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Carbon Quagmire: Sidewalks, Silicon and Fracking
September 6, 2018
by William P. Meyers

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Life is Carbon Based

Seattle has large areas that lack sidewalks. When it was a smaller city this was not a problem, but as it gets denser it is becoming dangerous to walk around. The city has a plan to add a lot of sidewalks as well as bike paths, better roads, and light rail. Environmentalists support this. In theory carbon emissions can be cut if people walk, bike, or take mass transit to travel, rather than using cars.

A street I like to walk down is getting sidewalks as part of this program. I've been to meetings about the sidewalks. Except for a few property owners, most people in the community think this will be a good thing.

But the sidewalks will be concrete, or cement. Creating cement is a major source of carbon emissions.

Equation to remember: more people means more sidewalks means more carbon dioxide means more global warming.

Propagandists make things simple. Complexity confuses and demotivates. So while solar energy advocates decry the lying of the oil companies, they also leave out the problems that come with their alternatives.

Renewable energy is the slogan. The two main components (since dams are controversial to environmentalists) are solar energy (usually meaning silicon solar cells) and wind power.

Where does silicon come from? Sand, with is silicon dioxide. While there are many ways to make this in small quantities, in large quantities silicon has a prefered method. Burn sand with coal. Result: silicon and carbon dioxide. Then there is all the energy needed to move the panels from China to the U.S. and install them, and to keep them clean and functioning.

Wind turbines have a similar equation. They need to be made from a metal, and that is typically steel. How do you make steel? You burn iron ore, which is iron oxide, with carbon. Byproduct: carbon dioxide.

Wind turbines really do kill birds. Donald Trump may lie a lot, but he was telling the truth when he said this, because it suited his purposes.

That said, in the long run sidewalks do encourage walking instead of driving. Cared for, solar cells will produce energy from sunshine for years. Wind is a clean source of energy, once the turbine is instaled.

Environmentalists are anti-coal, and for good reason. Large numbers of coal-fired electric generation plants have been closed in the last decade. They have been replaced by natural gas plants, not solar or wind. The natural gas is cheap because of fracking. Environmentalists are against fracking. But if they actually banned fracking, either we would have to restart the coal plants, or people would have to do without air-conditioning in summer.

Meanwhile, in India, hundreds of millions of people are beginning to be able to afford things that Americans have had since 1950, like washing machines, dryers, and televisions, and air-conditioning, which became common in U.S. homes in the 1960s.

And if that frightens you, you don't even want to peak at how much energy American agriculture consumes.

Grand plans to cut carbon emissions are easy on paper and difficult in practice. Often the emission are just pushced to another geography or sector.

Public policy should support renewable energy. It should support social justice, the freedom of individuals, and a decent standard of living for all.

But to stop global warming, we need to have policies that discourage population growth. In fact we need the American population, and the populations of most countries, to shrink. I believe this is politicially achivable by changing the tax code and public benefits. One particular policy that is worth trying is a Green Tax Credit for young adults (say 18 to 40) who have less than two children. Young adults in our society tend to have low incomes or high debt or both. The Green Credit might even help them save up to have the resources to have a single child and raise it without too much stress.

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