The Cost of Energy

We all need it. We all use it. In fact, we use enormous amounts of it and, since the Industrial Revolution, we have mostly taken it for granted and thought little of how it got to us or how we used and/or wasted it.

The energy we use has a cost, and that cost goes far, far beyond the money we spend to buy it. Be it fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) or nuclear power, this energy has cost us dearly. Aside from the climate change impacts of burning fossil fuels (whether you subscribe to this theory or not), there is also the staggering toll taken on our health and environment from the extraction (loss of habitats, ground and surface water contamination, loss of human lives as well as wildlife), processing (more of the same, plus the energy and water consumed) and burning (disease, cancer, deaths, air/water pollution, smog) of these fuels. While nuclear power doesn’t spew out much in the way of greenhouse gas emissions, the risks and implications of dealing with the radioactive spent fuel rods will endure for millennia. And this doesn’t even include the impacts of massive oil/fuel spills (not to mention the cumulative effect of millions of smaller ones every year) and nuclear disasters.

Add up all the tax money spent on environmental clean ups, health care and subsidies and the real price you pay for that energy goes way beyond the price per gallon or price per kilowatt-hour.

The dollars per unit of energy we pay are simply the monetary “costs”. We tend to have a misguided view that everything be seen in terms of economics and stock valuations, and this has been very destructive. Economic “growth” cannot continue in its current form, perpetually, at the expense of the environment we live in; we simply do not have the resources available to produce, consume and throw away the way we have without poisoning the entire planet, and in fairly short order. Think just in terms of what it’s all doing to our food and water supplies, as well as our air, and this issue should be of paramount concern to every person alive.

There are really only 3 ways to improve this situation:

       1.   Develop clean, renewable energy sources
             – This takes years. There are promising results, and more needs to be done more quickly, especially in North America, where we are way behind other countries.

      2.   Reduce consumption
A relatively easy thing to accomplish, if we choose to, though human population growth makes total consumption difficult to keep in check. How many times do you see dozens, or hundreds, of lights on in an empty building at night? There are easily tens of millions of them every night around the world. Think how much energy could be saved and talk to the people who manage the building you work in.

      3.   Increase efficiency
Probably the most effective way to decrease energy use quickly. Our homes and buildings consume nearly 50% of all energy used, most of which is for space heating/cooling and water heating. The opportunities are there to save enormous amounts of energy, and money, and in turn reduce environmental impacts.

No rational person will fool themselves into thinking fossil fuels and nuclear power will go away next year or even next decade. We can, and must, however, take a multitude of steps toward significantly reducing their use in the coming years while more quickly developing the alternatives that will eventually replace them. There has to be a very strong political and public will to do this, as well as a focus on looking beyond our immediate wants and needs, if this process is to accelerate enough to avert an almost inevitable global ecological disaster. In the grand scheme of things, making these changes will not cost us…it will save us.

A touch of doom and gloom? Perhaps; but maybe that’s exactly what’s needed to snap our collective minds to attention when it comes to our future.

Andrew W. Alcorn, CET
Innova Builders, Inc.
(902) 499-4839

@InnovaBuilders on Twitter
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