Sunday, January 8, 2023

An Insatiable Hunger for Energy 

Combustion-related air pollutants

By the Numbers – Homes and Businesses 

We use energy in our homes every day; lots of energy. According to the United States Department of Energy, 40% of the energy consumed in the United States goes to powering our homes and commercial buildings.

We use energy to keep rooms at comfortable temperatures, to provide lighting, and to heat water. We also use energy to cook food and to power our phones, computers, games, and appliances.

 

By the Numbers – Transportation 

Even though Americans account for just 4.23% of the global population, with nearly 291-million registered vehicles, the U.S.A. is home to almost a quarter of the world’s cars. American motorists drive more than 3-trillion miles annually, and the Federal Highway Administration expects that number to grow by 22%, by 2049.

The transportation sector includes personal vehicles (cars, small trucks, vans, SUVs, RVs, motorcycles) and public transportation (buses, airplanes, passenger and freight trains, commercial and freight trucks, barges, pipelines). Personal vehicles account for 54.2% of the energy used within the sector, while commercial and freight trucks use 24.5%. One might think that airplanes, trains, and buses would consume most of the energy used in transportation, but those percentages are relatively small; 8.7% for aircraft and 2.6% for trains and buses.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that 28% of the energy used in the United States is used for transportation, with petroleum products accounting for about 90% of that energy.

 

We Consume How Much Energy? 

U.S. daily primary energy consumption is more than 2.7-trillion British thermal units (BTUs). That’s 97.5-quadrillion BTUs per year, or roughly 17% of world’s total consumption of around 580-quadrillion BTUs (more than 1.5-quadrillion BTUs of energy a day). What’s a quadrillion? Well, it’s an inconceivable number to me; one with fifteen zeroes after it (1,000,000,000,000,000). One-quadrillion BTUs is about equal to the amount of potential energy in 45-million tons of coal; or 170-million barrels of crude oil; or 1-trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Carbon pollution graphic

Because of carbon pollution, the amount of heat in the atmosphere is increasing, which is making our climate change. Photo credit: University of Illinois; Chicago: School of Public Health

Less-Obvious Costs and Impacts 

While we don’t often think about it, most of the things we use energy for are luxuries; many of which weren’t even available to us, or even possible for that matter, 100 years ago, or 50 years ago, or even 25 years ago. And all of the astonishing technological accomplishments, which we habitually take for granted, come as a result of our consuming natural resources, mostly fossil fuels, which are finite commodities and, all too often, have an environmental cost, such as devastated ecosystems or land stripped of its vitality. What’s more, in order to produce the energy that lies within them, fossil fuels must be burned, which creates pollution (soot, smog, acid rain) that is negatively impacting our health and altering our climate. What’s more, much of that energy could be going to waste, due to drafts, air leaks, leaving appliances running unnecessarily, and using outdated heating and cooling systems.
I believe that we need to take time to reflect upon the implications of using, and especially of thoughtlessly wasting, such tremendous amounts of energy. And we must learn to recognize the connections between harvesting and burning fossil fuels and environmental degradation, pollution, and worsening health and livelihoods, both locally and globally.

According to research from Harvard University, in collaboration with the University of Birmingham, the University of Leicester and University College London, exposure to particulate matter from fossil fuel emissions accounted for 18% of total global deaths, in 2018. That’s nearly 1 in 5! Regions with the highest concentrations of fossil fuel-related air pollution; including Eastern North America, Europe, and South-East Asia; have the highest rates of mortality, according to the study published in the journal, Environmental Research. (Global mortality from outdoor fine particle pollution generated by fossil fuel combustion: Results from GEOS-Chem, Environmental Research; Karn Vohra et.al. – April 2021). The study states that, “the developing fetus and children younger than 5 years of age are more biologically and neurologically susceptible to the many adverse effects of air pollutants from fossil-fuel combustion than adults.”

The most recent Global Burden of Disease Study, the largest and most comprehensive study on the causes of global mortality, put the total number of global deaths from all outdoor airborne particulate matter, including dust and smoke from wildfires and agricultural burns, at 4.2-million. The World Health organization says that 7-million people died from exposure to air pollution (indoor and outdoor) in 2016 (their latest data).

Burning fossil fuels also contributes to an increase in what are commonly called ‘greenhouse’ gases (carbon dioxide (CO2)and methane) in the atmosphere. It’s widely accepted, within the scientific community, that increasing levels of greenhouse gasses are contributing to an unparalleled rise in average global temperatures; in other words, a rapidly warming planet; some of the consequences of which are:
– glaciers and other huge bodies of water melting and receding at ever-accelerating rates or disappearing altogether
– melting sea and polar ice causing sea levels to rise, resulting in warmer, more acidic ocean waters
– entire species of animals being driven to extinction by vanishing habitat
– and extraordinary and unprecedented storms, heat waves, drought, and winter weather conditions around the world.

 

Photo at top: Combustion-related air pollutants, particularly from vehicles, are present throughout our environment and large populations are exposed to them on a regular basis. 2019 research from McGill University linked air pollution nanoparticles to brain cancer. Photo credit: McGill University photo.

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Richard Gast is a retired Extension Program Educator and has been contracted by Cornell Cooperative Extension Franklin County to continue his informative and thought provoking articles.




31 Responses

  1. David West says:

    Media seems to lead us to believe that electric vehicles will be a panacea for global warming. It is obvious that all that electric energy has to be created, mostly from commercial electrical generation; i.e fossil fuels, nuclear and some renewables. Are there any estimates out there that predict the impact on greenhouse gas reduction if we were able to acheive the large-scale change over to electric vehicles by 2050?

    We bought a plug-in hybrid in early 2022. My in-home charger is telling me that it is costing me about $4.50 to fill the battery for about a 40 mile range. That is much more than the cost of a gallon of gasoline that it would consume to drive that distance in the hybrid mode.

    • JB says:

      How much additional electric power generation capacity will be needed for New York State to transition to 100% electric transportation and heating?

      Based on USEIA numbers from a couple of years ago, NYS consumed, for roughly one year, 970 trillion BTUs of natural gas for uses other than electrical power generation (for heating and cooking), equivalent to about 285 TWh of power. NYS consumed roughly 960 trillion BTUs of refined petroleum products (gasoline, distillate fuel oil, jet fuel) during a similar period (for transportation), equivalent to about 280 TWh of power.

      Now we need to take into account increased efficiency of electric heat — 5%-20% for baseboard and 100%-200% for heat pumps — and electric cooking — 30%-50%. This is not easy, so let’s just cut 285 TWh in half: 143 TWh. Factoring in efficiency gains for electric vehicles — EVs are generally about 300% more efficient — we’ll divide 280 TWh by 3: 93 TWh.

      Adding these together, we realize that NYS will need something like 230 TWh of additional electrical power per year to transition its transportation and heating sectors away from fossil fuels (assuming that NYS power consumption will stop growing in the long run). For reference, we’re exceeding about 140 TWh per year already. So, to answer the question very roughly speaking, we will need 60% more electrical power generation capacity, with future peak demand occuring during heating season (when solar irradiance is lowest). Not unattainable, but significant.

  2. Kevin P Hickey, DDS says:

    I’m sorry but presently, there are more pressing problems facing our country. The southern border is wrought with illegal immigration, human trafficking, crimes against our southern ranchers and residents, death, gang members and terrorists entering our country, no vetting, Mexican cartels controlling our border and making billions of dollars and more importantly, enough fentanyl and meth to kill our entire population. Increased homelessness and drug addiction in our cities. Increased crime and killings across the country. A lack of respect for our first responders. Violent attacks on our police officers and a push to defund the police. Racism is being pushed everywhere you look. CRT being taught to our young children instead of history, writing and math. Our economy is in a recession and nobody wants to work.
    There is a war in Ukraine and China is threatening Taiwan. Russia keeps threatening nuclear war. You US can’t just flip a switch and cure the climate issues of the world immediately, it will take time. Smart people along with science and technology will come up with solutions. We can’t keep going down the current path we are on.

    • Linda says:

      So much packed in your comment, but I imagine that the folks suffering the impact of climate change with catastrophic consequences might disagree. Hopefully there will be bipartisan cooperation to address climate change as well as humanitarian issues including how to help asylum seekers fleeing terrible conditions in their home countries. I am myself fortunate that my grandparents left Europe in the late 1800’s, (pogroms, anti-semitism) before they would have perished in the Holocaust.

    • Balian the Cat says:

      I will defer comment on the broad issue of “the border” as I am not sure what the actual data says and do believe that there are serious issues with immigration policy, but the rest of this is false flag baloney that can either be shown to be subjective opinion, meaningless, or disproven by data. Crime, for example, is down https://bjs.ojp.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv21.pdf nearly across the board. The accepted definition of an economic recession is two consecutive quarters of negative GDP. The GDP grew 2.9% in the third quarter of 2022 https://www.bea.gov/data/gdp/gross-domestic-product. The unemployment rate has recovered to its pre-pandemic level and is down 2 percentage points from the same time last year https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf. The only people worried about CRT are the same people who decry education and “do their own research” to begin with. China has been threatening Taiwan since 1949. Russia has been threatening nuclear war since 1950 &Etcetera…While there are certainly major issues with the overly ambitious rush to “electrify” everything it’s kind of hard to argue that we probably don’t have an overabundance of time for “smart people” to come up with solutions regarding the viability of life on earth.

      • Kevin P Hickey says:

        I would never trust .gov statistics.

        • Balian the Cat says:

          The same information can be found numerous other places. I assumed that statistics from other sources would be decried as biased. Not wanting to believe things and their being true isn’t the same thing.

      • JB says:

        There are a number of overpopulation activist groups (most of them advocating for at least some type of immigration reform) that are worth checking out: https://overpopulation-project.com/organizations-dealing-with-overpopulation/

        Electrification goals are probably the one thing that NYS is doing right (though we will almost certainly fall short). But for the most part the headlines only serve to distract from less exciting issues that need attention. Most don’t realize the extent to which NYS is subsidizing new airports, sporting venues, and real-estate development, or that basic, common-sense measures like Right to Repair or Unmarked Burial Site Protection can’t seem to get past the governor’s desk without being vetoed or obsequiously amended at the behest of corporate donors. That worries me far more.

    • Boreas says:

      If you think geopolitical border issues in the US are a problem now, consider the sea-level rise from melting icecaps forcing a very large portion of global population to abandon homes, farms, and cities. It is already happening (even here!), and the DOD considers population displacement an increasing global defense concern in the future. As a primary consumer of energy, the US needs to be looking for both short-term and long-term energy solutions. There is no single panacea. But part of the plan needs to be figuring out ways to lower energy usage of all types. Push-button civilization has its drawbacks.

    • Bill Keller says:

      All the above problems mentioned will be solved once the species goes extinct.

  3. David West says:

    Dr Hickey and others: I understand your views on the domestic and international issues facing this country. It goes without saying that they need attention today; many need urgent attention. The war in Ukraine and a couple others are potentially existential threats to our civilization. While global warming is not the immediate threat that some of the ones you cite are, it is “elephant in the room” of existential threats. The monumental magnitude of the threat is not something that can be dismissed by saying the technologists will solve it. It is going to take generations of dedicated, prioritized resources and effort to resolve. We will be reshaping every aspect of the way we live.
    It is my sincere hope that political rancor in Washington abates and that they start applying our great wealth and resources to resolve ALL the urgent issues.
    If we can see beyond the end of our noses for a moment… It is the way in which we consume energy and the globe’s overwhelming magnitude of consumption that is threatening the existence of our grandchildren and the generations beyond. If we don’t start changing the way we live now, we are sowing the seeds of a future, hostile world. (From the perspective of a retired power systems engineer)

  4. Drew says:

    All important, but let’s focus back on the author’s topic: energy.

    Commonly (mostly) shared North Country values: independence, freedom, can-do attitude, community, good jobs, strong defense, love of the outdoors, re-purposing and re-using before throwing out, individualism, better future for our kids, local self-reliance, etc.

    Done well, we can tick ALL of the above value boxes by: 1. Rapidly deploying renewable energy, especially solar; 2. Vastly improving energy efficiency, especially via building insulation and heat pumps; and 3. Phasing out fossil fuel uses, especially by switching to electric vehicles and weaning off “natural” (fossil) gas power plants.

    Big challenges, sure. Let’s get going.

  5. Mike says:

    Nothing like using a fake photo of smoke and cars to get your point across. NYS is not going to change the world or save it. One thing is for sure NY politicians and there business friends with campaign donations will get super rich being pretend heroes. After all, NY lawmakers need to pad their big raise. It wasn’t enough. Big dollars in doom and gloom. You can pass environmental laws to even make more money for your friends and relatives! Whos going to question that?

  6. Charlie Stehlin says:

    David West says: “My in-home charger is telling me that it is costing me about $4.50 to fill the battery for about a 40 mile range. That is much more than the cost of a gallon of gasoline that it would consume to drive that distance in the hybrid mode.”

    Electric vehicles will never be viable unless the price of batteries comes down. How the hay in the world is anybody, besides the rich, going to be able to afford an electric vehicle what with how much their batteries cost! It’s like every ‘thing’ else….only the rich are going to be able to afford to drive ere long.

  7. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “all of the astonishing technological accomplishments, which we habitually take for granted, come as a result of our consuming natural resources”

    Yes, and how much longer can we continue on this course? That question has been floating, yet we continue doing the same thing, nothing has changed. I mean we need clean water as that is the lifeblood. We need fresh vegetables, we need pollinators to keep them flourishing, etc. We’re aware of this yet the fields and woods keep coming down, Raid is still being dispensed, Drano is still being flushed, cement is still being poured….. Nothing is sacred where there’s a dollar to be made, time saved, and when a green lawn is more important than birds and worms! I suppose when we all start feeling it in our wallets, when 75% of species have disappeared….. maybe then we’ll all start agreeing – “We need to do something different!” Surely that will be after all of us alive now are gone. Let future generations deal with it!

  8. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Kevin P Hickey, DDS says: “I’m sorry but presently, there are more pressing problems facing our country. The southern border is wrought with illegal immigration, human trafficking, crimes against our southern ranchers and residents, death, gang members and terrorists entering our country, no vetting, Mexican cartels controlling our border We can’t keep going down the current path we are on.”

    Yes there are more pressing problems, and yes this destructive path must come to an end. If but only we can get our political leaders to work together to maybe get a kickstart on solving these problems. Where do we begin? How about let us never allow the rich to send in their millions to finance political campaigns (oops, too late on that one!) as surely that must have something to do with all of the infighting between parties and why nothing is getting done. Of course there’s also the reality of us being so deep in our dysfunction due to the fact that we haven’t acted sooner to correct the course we’re on, but you know….that’s how we learn, by our mistakes. The question is, when do we start learning?

  9. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Linda says: “I imagine that the folks suffering the impact of climate change with catastrophic consequences might disagree. Hopefully there will be bipartisan cooperation to address climate change as well as humanitarian issues including how to help asylum seekers fleeing terrible conditions in their home countries.”

    This is a major part of the problem Linda. We’re not talking about why it is that these poor, good people, mothers and father’s, and their children, are even fleeing their homelands in the first place. There’s one side which sympathizes with them, who have an innate desire in them to help them out; there’s the other side which thinks they’re all scum, that they’re here to murder us, or take away the white American plastic way of life….. Surely much of this border-crossing perplexity has to do with our own policies dating back decades ago, not working with other governments, etc. We are not good at looking too far ahead, and now because of that we’re getting further and further away from any semblance that would give us the ability to retain some kind of balance. I can see this clearly. I would make a good President! The only problem there is….I’m not rich. Not in monetary value anyway.

  10. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Balian the cat says: “it’s kind of hard to argue that we probably don’t have an overabundance of time for “smart people” to come up with solutions regarding the viability of life on earth.”

    Or put another way, “we probably don’t have an overabundance of ‘smart people’ to find the time to come up with solutions regarding the viability of life on earth.”

  11. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “Push-button civilization has its drawbacks.”

    O’ Boreas…there you go again! ‘So much’ prudence packed in such a small space! This one line can shoot off in every direction relative to the woes we face today.

  12. Charlie Stehlin says:

    David West says: “The war in Ukraine and a couple others are potentially existential threats to our civilization.”

    I do not wish to come off like a broken record, or to continue to keep a can of worms open, or to open another can of worms, as much as I just need to get out a large truism very relative to much of what is being spoke on this thread; and that would be in relation to vision, or seeing ahead. Much of our misery, as I have stated, is due to lack of such. Per instance…. the Ukraine war. Clearly I recall like it was yesterday the big push some time back where our President GW Bush lied to the American people and said that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction which proved to be a huge falsehood, though unfortunately proved much after the fact. Many of us knew from day one that it was a lie! Many of us knew the consequences which could come were we to send our military over there (which have come to fruit every one of them, and more.) It was an unjust war and we lost at least 5000 of our brothers and sisters because of it, never mind how many innocent Iraqi moms and dads and their children died or were maimed from our bombs, limbs lost, vision and hearing lost…lives ruined. One big lie got that going by one small man! Reminds us of someone else don’t it!

    Much of the misery we are dealing with today is tied to that big lie, and push, from the American right, to drop bombs on that innocent population….just to get to one man by the way! I recall people saying, “Kill them all” regards all of those innocent Iraqis who died due to America’s invasion of that harmless country, which very much reminds me of what is taking shape in Ukraine as we rant. What does this have to do with what you say above David West? Clearly I recall Vladimir Putin saying back then, “If America can invade Iraq I can invade Ukraine!”

    So here we are all of these short years later with our short attention spans and look at how much worse things are (as you say) all because “no vision.” Many of us are aware of who, and what, our real enemies are, yet flocks of our society cherish the same, support them, run towards them. Little do they know that they are running towards flames. It is just baffling! I suppose we all have different values!

    In short….. wisdom is not the friend of ignorance.

  13. Linda says:

    My response to these articles:

    Not sure I’d ever rely on an article in Breitbart News.
    (It was only in 2018 that Steve Bannon left Breitbart.)

    And the idea that there is no climate crisis? Seriously?
    Can we tell that to the folks in California? How about Florida who just experienced another catastrophic hurricane?

    Can’t we move on to trying to find solutions?
    https://www.un.org/en/climatechange

    • JohnL says:

      Not gonna comment except to say you can believe whatever you want, even if it’s only one side of the argument. That usually works out real well.
      P.S. You doubt what Breitbart says. I doubt anything the UN says. They have BILLIONS of dollars at stake in this subject.

    • Susan says:

      Once again, catastrophic weather events ARE NOT NEW NEWS. Read your history.

      • Linda says:

        Hey Susan, of course that’s true. But it’s important to consider information such as the following and trust me the folks who live in Florida and had to literally flee their homes during Ian, care about this. Whats the benefit of ignoring this kind of info?
        From the Voice of America on Hurricane Ian dumping 10% More Rain :

        “Although the total number of tropical storms, or cyclones, may not increase, scientists say warming is whipping up more powerful cyclones with stronger winds and more precipitation.
        “Human-caused climate change is affecting hurricanes in many ways including causing them to intensify faster, be stronger overall, and dump a lot more rain,” tweeted climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, who was not involved in the research.

        thehttps://www.voanews.com/a/hurricane-ian-dumped-10-more-rain-due-to-climate-change-research-/6772805.html

  14. Kevin P Hickey says:

    Throughout geologic time, volcano eruptions, earthquakes, cyclones, tornadoes, hurricanes, thunderstorms, forest fires, tsunamis, flooding, monsoons naturally occurred. Once humans decided to live in their path, they became catastrophic and possibly due to climate change.

  15. Kevin P Hickey says:

    There are common sense solutions but unfortunately, presently, there is a total lack of common sense.

  16. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “There are common sense solutions but unfortunately, presently, there is a total lack of common sense.”

    Shirley Bassey does a most wonderful version of “Where do I begin?” The unanswered questions come up in song too which, at the very least, brings some level of peace….to me it does anyway.

  17. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “Kevin P Hickey says: “Throughout geologic time, volcano eruptions, earthquakes, cyclones, tornadoes, hurricanes, thunderstorms, forest fires, tsunamis, flooding, monsoons naturally occurred…….”

    Yes, and there are cycles and recorded history of such through journals and publications going back hundreds of years, and current scientific data is showing we’re breaking records with heat, and that many other firsts are occurring in accordance to those old records. At the very least we should err on the side of caution and think ahead…. a bit further than just one election cycle ahead.

  18. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Susan says:”Once again, catastrophic weather events ARE NOT NEW NEWS. Read your history.”

    Yes but! The questions we should be asking are:
    1.What if it is true that this warming-up that is taking shape on our planet, the icebergs melting away, etc., is really due to a billion automobiles spewing their toxic carbon emissions? I mean that does make some great sense if one really looks at the lethality of such emissions. Just park your car in your garage, leave the engine running with your windows down, and stay in that car…..then come back here tomorrow and tell us how you fared! Think of the Earth’s atmosphere as the roof of that garage. How much longer does one think we can keep emitting carbon emissions with that roof, our atmosphere, shutting-in all of those emissions without eventually some negative effect coming to fruit?

    2.Why is it that certain politicians, rich ones at that, are so against this possibility that humans are the cause of the earth turning into an oven? Could it be possible that this thinking, or denial, is tied to the money which comes their (certain politicians) way from rich donors via campaign financing; donors who keep rich due to the pollution they emit? The gaining of wealth does effect the brain in negative ways as has been proven over and again!

    3.Should we not be erring on the side of caution and maybe looking ahead in case? You know, looking ahead towards future generations, getting away from ourselves?

    Breitbart! UN! How about common sense and being able to think for one’s self for a change! Yes, read your history Susan! Especially our most recent history which is replete with human greed, and selfishness, and all of the ugly which comes with such!

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