What if we did exactly what climate scientists asked us to do: Reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and reduce our carbon emissions. What if?
Why should we reduce our coal consumption?
Right now over 50% of our the US electricity production is generated by coal. Coal is arguably one of the dirtiest fuels, causing environmental degradation, deforestation, water pollution, air pollution, and serious human health issues. Below are a few examples of the impacts of coal:
- U.S. coal plants combined emit approximately two billion tons of CO2 into the air each year. 
- Coal plants emit large amounts of mercury into the air and water. Scrubbers were installed to reduce this pollution by half. “Mercury affects the human brain, kidneys, liver and cardiovascular system. Since mercury impairs the development of the brain and nervous system, unborn and young children are particularly vulnerable to mercury toxicity.”
- “Mountaintop removal mines in Appalachia have demolished an estimated 1.4 million acres of forested hills, buried an estimated 2,000 miles of streams, poisoned drinking water, and wiped whole towns from the map.” 
- Coal plants are also the leading source of sulfur dioxide. “Sulfer dioxide reacts with other compounds in the atmosphere to form small particles. These particles penetrate deeply into sensitive parts of the lungs and can cause or worsen respiratory disease, such as emphysema and bronchitis, and can aggravate existing heart disease, leading to increased hospital admissions and premature death.”
- Acid mine drainage is the overflow of acidic water from a mining site. “In the eastern U.S., more than 5,150 stream miles have been contaminated, causing the loss of aquatic life and restricting stream use for recreation, public drinking water and industrial water supplies.”
Why should we reduce our oil/natural gas consumption?
The United States consumes over 6.5 billion barrels of oil each year or approximately 19 million barrels each day.  According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States imports approximately 11 million barrels a day. There are numerous impacts of oil and natural gas, including the following:
- According to the Environmental Protection Agency, The oil and gas industry “is the largest industrial source of emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a group of chemicals that contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone (smog). Exposure to ozone is linked to a wide range of health effects, including aggravated asthma, increased emergency room visits and hospital admissions, and premature death. EPA estimates VOC emission from the oil & natural gas industry at 2.2 million tons a year in 2008.”
- The oil and natural gas industry also is a significant source of emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas that is more than 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide. Emissions of air toxics such as benzene, ethylbenzene, and n-hexane, also come from this industry. Air toxics are pollutants known, or suspected of causing cancer and other serious health effects.
- Twenty-two percent (22%) of the U.S. oil imports came from the Persian Gulf.  The costs to protect our overseas oil interests in the volatile Middle East has resulted in multiple wars, occupations and institution of multiple military bases. What is the cost to U.S. taxpayers? A Princeton professor published a peer-reviewed study on the cost of just maintaing aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf from 1976 to 2007. These aircraft carriers patrol the gulf primarily to secure oil shipments. By examining Pentagon budget data, he determined a cost of $7.3 Trillion, over three decades.  This is part of the cost of securing overseas oil interests. This of course does not include the costs of the wars and established military bases in the Middle East.
- The U.S. Mineral Management Service (now Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement) determined that 1,443 incidents occurred in the Outer Continental Shelf waters from 2001 – 2007. Of these incidents, 41 fatalities, 302 injuries, 476 fires, and 356 pollution events were reported. 
- From 2000 – 2009, pipeline accidents accounted for 2,554 significant incidents, 161 fatalities, and 576 injuries in the United States. 
What if we invested in more solar and wind production?
The U.S. has the opportunity to recharge its manufacturing sector, eliminate its dependency on foreign fuels and significantly reduce carbon emissions, environmental degradation, and air and water pollution. The solar and wind industry are already employing Americans in a variety of work sectors including manufacturing, installation and service, sales, etc.
While the development or manufacturing of solar and wind technologies do have a carbon footprint, the energy produced through these renewable sources emits zero greenhouse gases, thus offsetting the carbon emissions from construction.
A 2003 fact sheet by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory noted that a “100-by-100-mile area of Nevada could supply the United States with all of its electricity” and that much of this electricity could come from abandoned industrial sites.
Eight turbines constructed in a rural community in Iowa deliver 12.8 megawatts to local communities and rural utilities, enough juice to power 6,000 Iowa homes. 
According to a study conducted by the global investment bank, Lazard, “figures show that when the effects of subsidies that all energy industries receive are stripped away, wind power beats everything else, natural gas included.” In fact, subsidized rates show that wind energy ranges from $48-95 MWh; natural gas (in a combined-cycle plant that recycles waste heat)costs from $61-$89 MWh; coal is about $62 – 141 and natural gas ranges from $200-231. “When subsidies are factored in, the cost of wind energy dips as low as $26 per megawatt-hour. The only better deal than wind, according to Lazard, is not to use power at all: Energy efficiency costs from zero to $50 for every megawatt-hour saved.” 
What is the bottomline?
- cleaner air and water
- human lives saved
- increased savings on healthcare and improved health for Americans, overall
- increased energy independence and decreased expenditures for overseas defense of oil reserves
- wildlife habitat protected/less likely to be disturbed
- safer, more affordable energy
- tax dollars saved
- slow down of the impacts of climate change, including violent weather patterns and devastating floods and droughts that are requiring additional government aid
- less demand for dangerous pipelines and other costly infrastructure
- less chance of environmental disasters such as oil spills that add costs to taxpayers and consumers and put strain on our environment and wildlife
- re-energized American economy
1 Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Coal and Climate Change Facts. Online at http://www.c2es.org/science-impacts/basics/fact-sheets/coal-facts.
2 New Mexico Department of Health. “Protect Yourself and Your Baby: Avoid Mercury”. Online. http://www.health.state.nm.us/eheb/documents/PregandMercury09.30.pdf
3 Sierra Club. “The Cost of Coal”. Online. http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/costofcoal/west-virginia/default.aspx
4 Environmental Protection Agency. “Sulfur Dioxide: Health”. Online. Coal plants are also the leading source of sulfur dioxide. http://www.epa.gov/oaqps001/sulfurdioxide/health.html
5 Environmental PRotection Agency. “Mining Operations as Nonpoint Source Pollution. Online. http://www.epa.gov/reg3wapd/nps/mining.html
6 U.S. Energy Information Administration. Online. http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=33&t=6
7 U.S. Energy Information Administration.”How dependent are we on foreign oil?” Online. http://www.eia.gov/cfapps/energy_in_brief/foreign_oil_dependence.cfm
8 Maass, Peter. “The Ministry of U.S. Defense”. Foreign Policy, August 2010. Online. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/08/05/the_ministry_of_oil_defense.
9 National Wildlife Federation. “Assault on America: A Decade of Petroleum Company Disaster, Pollution and Profit“, p. 3. 2010. Online. http://www.nwf.org/~/media/PDFs/Global-Warming/Reports/Assault-on-America-A-Decade-of-Petroleum-Company-Disaster.pdf
10 National Wildlife Federation, p. 3.
11 Welch, Stephen Austen. “Wind Rush: Anywhere it Blows“. Sierra Magazine, March/April 2013. Online. http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/201303/wind-power-turbine-technology-clean-energy.aspx
12 Welch, Stephen Austen.