First, limit the number of children to no more than two, i.e. replacement level, and second, have whatever children you’re going to have as late in life as you can. This latter step will delay when you actually add those numbers to the population and delay how soon they will reach childbearing age themselves.
I think the best way to conserve the environment would be for the federal government to stop giving tax breaks for dependent children. You may think that it wouldn’t make a difference, but paying people to have children sends a misguided message.
Bill McKibben’s book, Maybe One: An Argument for Smaller Families, offers great insight and research into the topic of having just one child. It is inclusive of people who choose to have two or more and those who choose not to have children. It goes into the environmental, social, and personal implications and is a great read.
Mill Valley, Calif.
I am glad to see the field of ecological economics getting some attention here! Money is the language of power and until we environmentalists learn to speak that language, whether we agree with it or not, we won’t have the muscle to effect serious change. The “movement,” as we like to call ourselves, is based on numbers — lives affected, species on the brink, amount of pollution emitted. Put a dollar sign in front of those numbers and the people who need to listen open their ears to why things need to change. Thanks for lending your voice, Grist!
What the human race has done to itself in the last 70 years is insane. To think technology can ever replace the gifts that made life good in the first place — animals, oxygen, trees — is stupid. Little children know better. One can only conclude that the majority of people are driven by greed, pure and simple. So the only solution is not for artists like me to continue to express how horribly we are violating our grandchildren’s ability to experience innocence, but for intellectuals like these gentlemen to continue to do the work they are doing. Economists must address greedy people in the only language they understand: the bottom line of how much it will cost to continue to destroy the Earth. I’m grateful for the grit and minds of these ecological economists.
New Vernon, N.J.
As an environmental economist who is well versed in ecological economics, I can say with some authority that although I, too, am often critical of neoclassical economics, the way it is often characterized by its critics is wrong. To begin, there are many environmental economists, like myself, who take ecological arguments very seriously. To say that ecological economics stands classical economics on its head is pure hyperbole — good for sound bites but lacking in truth. Yes, there are a few major departures in the thinking of most ecological economists, but in fact, the profession is completely dependent on the tools and methodology of neoclassical economics. Ecological economics has posed some very interesting questions and helped to focus energy on important topics that sometimes don’t receive adequate attention. However, to characterize it as some grand challenge to mainstream economics is ultimately silly. Those in ecological economics doing the best work would surely consider themselves at home with all good economists, regardless of their title.
Santa Cruz, Calif.
The triumphant tone of “Dyna-shore” is not justified. If Californians can decide about oil drilling in California, what about Alaskans deciding about drilling in Alaska?
Jemez Springs, N.M.
Re: Daily Grist
I can’t always get to all my email, but when I have time beyond the call of duty, I prioritize my Daily Grist. You do a superb job and I want to offer you all my very best wishes and blessings: May all the world grow to know and eat its Daily Grist!
Wendy Seana Blake
Murdoch, Western Australia