Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Oil, Gas and Solar Industries

Do we need the oil and gas industries? The answer is an obvious "yes". In fact, I'll go further. I am grateful to these industries. After all, I drive a car powered by an internal combustion engine that burns gasoline. I drive on streets paved with asphalt. Polymers are ubiquitous in my lifestyle. 

However, I have four problems with the fossil fuel industries. First, they do contribute more to climate change than alternative sources such as solar for example. Next, they do extraordinary violence to the environment and to the earth. Fracking and oil sands (tar sands) productions are the most vile of Orcs. Third, they are more politically powerful than each of us who cast a vote. They wield that power to stifle the free market of competition. That is why the Koch Boys want to help utilities across the country destroy the rooftop solar industry. Finally, like so many things in our consumer economy, oil and gas is overused. This final objection is really not about the fossil fuel industries but about our choices as consumers. 

To be sure, the production of photovoltaic panels is not as clean and green as we would want. However, changes occurring in that industry are moving in the direction of being cleaner. Recycling toxic compounds has become more of the standard than the exception. Better yet, less or non-toxic compounds are being substituted for nastier chemicals. There is a small amount of water used in the production of photovoltaics since other fluids are used. Finally it is becoming increasingly the case that photovoltaics are powering photovoltaic plants and not natural gas meaning that the industry is decreasing their carbon footprint. To be sure, there is much more to be done. 

Keep in mind that our consumption of fossil fuels is principally as an energy source. If you take a barrel of oil, only 7% of it is used for non-energy products: petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, rubber, etc. 

So, is the fossil fuel industry a bad guy? No except when they use their vast wealth to crush competition, buy state legislators to pass laws against local governments putting restrictions on fracking and wreak havoc on the environment. Still, in the final analysis, the finger must be pointed at you and me who make consumer choices that provide the market for any industry to run a profitable business. That is why I am all for an unstifled market place by powerful interests such as the oil and gas lobbies. That is also why I'm trying as a consumer to make better choices and live greener while realizing that there are and always will be trade-offs.

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