If you read Part One of this mini-series, you now know that coal is a killer, but a fuel we are currently highly dependent on. Wind and Solar are relatively safe, but pretty dismal in terms of providing energy needs. Fracking is in the happy middle ground in terms of human mortality. In Part two, the varying energy sources will be compared and contrasted in terms of worker mortality, and environmental impact especially as it relates to animals, because I really like animals.
Energy Source #1: No energy Source
Perhaps energy is overrated. As we will see, all energy sources come with risks. So why not just go back to the good old days when we got up with the sun, pounded grain with a rock, and went to sleep at sunset? The impact on the flora and fauna was minimal, and we didn’t have a ghost of a chance of altering the climate by our foolish choices. When it got cold, we huddled together for warmth. Life was certainly simpler, and some groups are suggesting this is far superior to polluting our planet or the senseless death of 17 cows. (As noted in Part 1, it was the death of 17 cows by fracking that initiated this exhaustive search to understand why anyone would consider fracking as a good alternative.) “No energy source” is certainly an option, but even today, with easy availability of energy, there are 53,000 deaths yearly in Canada, USA, and Britain alone from hypothermia. This far exceeds the deaths from all the energy industries combined, albeit people, not animals. The animals fare pretty well without energy sources since they have fur or other adaptations, which keep them warm, and also make them cute and cuddly. However, we humans are clearly better off with at least some form of energy, than without.
Energy Source #2: Wood fires
Presumably, this was the only source of energy to our Cavemen ancestors. However, the average life expectancy of a Caveman was 25 years. On the plus side, wood fires are affordable, plentiful, renewable, and domestic. On the risk side, forest fires can and do erupt from carelessness or accidents while cooking half racks of Bison. Five billion animals are killed every year by forest fires! (http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_animals_die_a_year_from_forest_fires#page1)
Many of these animals are cute and cuddly, even cuter and cuddlier than cows. As an animal lover, this risk is clearly too great.
And lest we think electricity should never have replaced fire for lighting and warmth considering all the risks and problems, candle power is not without hazards. Candle Power is the cause of 126 deaths per year of humans! Whales, cats and dogs have all been used in candle production, killing thousands of them yearly.
“By the Middle Ages candles were common. Tallow, beeswax, and vegetable wax such as bayberry in North American, candleberry in the East, and waxberry in South America, were later supplemented by whale oil (spermaceti) and by stearine or stearic acid in the early 1800s (this is still obtained from plants which process the carcasses of dogs and cats killed in animal pounds and shelters), then by paraffin in the mid-1800s.” (http://prime.peta.org/2012/07/candles)
Coal is what powered the industrial revolution, and it is still a significant source of our energy needs. However, anyone who has ever looked at a picture of lungs riddled with black lung disease knows it is not without risks. A coal miner has an average life expectancy of 52.7 years. On first blush, this is not good. While double that of the caveman, it is a third less than people who don’t mine coal. It is important to note that prior to the advent of coal energy, the average life expectancy was only 45 years, so even the coal miner benefits from the advent of this fossil fuel. Still, the mortality rate of coal workers in America is 15,000 deaths a year. Coal pollutes the air with smog, acid rain, and toxic air pollution, not to mention being the leading cause of CO2 in our atmosphere. (Well, except for trees, but the Global Warming crowd doesn’t like to mention that source because trees are much, much prettier than coal.) On the positive side, coal is cheap, plentiful, and domestic.
How are animals affected by coal? We all know canaries do not fare well in the coal industry. Coal miners would bring canaries in the shaft with them and if the canary died, the miner knew he needed to hightail it out of there pronto as poisonous gas levels were present. How about other animals? As an animal lover, I was dismayed to see that a single coal slurry spill in 2010 killed over 4300 creatures including crayfish and salamanders. Since they are not as cute as cows, I was not as upset as I might have been, but 4300 is a lot more than 17.
Energy Source #4: Petroleum
It is more difficult than you might think to find exact estimates of the mortality rate and life expectancy rate of various industry workers. However, I did discover that the average life expectancy of the cleanup workers of the disastrous oil spill by the Exxon Valdese was only 51 years! This would suggest that the petroleum industry, risky in and of itself as an occupation, is also risky to those who mop up the industry boo-boos. Environmentally, the soiled beaches from oil spills is not desirable, nor the unsightly rigs dotting the landscape. Additionally, we do not have enough oil domestically to supply our voracious energy needs, so we must rely on the goodwill and exports of countries that have repeatedly expressed the wish to kill us “infidel, Capitalist pigs”.
On the plus side, oil fuels the internal combustion engine which we cannot do without. Without the internal combustion engine, most of us would be walking to work or riding horses. I don’t think this sounds totally awful, and would help with our obesity epidemic. However, the internal combustion engine was responsible for the exponential growth in the automotive and airline industry, and singularly responsible for the interconnectedness of our entire world. In terms of cost, oil is relatively cheap, though not nearly as cheap as when I was a kid.
How do the animals fare with this energy source? Not well at all! With the BP oil spill alone, 82,000 birds, 6,165 sea turtles, and 25,900 marine mammals, including bottlenose dolphins, spinner dolphins, melon-headed whales and sperm whales all perished. “The spill also harmed an unknown number of fish — including bluefin tuna and substantial habitat for our nation’s smallest seahorse — and an unknown but likely catastrophic number of crabs, oysters, corals and other sea life.”
While not cute and cuddly, dolphins are one of my favorite animals, and the number of animals destroyed by oil far surpasses not only the 17 cows obliterated by the fracking leak, but even all the animals killed by coal production. On the plus side for the animals, the pipeline across Alaska did not destroy the caribou as feared, but actually increased herd size because they liked the warmth of the pipeline. All in all, however, oil and animals do not mix.
Energy Source #5 Biofuel
Biofuels are derived from plant sources, and converted to ethanol, which can replace a portion of the necessary components of gasoline to fuel that all important combustion engine. Plants are a renewable resource, unlike fossil fuels. This is good. However, there are some problems with biofuels. If we are growing plants to fuel energy needs, we don’t have plants for food. Starve, or drive a car? Which would you choose? Another teensy weensy little problem is that biofuels use more fuel to produce than they would provide as an energy source. OOps.
And how about the all important question of how biofuels affect animal life, safety, and pursuit of happiness? Well, unfortunately, many of the prime crops for biofuel, corn and switchgrass, and soy, are also used in animal feed. Once again, cute cuddly animals’ feed costs sky-rocketed, as did, coincidentally, human feed. Some farmers converted fields once cultivated with crops for animal and human food to crops for biofuels. Hay prices soared with the ethanol industry as farmers chose instead to grow the more profitable corn. Horses were abandoned as owners were no longer able to afford to feed them. What looked like an energy solution created new problems.
Nuclear energy is downright scary. Anything that needs ten foot thick concrete walls to prevent radiation contamination should give us pause. However, in surprising counterintuitiveness, nuclear energy is cheap, the safest of all energies per killowatt hour, and renewable. There is a slightly lower life expectancy of 25 days for radiation workers , but most of us waste 25 days or more without a moment’s thought watching American Idol or Junk Wars.
However, the nuclear industry is not all just happy electrons swirling around contented nucleii. Nuclear waste is toxic, dangerous, and we have yet to find a good solution of how to dispose of it safely. And how does the nuclear industry affect animals?
In general, the nuclear industry does not impact animals except in the cases of the rare accidents. In the Chernobyl meltdown, not only were nearby cows and horses killed, but “Some animals in the worst-hit areas also died or stopped reproducing. Most domestic animals were removed from the exclusion zone, but horses left on an island in the Pripyat River 6 km (4 mi) from the power plant died when their thyroid glands were destroyed by radiation doses of 150–200 Sv. Some cattle on the same island died and those that survived were stunted because of thyroid damage.”
I was unable to find exact numbers of animals maimed or killed in nuclear accidents, but it seems to have been far more than the 17 cows that died by the fracking incident.
Energy Source #7: Solar
If you are like me, you laughed, thinking there could be no cons with solar power. All pros, right!? The sun shines and costs us nothing. Well, except one has to somehow collect that sunshine, convert it to usable energy, store it for non-sunshiny days and build all the apparatus that would accomplish all those tasks. While I could not find exact statistics for solar worker related deaths, OSHA documents list dangers to solar power workers that include: arc flashes (which include arc flash burn and blast hazards), electric shock, falls, and thermal burn hazards that can cause injury and death.
The sun puts out 1KW of energy per square meter. A solar cell can be 34% efficient at best so you can only recover 340 watts in full sun per square meter. That means you need at least a 70 x 70 foot solar array to power the average house, assuming you get full sun everyday. You also need a battery array to store the energy to provide power at night. Certainly with time, things will improve, correct? No. Unfortunately, solar cells will never exceed 34% efficiency unless we break the laws of physics. Solar power is the most expensive of all the energy sources, cannot operate without government subsidies, and will never be an efficient energy source. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shockley–Queisser_limit
Well at least solar power can’t possibly affect the animal world, right? Wrong.
Thousands of endangered bugs think the solar panels are water reflections, land on them and are fried.
“At risk are populations of hydrophilic insects—mayflies, caddis flies, beetles, stoneflies—and whatever other animals rely on them for food (birds, frogs, fish, etc.).”
Again, bugs are clearly not as cute and cuddly as cows, but the ramifications of thousands of bugs at risk is not a trifling concern, especially if you are a frog.
Energy Source #8: Wind
Again, exact stats on fatalities or life expectancy was not found, but there are numerous hazards to wind turbine workers. The list provided by OSHA includes:
Crane, Derrick and Hoist Safety problems
We already learned that wind energy is not very expensive, but also not very effective in producing much energy. For environmentally conscious folk, fields with miles and miles of wind turbines may not be exactly the picturesque GO GREEN world they had hoped for. It is lovely, in a mechanical sort of way, but trust me, wind farms are no Grand Canyon.
Of even greater concern, those wind turbines are death traps for birds. 10,000 — 40,000 birds per year, not to mention thousands of bats die at the blades of the monstrous wind turbines. As of yet, the wind turbine farms in California have reported no rare California Condor deaths but every animal rights group knows it is only a matter of time. There are only 400 condors left on the entire planet. The loss of one endangered condor would be percentage-wise a far greater blow to that species than 17 cows are to the Bovine population.
Continue reading part 3 here….
By: Vicky Kaseorg
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