Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Real Cost of Energy: Lives Lost in the Pursuit of Fossil Fuels

The year of 2006 was ushered in by a horrifying disaster: thirteen mine workers were trapped and 12 ultimately died after an explosion collapsed a tunnel in the Sago Mine in Tallmansville, West Virginia. The tragedy raises the question: how much are we willing to pay, in terms of other people’s lives, to sustain or even increase the amount of energy we consume in this country and around the world?

The event was covered extensively by the media, and Fox News brought out the fact that over the past century, 100,000 miners have died in mining disasters in the U.S., and another 100,000 have succumbed to black lung disease.

Mines, in West Virginia and elsewhere, are located in rural areas where little other well-paid work is available; mining is virtually the only way a family man can make a decent living. Largely because of decades of efforts by the United Mine Workers and other labor organizations, the number of deaths has been cut drastically, and better mining practices have resulted in the reduction or elimination of black lung disease. But as recent events have proved, mining is still an inherently dangerous and unpredictable occupation. Men and some women still enter the mines, descending two miles or more into the depths of a hillside in dark, cold, damp conditions with the constant danger of wall and roof collapses, exposure to deadly fumes, and the risk of explosion – all so they can provide a living for themselves and their families.

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration is predicting the need for more and more energy in years to come; abandoned coal mines are reopening to meet the rising demand; at the same time, our country and the world are becoming more and more consumer-driven, its economy based increasingly on producing goods for sale, many times luxuries that no one needs. Who in the world really needs a video iPod? How fast do our computers need to be? How big do our TV sets, our cars, and our houses need to be?

Every product manufactured requires energy to produce, and with our fascination with electrical and electronic gadgets, more energy to operate. We have a ravenous appetite for energy and natural resources, much of it representing a desire for consumer goods not necessary to sustain our lives.

It’s time for the U.S. to take a serious look at conservation of fossil fuel and other energy resources and develop a plan to switch to safe, environmentally friendly alternative fuel sources – fast. We can’t wait twenty-five years to implement changes that will positively impact the environment and conserve valuable resources. We also need to take a serious look at the consumer-driven nature of our economy, and ask ourselves if there is a better way to sustain our society.

Perhaps most importantly, at least on a moral level, as we make the shift from fossil fuels to sustainable energy sources, we need to create jobs in the resulting new industries, jobs designed to replace mining jobs in rural West Virginia and other remote areas, so that these hardworking miners can finally have a sensible, lucrative, and safe alternative to those dark and dangerous mines.

No comments:

Post a Comment