Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it, too. But when it comes to energy you cannot! The law of conservation of energy is a fact we must all live by. If you want energy, (the ability to do work, which includes electrical, motion, heating, cooling, building, etc.) you must first have energy. Energy can only come from energy, and our modern society requires vast amounts of it. Currently, we are getting a majority of our energy (electricity) from coal, but there are several others options available and many more possibilities yet to be explored.
Coal has been our go-to energy source since the industrial revolution. An under-emphasized fact is the discovery and use of coal was a prerequisite to the industrial revolution. Without the energy locked up in coal, none of the work required for the industrial revolution would have been possible.
Coal is powerful, plentiful, and dirty. It has been a great source of energy; it has done great things, but it is not the only player in the game. President Trump wants to return to coal as the dominate energy source in America. But there are other sources of energy that are powerful, plentiful, and not-as-dirty.
Natural gas is one such alternative. Vast amount of natural gas has recently, within the last 20 years, been discovered deep within our nation’s bedrock. Natural gas is powerful and plentiful, the northern great plains of America have been described as the Saudi Arabia of natural gas. When natural gas is burned, instead of coal, far less carbon dioxide (CO2) is released into the atmosphere, reducing the greenhouse effect. Therefore, natural gas has many of the benefits of coal as a suitable national energy source.
However, it too has negative side effects when it is used on an industrial scale. The extraction of natural gas is the major problem when compared to coal. Do not be fooled, the extraction of coal is hard, dirty work that can be disastrous to the miners’ health and the environment. The extraction of natural gas requires a modern technique called Hydrological Fracturing, Fracking. Fracking has numerous, negative effects; Fracking contaminates ground water to a point that it will never be consumable again and it requires millions of gallons of ground water to be forced so deep into the earth that it will never return to the global water cycle. In times of water shortages, should we be using our fresh water resources for extraction of natural gas?
Or we can go Amish. With all respects to the Amish people, their belief in living simple on the earth forbids them to use electricity within their daily lives. I do not know too many people who could carry on their daily lives without the assistance of electricity, which has been generated by the combustion of coal or natural gas. It is our electrical needs that demand the energy stored within coal and natural gas. The Amish may burn coal and natural gas directly for their energy needs, but we non-Amish use their energy in the form of electricity.
The truth is we need our electricity! Electricity is energy, and coal and natural gas are the two resources we have available to use. You choose: Coal or Natural gas? You cannot say no to both, energy must come from somewhere.
Or are there other options? Electrical generation simply requires an energy to spin a magnet within coils of copper wire. Wind mills use the wind energy to spin the magnets directly, just like hydroelectric dams. But, they use air rather than water. Geothermal energy is an endless supply of heat. Solar, nuclear, bacterial, along with other numerous experimental methods are all in development. There are other options.
Point being, we need energy. Our electrical demands, heating and cooling requirements, and the transportation of personal and consumer goods all require energy. These are all bills that we pay, but there is more behind these bills than the money. We as a nation need to be informed and decide will it be coal, fracking, Amish or what?
Andrew J. Frisch
Science and Mathematics teacher
Farwell High School