Monthly Archives: February 2015

The Renewable Energy Debate In Court

People Who Say Yes to Investing in Renewable Energy

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The biggest points that people argue when in favor of investing government subsidies in renewable energy is that it will create jobs and thus a better economy and of course that it will fight environmental problems concerning pollution. The other points are more concerned with being evasive of certain issues in the future. Oil is a scarce resource and once it starts running out and becomes more expensive, a black market will be created and wars will break out over who has possession of the prized substance. Not only that, if we do not learn to find alternative methods of fueling our power-sucking machines then pollution will get worse and worse to the point of affecting a person’s health.

Not only are government subsidies being considered for this pollution project in developing renewable energy, but tax incentives are also being given to those who take it upon themselves to use their new and developed green technology like hybrid cars. Even if the government were to invest in renewable energy, a rising issue that would need to be tackled is that people are wary of actually using it because it’s expensive and new. Money is the best way to convince people to do so, therefore making the tax incentives a very efficient option in jump starting a new wave in the green movement. Also once the technology becomes more available to people, then more will start adopting it as a way of life.

In addition to adding to the job market, some people strongly believe that investing in renewable energy will make the market more competitive which in turn makes for a healthier economy. US News says, “These policies would also help create new competitors to established energy industries that have received decades of subsidies, and general continue to receive them.”

Economically, some make the argument that in the long run, renewable energy in the international market are also very helpful in decreasing the cost of these technologies including wind and solar energy.

People Who Say No to Investing in Renewable Energy

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The side of the debate’s rebuttal to those who believe investments in renewable energy will create new jobs is that if the government isn’t spending that money on renewable energy then it will spend money on a different issue that will create just as many jobs. Also the resources that this green energy will use are just taking away from the resources of another part of the world that is being just as productive. So why bother when the energy industry is alright where it is now? They say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

People on this side of the debate also believe that this part of the energy district can find a way to be competitive in their markets without the help of the government’s money especially since they have gone this far in the private sector without too much help from them. If these projects are actually worth it, then people will invest their own capital in the industry hoping to collect profit from it as well. By then we will know that green technology is definitely worth it.

To put it in perspective, US News has put the issue into terms of numbers: “Since 2007, total federal energy subsidies increased from $17.9 billion to $37.2 billion. Seventy-seven percent of that increase is due to the Obama administration’s stimulus. Renewable subsidies increased 186 percent, led by wind energy, which received a 10-fold increase to nearly $5 billion. Electricity prices have increased by 23 percent in the last five years.” From this type of information gathered, people argue that investing in green technology doesn’t benefit consumers whatsoever meaning that it will not be a successful market to spend the people’s tax dollars on since a profit will be near impossible to generate.

In fact, the Obama administration has spent a considerable amount of the government’s budget in attempting to improve the world’s environmental health, but statistics continually show that it is a failing industry that struggles to turn out a profit, and the world operates on money. If money isn’t being made then it is usually considered not worth the trouble and sacrifice.

To see more about this debate and hundreds of different perspectives please click here.

How Can Buildings Be More Sustainable?

With global warming on the rise, many buildings, both commercial and residential, are being constructed using more sustainable and eco-friendly techniques. According to BetterBricks, buildings are responsible for approximately 40% of the total energy used in the United States and about 50% of Carbon Dioxide, or CO2, emissions. Dire statistics like these make it clear why reducing these numbers is imperative to maintaining the well-being of our planet. From rooftop and horizontal gardens on apartment complexes to home solar panels atop of homes, this blog post will examine some of the innovative ways in which buildings are becoming increasingly more sustainable and less harmful to the environment.


Net Zero and Carbon Neutral Buildings

The Net Zero Energy Certification is given to buildings that on an annual basis use as much energy as they produce. In some cases this means produce more energy than they use while other days they may produce less than they use, but over the course of a year their energy intake averages to zero compared to energy produced. This is a quality many sustainable buildings aspire to have because then they are not consuming excess energy produced by utility companies. However, Net Zero Energy buildings are not to be confused with Carbon Neutral buildings because they are not always one and the same. A Carbon Neutral building uses absolutely no fossil fuels to function and releases no greenhouse gas emissions. It uses clean, renewable energy which may or may not be produced on site. If a building uses as much renewable energy as it produces, then that building is likely both Carbon Neutral and Net Zero Energy, but this is not always the case.

Sustainable Building Materials

There are two factors that determine if a building’s materials are sustainable. One factor is if the materials are energy-efficient and they create a “tight envelope,” meaning they don’t let in elements like wind and rain and alternatively they don’t let out heat and air conditioning. The other factor is if the materials themselves are recycled or eco-friendly. One material gaining popularity is using steel as beams instead of wood. According to the Steel Recycling Institute, it takes about 6 scrapped cars to build a 2,000 square-foot house out of recycled steel compared to using 40-50 trees for wood. In addition, recycling steel takes 75% less energy than making new steel. Another material used to conserve energy is concrete molded between two layers of insulation. These concrete walls save about 20% of energy over traditional wood-framed houses. There is also a new plant-based polyurethane rigid foam on the market now called Pacific BioFoam that can be used very effectively for insulation, so it not only is the most eco-friendly urethane foam on the market, but it is also as effective as the others at insulating.


Construction of a straw bale house


The finished straw bale house with plastering







Two surprisingly sustainable and energy efficient building materials are completely natural: straw and mud. These natural materials have long been passed off as being primitive compared to more modern materials, but they  Straw bales, a byproduct of grain, not only adhere well to plaster and stucco walls, but they are also excellent insulators. A straw bale house can reduce energy costs by 75% and they actually provide better fire protection as well as sound and pest insulation than conventional construction (like wood framing) because the bales are so tightly packed. Building with mud has been around for centuries but it is actually a very sustainable building material. Some of the benefits of mud houses are they are very low-cost, extremely durable, and they naturally insulate themselves to be warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Rammed earth homes are very popular because they can be designed very beautifully at a cheap cost. Rammed earth (which is the compression of mainly sand and clay into dense walls) is a wonderful energy-saving building material for arid climates, like that of New Mexico, and it is extremely fire-resistant, chemical-free, and pest resistant.

Beautiful interior of a rammed earth home

Beautiful interior of a rammed earth home

Energy-Conserving Systems

Many people by now have heard about LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and seen the LEED certification in buildings here and there, but it is a certification that every architect and engineer of buildings should strive for. The LEED Certification is given to buildings in varying degrees depending on how conscious they are of both the environment and humans, meaning how well the buildings provide comfort for their occupants while also limiting their effects on human and environmental health.


Some energy-conserving systems within a building or home are dual-flush toilets which can save up to 80% of toilet water consumption, furnishings and carpets made from recycled materials, EnergyStar certified lightbulbs which use 70% less energy than regular bulbs, and efficient duct and faucet systems with no leaks for air or water.

Looking to the Future

In the future, I think it would be good to see many of these techniques combined to build the most sustainable houses and buildings possible. Buildings need to increasingly produce their own energy though the use of solar panels and wind energy and also need to conserve their energy through the use of sustainable, insulating materials. As an architectural engineering major, I hope to incorporate many of these techniques into home and office design in my future career and construct the greenest buildings of which we’re capable.

House with solar panels

House with solar panels

Geothermal: Borrowing the Earth’s Air Conditioner

About two thirds of the average American’s electric bill goes to heating and cooling. Changing temperature simply demands a great deal of energy, and American’s can be very particular about their thermostat. Unless you live in a tropical climate that is fairly constant year-round, your house is going to require some kind of climate control. Rather than wasting your money (and burning fossil fuels), go outside and look down, deep down.

Courtesy of Wikimedia

What is Geothermal?

Unlike air temperatures that fluctuate widely, ground temperatures only a few feet down stay at a fairly constant temperature around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that we have access to 50 degree material all year long. Geothermal heating and cooling simple manipulates this fact. In the summertime, this means using the earth as an air conditioner. Since 50 degree air is cooler than inside temperatures, it cools the insides of our homes. In the winter, this outside source of heat is compressed to achieve much higher temperatures which can be used for heating.

Courtesy of Water Furnace

How does it work? 

The home is connected to the earth via a long tube or several tubes organized in a loop or several loops containing a water-based refrigerant. These loops can either be horizontal or vertical depending on how much space is available, the type of soil, and other ground conditions. Where space is available and soil is not exceptionally rocky, horizontal systems are used. They require less excavation and are generally cheaper. There are other types, but most systems fall into these two categories or are a variation.


The way a geothermal system cools a home is actually a fairly simple process. Think about walking into a cave in the middle of summer. Even though it may be 90 degrees outside, you hit a cool burst of air when you step inside. The same idea is used for cooling. First, the warm refrigerant from the home is pumped into the pipes. It flows into the underground pipes where the soil is a cool 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat from the warm fluid in the pipes is transferred into the cool soil. Once the refrigerant is cooled, it is pumped back into the house. Here, warm air is blown over the cool fluid. The air leaves the heat exchange much cooler, and the fluid is warm and ready to go back underground.


In wintertime, this process is reversed. Cold fluid goes into the earth, and warm fluid comes out. But how can you heat your house to 70 degrees when the earth is only 50 degrees? The answer lies in the properties of the fluid itself. Cold fluid is pumped underground and warmed to 50 degrees and brought back inside. The fluid then enters a compressor where it reaches much higher temperatures and evaporates. This heat is then transferred to colder air in the home. The fluid condenses at the lower temperature and then expands, which cools it down further. The process then repeats itself.


Geothermal energy is much more energy efficient that traditional forced air heating systems. This is because geothermal does not “create” heat, but it transfers it from the earth into your home. When you spend a dollar on forced air, you get about $0.94 worth of heat. That same dollar spent on geothermal yields about $4 worth of heat due to the fact that it transfers energy rather than converts it from one type to another. This translates into energy savings that will pay off the initial cost of a geothermal system in 3-5 years.

Courtesy of I-Witness News

Electricity Production

Geothermal also has a lot of potential outside of individual homes. However, this also requires larger sources of ground heat such as hot springs. These geothermal power plants are largely located in the western part of the United States where these kinds of hot springs exist. These plants produce a significant amount of power too! In fact, they produce about a third of the energy that solar plants produce according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. As this technology improves and heat transfer becomes more efficient, we may see this technology take off even more.

Future Implications

While geothermal technology has the ability to generate electricity, it will likely be used primarily for heating and cooling. Since these processes require so much energy, geothermal is best suited to this role. This technology will also become more common with newer developments. This is because it is hard to retrofit existing buildings with geothermal systems due to the required excavation work. Since new buildings require this anyway, it is much easier to install these systems from the beginning rather than adding them on later.

A Crude Conversation About the Keystone XL Pipeline

If I asked any person to name the most prominent issue of environmental policy presently in America, most would answer with the debate surrounding the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. There has been a six-year battle surrounding the construction of the pipeline since September 2008 when TransCanada Corp filed an application with the US State Department to allow the construction of the pipeline.

What the purposed plan is that the Keystone XL Pipeline is that the pipeline would be used to transport crude oil from the tar sands in Alberta Canada. Upurlon arrival in the Gulf Coast this crude oil will be refined and shipped to overseas markets for sale. The Keystone XL Pipeline will not be the first of its kind with other pipelines that not only funnel crude down from out neighbor to the north but also other crude from tar sands. Yet, there has been a largely partisan public debate surrounding this issue for the past 4 years.

President Obama has always been weary of the pipeline construction. Additionally, President Obama has made it clear that it is not the place of Congress to pass a bill concerning the Keystone XL Pipeline. President Obama awaits the result of an investigation by the State Department before allowing the construction to go forward.

The Keystone Pipeline made it back into the new this week when the House passed the Senate version of the Bill approving the construction of the Keystone pipeline. In anticipation of this, The White House already released a statement saying that President Obama will veto the Bill when it arrives on his desk (which will only be the third time President Obama has exercised his veto power in his presidency). Congress does not seem to possess the two-thirds majority that it would take to overturn the veto so it seems that after 12 separate votes on versions of this Bill in Congress it will still be unable to pass. Therefore, Republicans have spent this past week asking President Obama to reconsider his veto of the Bill.

Supporters of the pipeline claim that this Bill is what the American people want. Honestly, they are not wrong. In a public opinion poll conducted by PEW 65 percent of Americans favor the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. That may be because job creation has been so closely tied to the cons9-26-13-1truction of the pipeline. The problem is that the numbers surrounding the number of jobs the Keystone Pipeline will create range from exaggerated to hilariously ridiculous. In terms of direction jobs, the Keystone XL Pipeline will end up creating about 10,000 construction jobs that will last for no longer than a year. In terms of permanent jobs, the pipeline will only create about 50 permanent positions.

Conversely, critics of the Keystone XL Pipeline cite the risks to the environment that the construction of the pipeline would create. It is true that the harvesting of the crude oil from the tar sands is much more dangerous to the environment. In order to extract the crude would emit 17 percent more greenhouse gases than other forms of crude extraction takes. Additionally, the crude oil from the tar sands is a much dirtier and heavier form of crude. If there was to be an oil spill from the pipeline the consequences would be devastating for the Midwest and a lot harder to clean up (think of the BP oil spill times ten).

But here is the harsh truth about the Keystone XL Pipeline, the construction or lack there of itself will have a minimal impact on the environProtests_against_Keystone_XL_Pipeline_for_tar_sands_at_White_House,_2011ment or environmental policy in America. I do not support the construction of the pipeline but honestly the construction of the pipeline itself is neither here nor there. Without the pipeline TransCanada is still going to extract the crude from the tar sands in Alberta. The only difference is that they will have to move it via truck to the gulf coast. It will not change our oil costs, as it will still be sold over sea. A few less temporary jobs will be created but in the end of the day 50 people mean so little to a nation of millions. Generally, I see the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline as something more symbolic. Construction of this pipeline shows that we as a people are much more willing to spend millions of dollars pumping dirty forms of rude out of the ground than we are willing to support forms of policy that would go towards developing clean forms of energy. What the decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline does do is set a dangerous precedent that America is going to continue to drill its way through the 21st century. Because we are not running out of crude oil, but we are running out of an environment to exploit.

Not a Good Day to be in West Virginia

Okay. When reading I find that much of the discussion surrounding the environment surrounds around the social component of the environment, however, I personally feel that it is extremely important to consider the fiscal ramifications behind legislation and discussion of the environment. So in my postings, I will attempt to balance both the social and fiscal aspects of the environmental debate.

Not a Good Day to be in West Virginia

Monday, February 16, the state police were forced to evacuate residents of Mount Carbon, West Virginia, a small town near Charleston, due a train accident.  At 1:30 pm, several oil cars derailed and caught on fire. The CSX train was hauling 109 cars from North Dakota to the coastal town of Yorktown, Virginia, where midstream firm Plains All American Pipelines runs an oil depot.  According to West Virginia State Police First Sergeant Greg Duckworth, 9 or 10 of the cars had exploded in intervals of about every half hour.

The accident has led to a house catching on fire and oil leaking into the Kanawha River and one or more tanker cars fell into the river leading to concerns about potential contamination of water treatment facilities that serve two downstream communities according to Lawrence Messina, a spokesman for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. One person was being treated for potential inhalation.

Not only was this problematic for the train company and the person whose house was burnt down, the water contamination provides a serious dilemma problem. There are concerns that the oil spill could have affected the Montgomery Water System which services about 2,000 people in the area. Unsurprisingly water is running of the shelves as customers have been told to conserve water as the government attempts to determine the depth of the threat.

Photo Courtesy of Yahoo News

e Photo Courtesy of Yahoo News

This latest accident came just two days after a Canadian National Railways train from Alberta’s oil sands derailed in a wooded area of northern Ontario. 29 of 100 cars were involved and seven cars caught fire and 29 of 100 cars were involved in the accident overall. No injuries were reported, but the cars were still on fire on Monday as of 7:30 pm.

UPDATE: as of 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, a full two days after the initial explosion in which 25 cars went off the rails, the train was still on fire. Luckily, no oil was detected in water of the river carried out by local water provider West Virginia American Water, and the Company restored water service to all customers in the area.

Not a Good Day to be a CSX Shareholder

CSX Corporation is a transportation supplier company which provides rail-based transportation services including traditional rail service and the transport of intermodal containers and trailers.  In response to the accident, CSX established a community outreach center to address community needs as a result of the train derailment and attempted to reserve rooms are hotels for displaced residents.

On Wednesday, CSX Corp. traded down 1.28% which represents shareholders concern in regards to the costs associated with the clean up and likely law-suit that the Company will face in regards to this accident.

Going Forward

An increased amount of rail accidents will likely spun United States and Canadian regulators to increase safety regulations of such shipments due to the concerns over the flammability of light oil from the North Dakota Bakken shale and the outdated nature of some tanker cars.  In fact, the U.S. Transportation Department has submitted a proposal to the White House to mandate an additional 1/8th inch of steel to most current oil train tank shells. Under this proposal, new models would have to have a thicker hull installed according to an article on yahoo news by Kara Van Pelt. Such regulations would seek to prevent these type of spills in the future and even more so, prevent types of accidents that the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic witness in 2013 in which 47 people were kill after a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded.

Clearly, oil tankers burst and exploding poses a substantial risk to the environment overall, especially in regards to water pollution which has the potential to damage or wipe out entire ecosystems as was seen in BP oil spill in the gulf of Mexico. Going forward we can only hope that the governments in North America will be able to find a safer way to transport the oil that our countries need.


Wind Energy

The summer after my junior year I went to visit Purdue University out in Indiana. I had seen wind mills before, but I had never seen wind farms the size of the one I saw around Purdue. I never realized the scale at which wind energy was being harnessed at different parts of our country.

What is Wind Energy?

Wind is actually a form of solar energy. The wind we experience on earth is actually caused by the uneven heating of the sun and other atmospheric factor on earth. The wind flow that is produced is harvested by wind turbines. This can then be converted to electricity. Wind turbines use the kinetic energy in the wind and transform it into mechanical power or electricity. The mechanical power can be used for specific tasks like pumping water. The mechanical power can also be converted into electricity by a generator. This can then be used to power homes, businesses, and schools.imgres-5

What is a wind turbine?

Turbines take the air and power the generator which supplies electricity to the main current. There are two types of wind mills; vertical and horizontal axis designs. The ones most people see are the horizontal axis ones. There are three main components to a wind turbine. There’s the blade, the drive train (gearbox and generator), and the tower. When the blades turn, a shaft spins causing a generator to make electricity. Wind turbines are big machines. They look like gigantic fans. They are about 20 stories high and can produce enough electricity to provide power to 1400 homes. They are usually many of them grouped together in one location. These places are called wind farms. The electricity produced from the wind farms goes on the grid. imgres-6

Advantages and Disadvantages to Wind Energy

Wind energy is first and foremost a renewable energy source. It is also clean, non-polluting energy source that uses almost no water. It also provides tons of jobs and puts billions of dollars into our economy. It has already provided over 50,000 manufacturing jobs in the United States. There are also over 500 manufacturing facilities in the United States. It’s also a good source of energy in areas where droughts are common. Since wind farms need a lot of land it can be a good cash crop for people in rural areas.

One of the biggest disadvantages of wind energy is the cost of it. There is a very high initial investment cost for wind energy. This makes it much more unfavorable than fossil fuels generators. The machinery and installation are what is the most expensive part of wind energy. There are also some environmental concerns. The rotor blades create a loud noise which can be disturbing. They can also be seen as visually unappealing. There have also been several instances when bats and birds have been killed by the blades.

The biggest problem is the unpredictability of wind. Wind is not constant anywhere. You can store wind generated electricity. However, there may not be enough for electricity when its needed. Also since wind farms need a lot of land they are usually in more remote places. This means the energy harnessed is not being used in areas that are power heavy like cities. Since wind farms need so much land, they are taking away that land from other energy sources.

Closing Thoughts on Wind Energy

Wind energy is a great source of renewable energy. It is a clean, non polluting, versatile source of energy. It allows for job growth and growth in the economy. It help people in rural areas make money. However, it also cost a lot of money and it not always the most reliable source of energy available. It may not use water, but it needs lots of funding. It’s life cycle profit is not as great as some other renewable energy sources. It seems that like with a lot of other sources of energy, wind energy has many pros and cons we need to consider.

An Intersting Opinion on Wind Energy

March 2013: According to a Gallup poll, two in three Americans want the United States to produce domestic energy using solar power (76%), wind (71%), and natural gas (65%). Only 46% want to emphasize the production of oil and 37% the use of nuclear power.

How agriculture affects climate change

In the climate change debate there has been a hidden topic that rarely gets debated and discussed publically but is arguably one of the most important parts about the debate because about one-third of carbon pollution is created either by agricultural practices or resources. Even though this affects such a huge part of the debate it is rarely talked about in the media or by politicians because it is not the main component the public thinks about when they hear global warming. It is a shame to because there are so many things that need to be done on a global scale in this field in order to make progress. For example one of main contributors to carbon pollution is deforestation and the main place where this is hurting us is in the Amazon rain forest.

Since 1970 the forest has lost 16.1% of its original cover and this led to the release of over 54 million tons of carbon a year. It is hard to imagine how fast this is happening but to put it in context there has been a significant reduction in deforestation in the Amazon rain forest over the past ten years by over seventy percent but scientists agree that this is not good enough. I think this is why the agriculture needs to be put center stage on the climate debate because most of the major economies are getting on board with clean-renewable energy (US, Europe, China, and even India) but very few are making significant changes to their world-wide policy on environmentally friendly agricultural policies. For example here in the states we emit a little under 700 million tons of green house gases just from agricultural practices. However, the worst part about this is that it is not getting better but rather it is actually getting worse according to the EPA (

The main reason for this increase is that the technology surrounding manure management has increased its greenhouse emissions by 55% since 1990. That’s right the systems designed to pick up crap are releasing the crap that is going to kill us into the air. However it is not that the systems themselves have gotten less environmentally friendly, although that is true, the main driver of this increase is the increase in livestock and farm production in general. We have yet to figure out a way to feed our growing population in America and in the world and then at the same time slow down (or stop) carbon emissions for agricultural practices.

This problem however is not being addressed with research or grant money or being asked of the market through increased regulatory standards to help improve the efficiency of our agricultural systems. In fact the main debate in Congress and many developed countries across the world is how much should we subsidize farmers on the world market instead of what we should do about the carbon we are releasing. Hopefully this will change though because at the world climate summit coming up both agriculture and deforestation are on the list of topics that will be discussed but the question becomes can the summit bring about actual action on the issue of agricultural climate pollution.

The answer is probably going to be no because even though all the scientists in the world can warn us about the consequences of our actions it will not change what many countries believe as against their own national interest. This means that if real change is going to happen it is going to have to pushed by the voters otherwise the farm lobby will probably advise against it. However, time is not a luxury that we have so we must start investing in greener agriculture technology now rather than later because it will soon be too late anything about it. The question then becomes how do we make agriculture more efficient with green technology.

I believe we need to look at locally made food as a better way to decrease carbon pollution and then at the same time start regulating certain food producers about their carbon footprint. I think that not only would just be a better way to grow our food with concern to the planet but also it will help local farmers feed their communities and beyond.

Renewable Energy: Why Don’t We Use It More If It’s So Great?

Photo courtesy of


A majority of people generally think of themselves as pro-green when it comes to taking care of the Earth. Nobody is exactly against the environment. So if we have the technology to save the world, then why don’t more people take advantage of it? It’s expensive and people don’t like change. When people’s lives are going well, and they are able to pay the electricity and oil bills okay they don’t want to risk losing that stability by changing to something new like renewable energy. To take advantage of these opportunities and create a change for the better of the environment, the government needs to create incentives for people to start making a gradual change to a more green society. Fossil fuel prices are rising so a change will occur in the future regardless. According to Truth-Out.Org, Germany is the leading solar energy user in the world. Yet the United States, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, isn’t even close to that and only uses it as 8% of the energy use. So money isn’t the problem. It’s a change in culture.

Why We Love Renewable Energy

Many people automatically say that they are pro-green. We like it because renewable energy is sustainable, meaning that it will never run out, unlike the vast amount of fossil fuels that we still use today. There are many different kinds like: solar power, hydroelectric generators, hydrogen fuel, wind turbines, etc.

One of the great things about renewable energy is that it requires less maintenance than the usual generators. Once the tools are produced, creating the energy is left up to the source rather than labor of the working man.

This also reduced the cost of operation because it runs by itself once the tool is produced. Reduced costs can also come from the fact that it doesn’t originate from a scarce resource whose prices increase because of the need to preserve such a resource.

Renewable energy is also good for the environment because unlike fossil fuels, it does not release harmful greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, a reason as to why the ozone layer around the earth is thinning causing global warming. No waste products means that it doesn’t affect the environment.

There are also economic benefits for some types of renewable energy especially solar energy. Even though they are initially expensive, they often pay for themselves in the long run. Actually according to, solar energy is known to be the best type of renewable energy because it doesn’t create greenhouse gases even in terms of production of the solar panels which cannot be said for all forms of renewable energy.

What We Don’t Like About Renewable Energy

Even though we talk about renewable energy, it only provides about 14% of the energy that the world uses according to

Renewable energy often has trouble creating the same amount of power that fossil fuels make because of its inefficiency. This means that people must either reduce the amount of energy they use or we need to build more efficient operations. People don’t want to be forced to change their lifestyles to accommodate the environment. In their opinion, the environment doesn’t take precedence over the other issues in the life so one reason people don’t take advantage of renewable energy technologies is because they don’t like change.

Renewable energy is also not completely reliable even though it is sustainable. We cannot control when we receive it and how much we receive. It often relies on weather like the sun or water. For example, hydroelectric engines require rain, wind turbines require movement in the air, and solar panels need the sun. All of these are unpredictable and inconsistent.

I think what really sets people off from renewable energy is that it is very expensive. This is primarily because it is a new technology. Money is the most effective incentive when it comes to people whether it be a negative or positive incentive, and in this case this rule of thumb works against the use of renewable energy.

Most forms of renewable energy have its drawbacks. On, they list the advantages and disadvantages for numerous types of energy. For example, hydroelectric plants require mass amounts of land to store water (specifically land for that is productive for agriculture), and the plants themselves cause environmental problems.

The question that everybody asks and considers is whether it is worth the cost. It is a simple value question. It’s not just the money though. We need to make it a part of the culture but people aren’t ready for a change. The government is the best at facilitating change faster than it can naturally happen since that is what it is there for. Knowing that money is the best incentive for people to do anything, the government could potentially give those who use renewable energy a tax break. However to integrate a green culture, society will require a gradual change if it is to ever happen.


Hydraulic Fracturing: An Environmental, Health-Related, and Ethical Debate

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Marcellus Shale. The two words that have started an energy revolution within the past ten year as well as cashed in big bucks for drilling industries. This natural gas-abundant shale formation lies deep under the earth throughout the northeastern United States from New York to West Virginia. Marcellus Shale and, especially, the extraction method of hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as fracking) used to retrieve this natural resource has become a heated environmental and ethical discussion in both the public and political spheres. While fracking is not a new process by any means, the utilization of this procedure to obtain large quantities of natural gas in the U.S. has skyrocketed in recent years and has attracted heightened levels of attention. Typically people are either strongly in favor of the process or passionately against it. The pro side acknowledges/praises the job creation this industry supplies and appreciates that we are sourcing our own energy needs on our own soil instead of outsourcing from middle eastern countries. The con side predominately takes a stand against the negative environmental, human/animal health, aesthetics, and moral consequences of fracking. Ultimately, the heart of the issue revolves around priorities: choosing whether or not to place immediate energy gratification above the “health and longevity of our environment.”

The process of fracking for natural gas is a complicated, multi-step one. Before excavation can take place, several preparatory steps must be completed. First, a property lease for a piece of land must be purchased and extensive seismic testing must be done. Then an expansive, flattened area known as a pad is created to prepare for shale drilling. Next, a large drill is inserted into the ground, boring a hole all the way under an area’s water table. With the goal of protecting water sources, a concrete plug is driven at least five thousand feet under the earth’s surface to contain any inserted materials. Once these steps are completed, the collecting process can begin.

In the fracking procedure, large quantities of sand, chemicals, and water are injected deep into the ground. This trade secret “frack fluid” mixture (90% water, 9 ½% sand, 1/2% chemicals) is pumped at high pressures to reach the shale and to fracture the rock, which releases the highly sought, hidden source of natural gas. When extracting, workers drill down into the fine-grained shale vertically and then change to a horizontal direction for approximately a mile in length. Once the drill is in the desired location underground, a hollow, holed torpedo filled with explosives is inserted into the well, breaking through its casing to the shale lying at its sides. At this point, the fluid mixture is pumped into the ground to frack the shale. After the shale is broken, gas flows through the holes in the well casing and is taken to the surface.

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One of the most prominent concerns surrounding hydraulic fracturing is the serious possibility of water contamination. Seeing as drills, pipelines, and pipe casings are injected into the ground through underground aquifers to frack below an area’s water table, any breakage or leaks could allow frack fluid to flow out and to potentially ruin entire water sources. If well integrity is compromised, a chaotic chain of events could ensue, starting with pollution of one water table and leading to affected groundwater, streams, rivers, etc. What makes it even worse is the fact that this liquid mixture is laced with up to six hundred different chemicals, with many of them being toxic, carcinogenic, or radioactive. A few of the common, known components include, but are not limited to, benzene, uranium, mercury, ethylene glycol, methanol, hydrochloric acid, and formaldehyde. Additionally, dangerously high levels of methane in drinking water have been documented in countless areas near fracking pads – as well as the ability to light tap water on fire due to such unsafe quantities. While many of these dangerous elements find their way into this liquid from being exposed to naturally-occurring minerals and salts under the earth’s surface, a significant number of them are expected to be ingredients in the drilling industry’s highly secretive frack fluid recipe. There have been thousands of documented water contamination cases in areas surrounding gas drilling sites as well as high numbers of reported sensory, respiratory, and neurological problems from consumption/exposure to damaged water.

Unsurprisingly, this reality has caused legitimate fear in the public sphere regarding human health impacts. For people living in areas near hydraulic fracturing sites, common health problems include nosebleeds, rashes, and headaches. However, more serious results have been known to occur, including birth defects, mutations, and death, in rare cases. These problems are inflicted by a combination of exposure to toxic air emissions and consumption of frack fluid-tainted water. As told by a 2011 research article in the Human and Ecological Risk Assessment journal, seventy-five percent of frack fluid chemicals can negatively affect the skin, eyes, and other sensory organs as well as cause respiratory and gastrointestinal systems of living organisms. Additionally, between forty and fifty percent of these chemicals were found to be capable of inflicting harm on the brain, nervous systems, cardiovascular systems, kidney functions, and immunity strength of living beings. Furthermore, roughly thirty-seven percent could damage endocrine systems and twenty-five percent could cause cancer and/or mutations. Even with such blatantly dangerous health consequences, the fracking industry still insistently believes that its practices are safe, beneficial, and justifiable.

And these issues are not just human-related; the same concerns apply to the farm animal and wildlife communities as well. Huge fish kills have occurred in frack fluid-contaminated waters and suspicious deaths of grazing animals who drank from a frack fluid-polluted stream have been noted as well. Spiked amounts of methane emissions escaping into the atmosphere, the issue of backwash fluid spilling out of containers, worker safety/exposure to crystalline silica, legal sketchiness surrounding the entire industry (Halliburton Loophole), and the blatant destruction of natural aesthetic beauty and community roadways from increased truck traffic are among the seemingly infinite number of concerns this procedure possesses.

Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas – as well as for oil –  is not just an environmental concern; it is also a moral argument that seems to side overwhelmingly on the dangerous, negative side.


Sources: (image) (image)

“The Fisheries Blog: Fracking Harms Fish Through the Halliburton Loophole.” The Fisheries Blog: Fracking Harms Fish Through the Halliburton Loophole. 2 July 2012. Web. 10 Feb 2015.

“The Halliburton Loophole.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 2 Nov. 2009. Web. 10 Feb. 2015.

“The Ethical Issues of Hydraulic Fracturing.” Great Lakes Waters. WordPress, 6 May 2013. Web. 10 Feb. 2015.

A Closer Look at Recycling

pet plastic

The commonplace with recycling is that it is thought of as an environmentally-friendly thing to do and the majority of Americans feel that they should recycle. According to Call2Recylcle, 75% of Americans feel better when they recycle. The ideology seems to be if people recycle their plastic, glass, paper, et cetera, then they will be benefiting the environment. Will they? If one was to research the energy and cost of recycling, versus throwing our recyclables in a landfill, would recycling be the more efficient and green option?

Advantages of Recycling

It turns out that Popular Mechanics looked into the value of recycling and, in the end, found that with respect to energy consumption it is better for the environment. The main factor that PM looked at in regards to the environmental benefits of recycling was if recycling a material used more energy than creating the material from scratch. The efficiency of recycling, as one might guess, depends of the material being recycled; however, researchers found that with all the materials they looked at such as aluminum, glass, and plastic bottles, the total energy used to both transport the recyclables and recycle them into new products was still significantly less than the energy required to create entirely new materials of each one.


According to Conserve Energy Future, some of the other big benefits of recycling are that it conserves our natural resources by limiting the need for raw materials from the earth and it creates green jobs in America because people need to run the recycling facilities. Additionally, recycling reduces overall pollution output. Less air pollution is released in the recycling process than in the manufacturing of new materials and waste pollution is reduced because recycling because recycling decreases the amount of waste being put into landfills. This in turn alleviates global warming because there is less carbon dioxide being released into the air and less trash in landfills that will potentially be burned. Another article called Ecofriend lists the products of recycling, like methane, as an advantage because it can be used for cooking purposes and the compost generated can be used as a fertilizer.


Disadvantages of Recycling

Some disadvantages of recycling listed by Conserve Energy Future are that recyclable products are not durable and it is not always the most cost-effective option. Ecofriend states the recycling process could potentially leak methane gas into the air which would contribute to global warming and some materials are more costly and difficult to recycle than they are worth. A commonly listed disadvantage of recycling across the board is that recycling sites are often unsafe and unhygienic because of the harmful chemicals and large amounts of waste dumped there, which can lead to the toxication of bodies of water.


Recycling Facility


There are two issues with recycling that aren’t necessarily disadvantages, but more setbacks. One is when things get “downcycled,” a term PM uses to describe items that, once recycled, can no longer be recycled again. For example, the typical plastic water and sports drink bottles made from PET, or polyethylene terephthalate, are one type of recyclable that is “downcycled” into polyester fibers, which are non-recyclable and used in clothing and other textile products. The plastic is being recycled to serve another purpose, but the cycle stops there.

PET bottles

PET bottles

Yoga pants made from recycled PET bottles

Yoga pants made from recycled PET bottles

The other setback of recycling is that it is not a large-scale process, meaning mainly individuals and schools recycle, but most large industries do not. Penn State has a remarkable recycling program in place and makes it very convenient and easy for students to recycle just about anything. Most places, though, do not offer such a convenient method and that seems to be contributing the most to people’s lack of recycling initiative. Even here at Penn State where we have bins for nearly every type of recyclable, it is slightly confusing and takes some extra time to sort things into the correct bin. Only 58% of Americans said they recycle regularly according to a 2011 survey from Call2Recycle and only 30% of all recyclable waste material is actually recycled in the United States according to DoSomething. EnvironmentalLeader says that 17% of Americans say they don’t recycle because it is not convenient or accessible in their area and 25% of Easterners say that it takes too much effort.


Concluding Thoughts

Research has proved that the advantages to recycling outweigh the disadvantages and that it is better for the environment than throwing recyclables away. However, more initiatives definitely need to be taken to improve the process and fix its flaws. While it is the better method, it is not perfect and new technology is imperative. Luckily, it is on the way. PM wrote that in San Francisco, there is a recycling facility that sorts the plastics for the recyclers, which is a step in the right direction because that eliminates some of the confusion that ensues when faced with three different bins for plastics and adds a convenience point to recycling. Seeing as the world is in need of sustainability and green practices, recycling programs will likely become more widespread and large-scale and with the process itself will also improve for the better.