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Fundamentals – electricity from fossil fuels


Climate and energy policy debates focus on phrases like cap and trade, allowances trading, and international offsets. The discussions and debate have been consumed by economics and nuclear energy controversies and has lost sight of the fundamentals.

The Fundamentals: Electricity from fossil fuels has negative impacts on our ecosystem and our health.

Historically, the United States has chosen to generate its electricity in big centralized power plants and then move this electricity long distances to our homes. When we turn on the light switch, the electricity we’re using may literally have traveled over a hundred miles to get to us. More than 70% of this electricity comes from fossil fuels – coal (50%), natural gas (18%), and petroleum (3%).

These fossil fuels are burned to make heat that is used to boil water to make steam. This steam is used to turn a turbine and this motion in turn generates electricity. This electricity is transmitted to our houses over big wires to power our refrigerator, air conditioner, and lights.

This process for generating electricity also releases (literally) tons of pollutants that had previously been trapped underground. These pollutants include greenhouse gases and particulate matter (think about soot) that decrease air quality but putting lots of gross stuff into it that should be trapped in the ground. Health problems due to reduced air and water quality increase. Our ecosystem (the earth) becomes increasingly damaged. This is a problem – one with global implications – and one that almost assuredly requires a combination of policy and technology to solve.

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