Health Dimensions of Energy Production

Gasoline prices, greenhouse gases, ozone alerts, energy policy and global warming: “hot” topics these days, to use a pun. The focus on environment has two main aspects. One is the impact of environment on health, the other is economic impact.

To hear the current environmental mantra about carbon footprints, emission controls, Cap and Trade and global warming, one would think the show is over for our world unless we get rid of fossil fuel emissions before Christmas, no matter what the cost. Another approach, however, would be to explore and use all available fuels in the short term, bringing down the price of energy. Does this also mean we sacrifice health in the bargain?

I say that no, there are a number of actions that could decrease the health risks of pursuing a short term policy of more energy and thus less expensive energy that includes fossil fuels. Many of these steps would be local. Here are some examples:

o a planned approach to land use. This would mean locating manufacturing, power plants and any other emission-creating industries far out from population centers and downwind from the prevailing winds, certainly not a new idea.
o mass transit to and from such sites. This would mean running fuel efficient buses or rail to such sites. Most cities today have industrial parks, so the Ayurvedic treatment in rishikesh idea is not new but needs to be expanded upon.
o create walking and bicycle paths inside the congested city areas, ban fuel burning vehicles from inside the downtown areas, create parking sites outside the city limits and run shuttles. Again, this is not a new idea but could be greatly expanded upon.
o plant more trees along the city streets. Trees absorb carbon and give off oxygen. They also give off moisture, helping to cool the air. Ozone is created by sunlight hitting the emissions from cars and trucks on hot humid days with no wind. Eliminating much of the traffic in our cities and using trees to help cool the air and create shade from the sun would cut the production of ozone dramatically. If we gradually switched over to the use of natural gas in vehicles there would also be only half as much carbon in the emissions.

Another local strategy to reduce the use of energy and cool the air would be to recycle runoff from rain and snow. Instead of resigning ourselves to storm water systems that cannot handle heavy runoff beyond a certain amount, why not create ponds and lakes to capture all of the runoff? The runoff would then be treated to whatever extent necessary to make it safe for use in watering trees, shrubs and lawns. In larger urban areas where the volume of runoff water is greater the runoff water could also be made available for agricultural irrigation.

Planned land use, capturing storm water runoff, planting more trees, moving people by train, bus and carpooling: these are actions nearly every county, city, town and neighborhood could do. From rain barrels to retention ponds to large damns and lakes, these are things that work. Each of these steps would help reduce air pollution that is a significant health risk. At the same time each of these actions would lessen the amount of energy use and thus lessen the amount of carbon going into the atmosphere. By doing it locally the best approaches for specific localities are likely to be utilized because with local planning those who know the territory best are able to design accordingly.


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