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Life Without Fossil Fuels?

Where Would We Start?

Do you really want to stop using fossil fuels?  Your immediate answer may be a resounding “yes.”  However, that could change your life in a way you hadn’t anticipated.  That’s because so many of us grew up in cities and have no real tie to the land or to how the things we rely upon in our daily lives come from or how they are made.

Do eggs, tomatoes and bacon come from the grocery store?  That may be where you purchase them, but that’s not where they originate.  They are grown on farms, often located thousands of miles from the store where you purchased them.  When you purchase a tomato during the winter, it likely was grown in California.  The eggs you buy likely were hatched by chickens residing in huge poultry farms in the South that were fed with grains from the Midwest.  The bacon probably came from hogs grown in Iowa.

The point is, we rely on farmers to grow the foods we eat and they rely on fossil fuels (gasoline and diesel) to run their farm equipment; to produce the fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides they use to maximize production; and to dry their corn once it is harvested.

Following the daily collection of the eggs, butchering of the hogs or mechanical harvesting of the tomatoes (takes more fossil fuel to haul the mechanical pickers), they are processed, stored and then transported by truck to distribution centers where they are then trucked to the stores where you purchase them.

All of that happens without you being aware of it – but it nonetheless happens.  If you ban the use of fossil fuels, those processes won’t happen nearly as efficiently as they do now.  That means you will either be forced to do without fresh produce and meats, or, if you’re financially able to, you’ll pay more for them.

Do you rely on a prescription medicine to help you maintain your quality of life?  If you do, the chances are high that medicine was produced using one of the variations of natural gas.

Do you use oil in your automobile?  If so, that’s one variation of a fossil fuel.  Better yet, do you use synthetic oil in your car?  If so, it was made using natural gas – a fossil fuel.

Are you aware that many of the parts, including bumpers and body panels, in your car are made with a form of plastic?  You guessed it – plastics are made with fossil fuels.  What about the steel used in your car?  It was manufactured using natural gas or coal in the smelting process.  What about the tires on your car?  You guessed it – each of them contains about two gallons of petroleum.

Are the clothes you wear made with synthetic fibers?  The likely answer is “yes”, and fossil fuels are used in their manufacture.

There are about 6,000 products we use in our daily lives that are petroleum-based.  On average, every day each of us uses about three and one-half gallons of oil and 250 cubic feet of natural gas.

Some of the other petroleum-based products we use include: dentures and denture adhesive, lipstick, toothpaste and toothbrushes, artificial limbs, shampoo, soft contact lenses, paint, cell phones, televisions, CD and DVD players and discs, eye glasses, detergents, cameras, solar panels and their internals, tennis rackets, credit cards, waxes, asphalt, chewing gum, vitamin capsules, roofing shingles and paper, skis, heart valves, refrigerators, antihistamines, golf balls, rugs made with synthetic fibers, panty hose, insect repellents, fishing rods and shaving cream.

As you can see from the discussion above, the things we rely upon in our daily lives originate with some variation of a fossil fuel.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be working towards finding substitutes that will allow us to maintain our quality of life AND improve the quality of our environment.  We should be doing that on a regular basis.

However, we also need to be intellectually honest with regards to what those realistic solutions are.  We can’t afford to chart a course that will take us away from what we know works without assurance that the “substitute” (renewable energy sources) will work as promised.

I bring this up because we are now starting to get valid data from solar and wind farms that are actually operational.

We know the wind farms along Route 20 in Madison County have been non-operational for about a year while waiting for parts.  We know the solar farm in Broome County that promised to deliver between 4 and 5.2 megawatts (enough to power 3,200 to 4,000 homes) is actually producing 6.1 million kilowatts (about one-tenth of what was promised), or about enough to power 567 homes.

In other words, reality was about one-seventh of what was promised and thus the cost of that power went up dramatically.

If those numbers hold true across the State, we’re in for a significant energy shortage if the Governor’s energy plan is fully implemented.  As I’ve said before, please don’t drink the Kool-Aid until you know what’s in it.

Mike Zagata, a DEC commissioner during the Pataki Administration and environmental executive for Fortune 500 Companies, lives in West Davenport.


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