Power industries have resorted to extreme measures in order to produce energy for an insatiable civilization, exploiting increasingly remote crevices of the planet in the pursuit of corporate profit — without regard to heavy environmental costs.
Below are three examples: oil from tar sands, coal from mountaintop removal, and nukes from a demonstrably unsafe and under-regulated industry.
1. Oil Extraction from Canadian Tar Sands
Tom Radford’s documentary film about oil extraction from Alberta’s Tar Sands tells the story of Canada’s sorry environmental trajectory, its obstructionism to a global climate deal, the pollution of the Athabasca River and the devastating effects on the humans and other organisms in the area.
A choice sequence from the documentary:
Narrator: In Kyoto, Canada promised to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 6%. Now, 20 years later, the tar sands are booming and the emissions are up 26%.
Bill McKibben: If you set out to devise a method to harm the planet, you couldn’t come up with a better one than what Canada is doing at the tar sands. You’ve got to bring in energy to heat this stuff up enough to get it out. Once you spent all that energy in getting it out, then you refine it into gasoline and burn it again. If any significant portion of that tar sands continues to get exploited and burnt, then we’ll simply have too much carbon in the atmosphere
Tim Flannery: For every barrel of oil that you get from the tar sands, you release three times the as much carbon that you get form a conventional oil well in Texas or Saudi Arabia. So there is a big carbon liability… if the world followed followed Canada down that route… we would cook the earth.
2. Coal from Mountain Top Removal
Recent development from Mother Jones, on the devastating health effects of mountaintop removal mining:
A new study linking Appalachian mountaintop removal mining to birth defects offers compelling new evidence of the practice’s impact on human health..
Researchers at Washington State University and WVU pored over nearly 2 million central Appalachia birth records from 1996 to 2003. Their findings are disturbing: Kids born near mountaintop mining operations suffered higher rates of a bevy of birth defects, including central nervous system, musculoskeletal, urogenital and circulatory and respiratory problems.
I’ve posted on mountaintop removal before, and described how it saves the coal industry labor costs by simply blowing up mountains to get to the coal deposits inside.
In the process, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council,
Mining companies are clear cutting thousands of acres of some of the world’s most biologically diverse forests. They’re filling local rivers and streams with blasted debris, polluting drinking water with toxic waste and sacrificing the safety and sanctity of countless communities.
“The Last Mountain“, a critically acclaimed new documentary about mountaintop removal is playing in theaters this month. Here is a promotional trailer:
BTW, if you want to find your own electric connection to mountaintop removal, here is a useful tool.
3. Disasters and Lax Safety Regulation in the Nuclear Energy Industry
Although the Fukushima disaster has largely disappeared from U.S. “news” media that prefer to giggle at pictures of pee-pees, al-Jazeera is probably right to assert that it is “much worse than you think“.
The article quotes a longtime high level nuke industry exec Arnold Gundersen who claims that “Fukushima is the biggest industrial catastrophe in the history of mankind.”
The disaster has led global support for nuclear power to subside, but in the U.S. the AP has reported on how “federal regulators have been working closely with the nuclear power industry to keep the nation’s aging reactors operating within safety standards by repeatedly weakening those standards, or simply failing to enforce them.”
Meanwhile, these doctors are suggesting a connection between Fukushima and a 35% spike in infant mortality in the U.S. pacific northwest.