July 5, 2012

Why California Is More Awesome Than Your State

I've used this before and I'll use it again.

The news has been dominated with stories of just how hot it’s been in the country lately, as we’ve had the hottest two weeks in recorded history. Temperatures are in the triple digits in many states and a massive power outage on the East Cost left thousands without air conditioning. 

And the other day after work I went for a nice run, rather than to the gym, because it was so cool out. I frickin love San Diego.

It’s really hard to sympathize when other states pick on California for being weird or prissy or stuck up or radical and then complain that they don’t have AC when I can feel ocean breezes at work (and at home, on my lucky days). Sure we get temperatures over 100 degrees here, and in fact I worked in 110+ degrees three summers ago (really, it’s been 3 years already?) in a truck in “Africa” without AC. And I dealt with it. And lost 5 pounds. I will say, however, that our cool weather has been wonderful, but it was a bit too cool on the 4th of July; I wanted an iconic, hot summer day and got mist in the morning and clouds that never gave way. Oh well.

The other day I stumbled upon a Twitter profile for Count on Coal, a company that’s all about the benefits of coal powered energy and why we need it. I also happened to stumble upon photos from Pittsburgh from the 1940s when everything was coal powered and the streets and buildings were black from smoke. Seriously, you couldn’t even see across the street in broad daylight because the smoke was so thick. Pittsburgh doesn’t look like that anymore because of sweeping clean air standards that were soon implemented nationwide and even in countries around the world. Count on Coal’s Twitter feed talked almost exclusively about how cheap coal energy is and why we as a country can’t afford to get rid of it now. Somehow, though, they think we can afford the threat to national security that coal energy requires, the damage to the environment that will take decades to repair, the damage to our lungs and bodies that is irreparable, and the loss of jobs that clean energy production can provide (yes, getting rid of coal will get rid of coal jobs but that's a very, very tiny percentage of the population).

Energy is set up to be a rather large player in the presidential election in a few months, with our current president trying to remove coal as a main source of energy and replace it with clean, renewable sources of energy in the form of solar and wind and biofuels where possible, while those within the coal industry will do whatever they can to keep coal useful, despite its health and environmental costs. On NPR yesterday I listened to a person employed by a coal company say Hussein (our president’s rather unfortunate middle name) is Arabic for “I hate coal workers.” Real mature. During the same story, one woman explained that the coal workers in Virginia don’t know anything else and that losing their coal jobs (most of which are mining, a deadly job) would be devastating. I didn’t hear anyone say they’d be opposed to learning a new job, such as, say, clean energy production, and when you realize that jobs in Virginia are actually up 7 or so percent in that state it’s hard to take the coal miners seriously. I think I’d be OK to be rid of my dangerous job, which will most certainly give me a terminal disease in my old age if it doesn’t outright kill me, especially if it meant being transferred to a much better, safer job.

It seems like there will never be a good time to make the changes that our country needs. It seems like a pretty big coincidence that this major heat wave and freak storm that caused the power outage is going on right when we’re all complaining that we can’t afford the clean energy, that we can’t afford to stop our planet from killing us. We’re in an amazing cycle right now that will ultimately culminate in a mass extinction that will almost certainly wipe us out: we use incredibly damaging products and energy sources because they’re financially inexpensive for the producer or buyer (usually thanks to horrific labor and environmental regulations in another country, which we like to ignore), the Earth’s climate starts to change because of these processes, we use even more damaging energy to deal more comfortably with the new climate, and so on. Meanwhile, we’re in a financially fucked period which actually has a lot to do with how we get all that cheap energy and the only choice we have is to keep buying that cheap energy. When will we ever sit back and realize we have the means to make the changes we need to make? When are we ever going to admit we’re financially comfortable enough to pay a little extra for the clean energy? Even American millionaires say they struggle to make ends meet.

Thing is, cause there’s always a thing, clean energy isn’t as expensive as the coal industry is saying. It’s not like our costs are going to double and we’re only going the clean energy route to be altruistic hippies. Here’s the truth: it’s actually cheaper. Clean energy is less expensive to buy and use than coal energy, which is why many businesses are moving towards clean energy. But coal isn’t going to admit to that. The initial costs of converting to a different energy source (borne by the energy utilities and certainly passed on to the consumer) will exist, obviously, and they might be more than what some people are willing to pay. It’s like planting a garden: setting up a bed, buying soil, seedlings and fertilizer is tons more expensive than buying a few tomatoes at the store. But when you don’t have to buy tomatoes for the rest of the summer, and your costs every summer after that for tomatoes are a fraction of what they used to be, it starts to look a lot more affordable. Plus, there’s the mass market factor: one person buying clean energy is going to cost more for that one person than it would if everyone on the block bought clean energy.

My long winded point is that the time has passed us. There won’t ever be a right time for us to convert to a better energy, and the planet is just going to suffer for it. Incidentally, after doing some research on our planet’s history the other day I came to the conclusion that the planet will actually be quite fine. It went through ice ages before that were so cold the oceans froze, had massive meteors hit that caused dust to choke out life, and will last through this heat age we’re contributing to. The sad thing is many people, if not all, will die, as will the majority of the species currently in existence. The rhinos and tigers and frogs and whales and pandas… everything except the super adaptable will die. Maybe a few people will survive, but human subspecies have gone extinct before so it can happen again. Then, some thousands of years later, plants and animals will begin to evolve again and all new life will start over, and maybe some new subspecies of human will walk the Earth again.

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