According to the Energy Information Administration at the US Department of Energy, coal-fired generation accounts for 49.7% of total electric production in the US. Gas-fired generation accounts for another 18.7%. Other fossil fuels account for another 3% or so. Altogether about 71% of all electricity produced in America today comes from the burning of fossil fuels. Let me try to put that in perspective, in terms that all of us can relate to.
About 71% of the electricity Americans use every day is produced by burning fossil fuels. Just a number right? 71%. More than two-thirds, almost three-quarters. Anyone even vaguely familiar with the reality of global warming understands the importance of that number but still, it’s just a number. What does that number mean to me personally? How does it relate to my life specifically?
I know about greenhouse gasses and their effect on climate change and global warming. In many ways both large and small I have altered my life style to minimize my impact on the planet, on climate change, on global warming. I haven’t done nearly enough, but I am doing something. And yet, perhaps I should take some more personal responsibility for that number. I’m writing this on my PC, which requires electric power to operate. As I type these words, my editor window occupies a fairly large portion of the screen space on my monitor. How much, you ask? Good question. I haven’t actually measured it, but I would guess my editor occupies something like 71% of the space on my screen. Now what are the odds? Really.
As I type these words I am burning fossil fuels to illuminate the pixels on my screen. I’m burning coal as surely as if I had a large black lump of it smoldering on my desktop. I’m burning natural gas as surely as if I had a bunsen burner flaming at my elbow. I wonder if I would be more aware of my 49.7% contribution to greenhouse gas emissions if I could actually smell the noxious fumes from that smoldering lump. I wonder if I would be more concerned about my 18.7% contribution to global warming if I could feel the heat radiating from that bunsen burner.
But the coal I burn is not on my desktop. And it does not smoulder, it burns ever so fiercely in power plants miles away from my home. The greenhouse gasses produced escape from smokestacks that I never see. The gas I burn is not at my elbow. It roars in boilers that I never hear. And that is at least part of the problem. The benefits of our modern industrial lifestyles are all around us, at our fingertips, while the negative consequences are all too often out of sight and out of mind. And it is not just an American or a European problem. The numbers will be somewhat different as the fuel mix varies from country to country, but the principle remains the same around the world. Ask yourself as you read these words, what portion of the pixels on your screen are lit by fossil fuels?
This has been rattling around in my head in semi-fluid form for more than a month, but this is the first time I have actually committed it to disk. It’s not nearly as good as the version I worked out in my head as I drifted off to sleep a few nights ago. My first diary ever. Constructive criticism would be most welcome.