Tonight as I write this, some residents of San Francisco and Los Angeles are shutting off their lights for an hour to raise awareness for the need to conserve power. I don’t know what they actually hope to accomplish by this, other than wreaking havoc on the states power grid by sending an unexpected surge to the switching stations that are probably running on ‘auto-pilot’ for another typical Saturday evening’s load.
Everyone has jumped on the ‘green’ bandwagon; you see it on TV, you are bombarded with consumer products in the stores and home centers claiming to be ‘green’, and even our politicians are trying to earn votes from you for their ‘green’ efforts. The reality of all of this is mere hype. No one is actually doing much to really decrease their carbon footprint or make a significant or necessary impact on our environment.
There are two areas where we can truly help ourselves and our heirs; Power generation and waste management. Over three quarters (yes 3/4ths ) of our electricity is produced by fossil fuels. Coal makes up for half of the power generated and natural gas and petroleum make up the other 25%. Less than a quarter of our power is produced by nuclear fission, yet nukes are still the most ‘green’ of all power generators. Check these figures at: http://www.eia.doe.gov/fuelelectric.html
To really make a dent in our environmental impact, we need to proruce less trash, and get off the fossil fuels. We need to build more nuclear power plants and give up the pipe dream that solar is going to save the world. If we covered all of the developed farm land in the United States with solar arrays, we would still not produce enough power to satisfy the nations basic electricity needs. And besides, we would all starve while we sit in the dark at night.
“But I don’t want a Nuke in my back yard”, “I don’t want my kids to grow three heads!” “Where will we dump all of the toxic waste that will last a million years?”. Ok folks, the reality of nuclear power is not the stuff of Hollywood. The plants are safer than ever. We really learned our lessons at Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl was a disaster of cheap and lazy government combined with apathetic communist workers. You stand a better chance of being radiated by your microwave oven than a power plant. The amount of actual waste produced by a nuclear plant is nominal as well. The fueling rods last upward of twenty years before depletion, and take up little physical space. The overprotective containment systems consume more of the space than the fuel itself. Though we wouldn’t do it for logistical reasons, we could store 1000 years worth of the fuel, from all of the plants of a nationwide exclusively nuke system, in the space of one abandon Air Force base in Nevada. The aliens there won’t mind either, they already glow green.
Turning off the lights for an hour, switching to compact fluorescent bulbs, and setting the A/C thermostat to 78, will make a small difference in your electric bill, but will do little to help the overall global impact being made. For example, the power consumed by one internet server for an hour (including climate control), exceeds that of the average ‘wasteful’ home for a month.
We're staying on the 'air', deal with it.