April 14 2001
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an international organization concerned with social and economic development, has concluded that it is time to move away from fossil fuels as a primary energy source. In its "Environmental Outlook Report Executive Summary, it states:
"However, despite improvements in resource efficiency, overall environmental degradation has persisted in most areas as the volume effects of total increases in production and consumption have outweighed the resource efficiency gains per unit of product. Fol-lowing recent trends, OECD countries are expected to reduce the energy intensity of their economies by 20% to 2020, while increasing total energy use by 35% (see Figure 1). Even with the use of new, more efficient, energy and transport technologies, it is unlikely that total emissions from these sources will decrease much over the next two decades. OECD countries will need to achieve more significant changes in the fuel mix than are currently foreseen, with greater substitution of the more polluting fossil fuels with renew-able resources and cleaner fuels."
The following is a brief survey of some of the environmental degradation brought about by the extraction, transport, processing, and consumption of fossil fuels.
Although current oil extraction processes are cleaner than in the past, they are still heavily invasive by definition, especially in fragile ecological locations. Heavy duty diesel equipment must be driven to the site. Huge drills chew through the Earth. Slurries of mud and seawater are pumped down the resulting hole at high pressure. Hundreds of miles of pipe and electrical transmission lines must be constructed.
OIL SPILLS AND WATER POLLUION
As of 1992, the OECD noted that between 3 to 4 million metric tons of oil are spilled into oceans every year. About half of this is from marine sources. According to the Alaska Oil Spill Commission, oil discharges the size of the Exxon disaster occure somewhere in the world every year. On the average, a spill of a million gallons occurs very month. In Alaska, 95% of the coastline already open to oil development experiences 400 oil spills each year.
Yet accidental spills are only a small source when compared to industrial discharges, sewage, and deliberate dumping of oil at sea by ships. Deliberate dumping occurs when vessels take on sea water as ballast, and then discharge the oil contminated water back into the sea. A large portion of the land based drainage of oil to the oceans come directly from motor vehicles and oil refineries. More oil enters the oceans from motor vehicle exhaust, oil leaks, and from used oil from oil changes that is then dumped down drains or sewers, than from any other source. All of these sources have contributed to the recognized contamination of the worlds oceans, wetlands, and coasts. Oil pollution destroys huge quantities of phytoplankton, which is at the base of the marine food chain. Further, even dilute mixtures of oil in water have been shown by the EPA to act as an endocrine disrupter, which adversely effects the capacity of marine organisms to reproduce, navigate, and find food.
FUEL PIPELINE SPILLS AND INCIDENTS
The Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) is the federal regulatory agency charged with oversight of the pipeline industry.
The OPS has rejected the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendation to require that operators inspect pipelines for corrosion and other forms of damage at regular intervals. OPS does not monitor the age of oil pipelines, and thus have no regulations for limiting the allowable age of pipelines. Yet research conducted at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in 1996, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, has shown that older pipelines do leak more often, at least in part due to corrosion, fatigue, and other forms of environmental stress. In California, it has been determined that on average, 70 year old pipelines leaked at about 20 times the rate of 10 year old pipelines. The NTSB recently issued a warning to an oil trade group that it faces criminal sanctions, fines, and public humiliation if it does not embrace common sense safety improvements.
Local and regional air pollution due to combustion of fossil fuel continues to be a human health problem. Independent research by medical schools and health departments around the country has revealed the inadequacy of the EPA pollution standards index with respect to both particulate matter and ozone. Particulate matter continues to be a health risk in the many metropolitan areas. Ozone pollution and acid rain continue to damage forests and alpine lakes, as well as agricultural products and private property. Unhealthful Particulate pollution continues to degrade visibility in many places, including class I wilderness areas, in spite of the fact that such visibility degradation is against federal law. The transport, processing, and use of oil and oil derived materials such as gasoline, jet and diesel fuel also introduce large quantieies of toxic air pollutants into the atmosphere which are largely unregulated.
Diesel exhaust contains over 40 chemicals that are listed by California and EPA as toxic air contaminants, probable human carcinogens, known human carcinogens, reproductive toxicants and/or endocrine disrupters. For this reason diesel particulate and/or whole exhaust has been classed or recommended to be classed as a probable human carcinogen be the state of California, the EPA, the National Toxicology Program Advisory Board, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and the National Institute of Health.
One of diesels contaminants is Dioxin, which according to the federal EPA, has reached concentrations at which adverse health effects may be expected to occur in the human population.
According to the Washington State department of Ecology, over 8100 contaminated sites have been identified in Washington State. Ecology writes "By far, the largest number of contaminated sites are the result of leaking underground petroleum storage tanks and dispensing systems, primarily commercial gas stations and heating oil tanks". Toxic combustion products such as dioxin, heavy metals, and polyaromatic hydrocarbons may their way into fertilizers and other soil amendments.
These trends would certainly be consistent across all of the United States.
The combustion of fossil fuels is undeniably altering the composition of our 10 mile thin shell of global atmosphere, the consequences of which are not well understood by scientists.
Despite the lack of certainty, at least two large groups of scientists believe these effects are very serious: Originally formed by scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) issued a "Warning to humanity", which has been signed by 1670 scientists, including 104 Nobel laureates, as of April 93. The text of this warning includes the following: "A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated" To do this, "We must bring environmentally damaging activities under control to restore and protect the integrity of the Earth's systems we depend on."
A statement issued June 18 1997, and endorsed by over 2600 scientists reads: "We are scientists who are familiar with the causes and effects of climatic change as summarized recently by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). We endorse these reports and observe that the further accumulation of greenhouse gases commits the earth irreversibly to further global climate change and consequent ecological, economic, and social disruption.
The risks associated with such changes justify preventive action through reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases. In ratifying the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the United States agreed in principle to reduce its emissions. It is time for the United States, as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, to fulfill this committment and demonstrate leadership in a global effort."
The argument that an abundance of C02 is beneficial has been refuted by Harvard University ecologists in a Scientific American article "Plant life in a C02 Rich World" (Jan 92, p 68 f), who concluded that a C02 rich environment "may induce climatic modifications that could undermine the integrity of the biological systems on which all homo sapiens depend". They also found that faster plant growth "would not compensate for the rapid increase in decomposition rates".
To dismiss these concerns is grossly irresponsible, regardless of the economic consequences to industry. Yet The Economist's Statement on Climate Change, which has been endorsed by over 2000 economists, including six Nobel Laureats, concludes there are many potential policies to reduce green house gas emissions, for which the total benefits outweigh the total costs. The economic argument against reducing greenhouse emissions does not fly.
GOVERNMENT SUBSIDY FOR PETROLEUM PRODUCTS
Petroleum products are toxic and hazardous to virtually every aspect of our environment. Yet for years, the federal government has used tax money to subsidize the oil industry.
According to data collected by Douglas Koplow for the Alliance to Save Energy, energy tax subsidies totaled about $6 billon per year in 1995, favoring fossil fuels oveer alternatives 2 to 1.
Such subsidies have artificially lowered the cost of petroleum products, encouraged waste, and made our economy ever more dependent on fossil fuel. Aside from making the rich oil industry richer, and degrading our resources and health, the consequence has been increased dependence on imported oil. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, as of 1995, imports made up over 40% of US use, accounting for over one third of the nations trade deficit.
STIFLEING OF ALTERNATIVE AND NEW ENERGY TECHNOLOGY
Several books have been written discussing the corporate stifling of alternative energy resources. 'The Sun Betrayed' by Ray Reece, South End Press, 1979, discusses the corporate seizure of U.S. Solar Energy development.
The book 'GREEN GOLD: Japan, Germany, the United States, and the Race for Environmental Technology', by Curtis Moore and Alan Miller, (Beacon Press, Boston 1994) noted that progressive countries such as Germany and Japan are marketing environmentally sound energy alternatives, many of which were developed in the US. These countries have found that conservation, environmental protection, and energy efficiency lead to innovative technology, superior products, and a healthy, competitive economy. In the US, advances in energy technology have been continually stifled by vested interests. The authors observe that by favoring fossil fuels over renewables, America promotes not only environmental pollution but waste of resources and technologicl stagnation. The consequence , according to these authors, is not only a fowled environment, but reduced competitiveness in the world market, and ultimtely a declining Americn economy.
Contrary to the belief that multinationals suffer from environmental regulation, large companies that adopt strict global environmental standards in developing countries are rewarded with higher stock market performance, according to a study published in a journal of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS)