Sunday, November 6, 2022

From a reader re: energy & recycling

Regarding Pros and Cons, Costs and Benefits, this reader, who runs a major university's recycling program and teaches about recycling and waste management, passes along this info: 

Those are excellent points regarding CO2 levels and an uninhabitable earth!  Since the focus is on CO2, it would have made so much more sense to embrace Nuclear over all other energy sources. Plus, why aren't more people composting?  Methane is found largely in landfills and is a more potent (albeit short-term) greenhouse gas than CO2 when it comes to trapping heat.  Or heck, anaerobic digestion generates methane for electrical generation and provides composting, making a pretty decent renewable energy source (think Wastewater Treatment Plants and Biogas generation).  

I would also like to point out that, in a way, coal saved the forests in the early 1900s. Deforestation was increasing due to fuelwood, building materials, and other forest resources being used up faster than they could be replenished as populations grew fairly rapidly relying heavily on forest resources, so moving away from fuelwood and using coal did aid in the beginning stages of reforestation.  However, I don't think most cared at the time about the environmental impacts from mining (and health impacts for miners) too much because it was stable work and money.    

When I read the pros and cons of all energy sources, I see a battle for a slice of the pie in electrical generation (we could include the transportation sector with EVs). I do remember some controversy a while back where the Sierra Club was criticized for taking a $14 mil donation from the owner of Chesapeake Energy (noting specifically it was NOT the corporation itself) for the Beyond Coal smear campaign.  It brought to light, at least a little more, the fossil fuel slinging going on between the giants.  So, it also makes sense that major oil companies have diversified their portfolios by investing in renewable energy sources, likely also fueling their aggressive campaigns to promote it as the future of energy.  

I think the author bringing up the mining impacts is a moot point.  Nuclear has uranium and plutonium mining issues (Uranium mines on US land is mostly federally owned or Tribal lands), coal, oil, and natural gas have their own issues.  The same with lithium and other metals used extensively in all technologies.  There's no great way around the mining aspect of the lifecycle for energy and other resources we depend upon.  All generate pollution, all generate wastes in the end - some more than others.  All create work and generate lots of money.  Of course, the author is just using this as a mirror to point out the arguments from some as to why renewable energy is better for the environment.

It's certainly not all equal, but in an individual example for heating and cooling, households, using geothermal heat pumps are much more efficient than natural gas (and electric heat pumps), and they even use less electricity to operate (much better if their electrical energy is nuclear).  No mining involved for the fuel since geothermal heat pumps take advantage of the constant ground temperature in location.      

The author mentions renewables taking up space, which is true, but solar in theory could be used on rooftops that essentially are mostly wasted spaces on structures that already have displaced ecosystems.  Much more ideal than wind turbines or solar farms.  But a bit unrealistic due to cost of the technology, which reduces the overall participation and more widespread benefit. It certainly wouldn't replace other energy sources overall, but would be mixed into the grid like we currently see going on now.  

Again, this all comes down to affluence.  Where these resources are being used the most, we are not necessarily seeing any negative effects from the mining and excavation of natural resources taking place thousands of miles away.  It would be nice to see some improvements overall to the less efficient electrical grid in the US for example.  I know people trash lithium-ion batteries, but storing energy (otherwise wasted) is not a bad idea or approach.  My logic is that billions of people think it's good enough to store energy for trillions of devices already :)

On a side note, to those who aren't Matt, if you haven't read his book yet, READ IT! [The ebook version is free -ed] It's worth your energy, but don't forget to recharge yourself in between.

PS: Regarding the recycling discussion in Losing My Religions:

I spoke with the owner of our local plastics recycler this week, and he mentioned around 2008 selling 1 million pounds of soiled adult diapers to a company in China when they were importing all of different types of wastes.  They certainly weren't recycled, like much of the recyclable wastes shipped over there, but rather turned into energy without pollution control technology.

A quote that the guy made sums up the industry:  "I couldn't believe they bought this until I was around when they loaded the container.  It smelled terrible; this stuff has been sitting for weeks and will sit for a month longer.  I didn't question what they were doing with the stuff as I had cash in hand.  I got paid for a lot of stuff I would have never imagined being able to offload."  

 It takes two to tango, but the concept of recycling and a circular economy are good ideas.  The reality is that these shitheads don't care what happens downstream - as long as they get paid.  

This was my recycling talks week, and I am always very honest with the students.  I received some feedback that said my honesty was refreshing.  It didn't turn them away from waste management and recycling, it made them want to help improve the system.  In the two courses I teach, next week we start Water Management and Air Quality and Climate Change...they are in for a wild ride.

Song for Anne: "I'm the Man Who Loves You" although you can stop the song before the last ~20 seconds.

Not this one.

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