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Clean Energy

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The United Nations (UN) has sought for global solutions to the ever-increasing emission of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. This was the main reason of organizing the Kyoto Protocol in which international leaders argued on the best practices that would address threat caused by the global climate change. The conference in Copenhagen and the recently held Durban Conference in South Africa followed the Kyoto Protocol in a bid to find lasting resolutions to the climatic changes. There are worries on the emerging divergent views on the solutions that should be adopted, such as technology improvement and cleaner energy development. Both conferences have made certain strides but the challenge is the consequences of solutions proposed by the participants. The use of fossil fuel by major contributors of greenhouse gases and, thus, the use of alternative sources of energy are considered primary tasks. Nonetheless, sustainability of alternative sources of energy is fundamental. Sustainability refers to making this world a better place to live in than it is today. On the other hand, Bruntland Report defines sustainability as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs; (qtd. in Khanna et al. 2). Therefore the argument is whether the alternative sources of energy may prove effective and sustainable. Thus this research paper presents  the opinion that clean energy is not always totally clean if sustainability of green goals in the fight against greenhouse gas emissions were to be considered.

According to Tilman and Hill, emission of greenhouse gases ‘has pushed atmospheric carbon dioxide higher than any time during the past half-million years’ (586). That happens at a time when the world population has tripled over the past hundred years. This implies that whereas there is a population to feed, there is need to find solutions to the environmental problems. As such, humanity must find a balance among food production and security, fuel, and the protection of Mother Nature. The three dynamics are interrelated and until a comprehensive solution that solves all the problems is found, sustainability of clean energy would be difficult to achieve. As asserted by Tilman and Hill, ‘Global food and fossil energy consumption are on trajectories to double by 2050’ (587). Hence, finding a balanced solution to all the problems is important in addressing climatic changes.

Corn is used in the preparation of ethanol as a form of biofuel that is clean energy. However, if all factors of productions ‘only about 20 percent of each gallon is ‘new’ energy because it takes a lot of ‘old’ fossil energy to make it: diesel to run tractors, natural gas to make fertilizers and, of course, fuel to run the refineries’ (Tilman and Hill 387). It would be easy to achieve similar carbon emission reduction by simply maintaining proper condition of vehicles. Therefore, clean energy is not always the solution to the sustainability of the environment. Economic viability of clean fuel according to Khanna et al. should be pegged on ‘market price they command and the cost of producing them’ (1).   

Overreliance on biofuel faces yet another problem. Citing case of Mexico, there is demand for corn in the production of biofuel. This has led to significant increase in the demand for corn, which in turn leads to increase in demand for tortilla that is staple food. On the other hand, with high prices for corn, the poor in the society cannot afford it. This led to protests in the streets of Mexico against the ‘ethanol tax’. Back in the United States, the spirit of protest is building up in the Congress. According to Tilman and Hill, ‘Representatives of the dairy, poultry and livestock industries, which rely on corn as a principal animal feeds, are seeking an end to subsidies for corn ethanol in hope of stabilizing corn prices’ (587). Corn is used in rearing chicken and cattle and by increasing demand for corn the prices for animal products are bound to go up. The shift in demand for corn will therefore squeeze profit margins for farmers.

The trend is also witnessed in the European Union, (EU). ‘For farmers, energy crops may be an interesting option because export subsidies on food crops are being cut back and the demand for agricultural products in the EU increases but slowl’ (Hanegraaf et al. 345). The use of biofuel has both positive and negative consequences on Mother Nature according to most reports by environmental agencies. There is need of weighing both sides of the arguments before coining political policies that would safeguard systematic methodologies for sustainable clean fuel energy.   

The environment impact of ethanol manufactured from biofuel is also similar according to Tilman and Hill. Not all biofuels are friendly to the environment. For instance, ethanol made from corn has the same chemical composition as those manufactured through chemical means. In addition, corn takes absorbs dioxide from the atmosphere and thus burning biofuel produced from corn will release the same carbon dioxide back to the atmosphere. Secondly, all fossil fuels used in the agricultural production of corn are released into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases. Therefore, as observed by Tilman and Hill, ‘The net effect is that ethanol from corn grown in the Corn Belt does increase atmospheric greenhouse gases, and this increase is only about 15 percent less than the increase caused by equivalent amount of gasoline’(587).

The solution to this predicament is the use of alternative crops. Though the potential of this alternative source of biofuel is huge, it is not still popular. ‘Unlike corn, for which long-term data on grain yield and agricultural inputs in the U.S. are available, data for switchgrass and other perennial herbaceous plants grown and managed as bioenergy crops are limited’(Schmer et al. 464). Alternative crops grow with little soil fertility, especially after harvesting main food crops. Use of alternative crops is also likely to reduce the competition between food and biofuel. Citing the case of, U. S. Tilman and Hill note that the country ‘has about 60 million acres of such land - in the Conservation Reserve Program, road edge rights-of-way and abandoned farmlands’(388). These lands can be used to grow alternative crops without need to use fertilizers and other farm inputs to increase yield of these alternative crops. Prairie ‘hay’from an infertile land is a source of high value energy that can be mixed with coal to burn for producing electricity.

In addition, prairie ‘hay’ can be chemically bound to make ethanol among other diverse ways of utilizing the crop. In essence, if various types of biofuel can be grown and used appropriately, they not only balance fuel-food crisis but also create a sustainable environment. However, this new dimension needs policy protection and Tilman and Hill sum up that, ‘We must determine the carbon impacts of each method of making these fuels, then mandate fuel blending that achieves a prescribed greenhouse-gas reduction’ (589).

For a long-run sustainability of biofuel made from corn, companies in this industry need to deal with market volatility of both gasoline and corn prices. ‘Recognition of this uncertainty is important in determining the socially optimal size of the industry; otherwise, its capacity may exceed the socially optimal size during booms and require costly corrections in times of bust.’(Khanna et al. 3). Technological development would play a critical role in making commercially viable biofuel from perennial grass cellulose. To ascertain whether a technology is inherently sustainable, conservation of the total natural resources used in the process should be the driving factor. According to Khan et al., waste production in the process of using clean energy ought to be within the assimilative range of a given ecosystem that is affected (410). This implies that for any given technology that is believed to cut on the emission of greenhouse gases there  ought to be measures which define the equity ownership from within and without a generation. For instance, ‘In case of a biodiesel, to fulfill the environmental sustainability condition the change in environmental capital (e.g., environmental benefits) must be greater than or equal to zero after the biodiesel system is installed and is operational and maintained’(Khan et al. 411).

Taking this fact into consideration, most types of energy that are perceived as clean do not meet the criterion stated and as such should not be considered as clean energy. The case of corn used in the production of ethanol is an example of this effect. For example, the US Department of Agriculture, (USDA) and the Department of Energy, (DOE) indicate that for a given amount of fossil fuel used to produce energy from soybean, there was a creation of 320% positive energy units (Khan et al. 412).          

There is another avenue of achieving green goals. As suggested by Murray, ‘recycling can produce more waste than new manufacture’ (591). This is contrary to the common knowledge that recycling is one of the sustainable options of achieving green goals. Despite the fact that Al Gore and other environmentalists advocate for recycling, they overlook the fact that the recycling process is a carbon positive practice. This is because fossil fuel is the main source of energy used in the manufacturing process. ‘Contrary to received wisdom, paper is one of the least recyclable materials in circulation’ (Murray 591). In addition, paper loses some of its physical composition during recycling. After subsequent recycling of papers, no significant sense on green goals is achievable because energy is used during recycling which in turn adds up carbon emission into the atmosphere.

The motive of recycling other than the conservation of the environment is to cut on cost of production with a bid to make more economic gains. Private entities do not recycle voluntarily unless such an initiative makes economic sense. In essence, according to Murray, ‘conditional recycling could be a waste of both resources and money because the process involves air emission, traffic and wear on streets from the second set of trucks prowling for recyclables’ (591). Recycling is a nuisance to the environment. For a sustainable clean source of energy, the definition of recycling must make sense. For instance, the elimination of the most tedious processes of production would make sensible carbon reduction at the behest of cutting on greenhouse gases.

The other way of making recycling significant in the sustainability of cutting carbon emissions is to make recycling companies engage in carbon trading if indeed their production processes are environmentally friendly. Murray opines that, ‘When the gas-guzzling recycling trucks come round in the morning, we could buy an offset each time for that’ (592). Another suggestion is to make people liable to Environmental Protection Agency’s charges for failing to take appropriate conservation measures or if they violate any provisions of the agency. Such measures would recycle the recycling notion that most people hold to, a recycling that is motivated by urge to cut on greenhouse gas emissions.

This essay advocates for two meaningful criteria that should be used in the development and sustainability of clean energy. The general perception that biofuels are a clean source of energy is not true according to the findings of this essay. The consumption of fossil fuel used in the production of biofuels only increases the carbon emission into the atmosphere. Thus, the overall carbon footprint into our surroundings continue to grow. As found out in this discussion, the guiding principle in the technological development of clean energy should be driven by effective reduction of greenhouse gases if all factors of production and their respective carbon emissions are considered. This should be guided by environmental policies articulately formulated by world organizations. The UN has organized a few conferences to lead the way forward. The recently held Durban conference failed the address policy issues as most powerful nations failed to commit to suggested policies to curb climate change resulting from emission of greenhouse gases.

Another perceived avenue for achieving green goals is the adoption of recycling techniques in the production of goods and services. Recycling is not always a way of cutting carbon emissions unless all factors are taken into consideration. Recycling processes also require use of fossil fuel, which, if ignored, would emit more carbon into the atmosphere at the expense of reducing the same. One resolution to the recycling debacle is to avoid imposition of sanctions to key stakeholders. The process should be led by voluntary considerations and the governments should only intervene through such measures as encouraging carbon trading. Clean energy; therefore, will be clean only if the sustainability of the proposed technologies is assured. 

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