George Carlin sure had a way with words! Being sustainable is much more
than knowing how to grow a garden, compost, or canning some vegetables. While those are all wonderful things, sustainability is about being responsible environmentally as well as economically.
According to the Department of Energy, coal is the United States’ biggest producer of energy, pushing 21% of all energy though the wires. Along with being the biggest producer, it’s also the biggest polluter, by emitting 2248 lbs/MWh (megawatt hour) of carbon dioxide, twice that of natural gas. This doesn’t count the additional emissions generated in the mining, cleaning, and the transportation to the power plant. Also, coal is not a sustainable resource. As we continue to burn through it, we’re depleting a resource that is technologically as out of date as a beta max VCR. Along with oil and natural gas, coal is not a renewable resource. It takes tens of millions of years to produce coal.
Natural Gas generates nearly as much energy as coal. Though it only emits half of the carbon that coal does (1130 lbs/MWh), the method of extraction from the Earth’s crust is devastating not only to the environment, but to agriculture. The silicon rich sand used to fracture the Earth’s crust destroys farmland, making it unfit for farming. Natural gas destroys everything it touches.
Being sustainable means relying on renewable resources. Solar energy is one of the fastest growing producers of energy in the world. Experts are saying that Germany will be running 25% of it’s power from the sun by 2050. Solar energy emits no carbon dioxide and is the most abundant and renewable resource we have.
The most common issue people have with solar energy is cost. Right now, it would cost roughly $27,000 to power the average 3 bedroom American home with energy to spare with a 3 kW photovolatiac system. It would be significantly cheaper after the incentives from local, state, and federal governments, as well as possible rebates. When all is said and done, the system could pay for itself in 18 years, or even less.
There are a lot of options when dealing with energy solutions, but when it comes down to overall responsibility and sustainability, there is only one answer, renewable.