Most of the time, the debate around fossil fuels centers on how much climate-changing carbon dioxide they generate when they're burned. But every once in a while, an event — or a string of events — occurs to remind us that the problems with oil and coal don't start when we set them on fire. They begin at the very beginning - - when we're mining the coal or transporting the oil. Fossil fuels are not just dirty to use; they're dirty and dangerous to mine and transport, which is why the sooner we switch to energy produced by the sun, the wind, and biomass, the better.
This point has been disastrously driven home by accidents of the last few days. Four separate coal mine disasters in Chinawere followed by an oil tanker crash on the magnificent Great Barrier Reef.Then last week, 29 coal miners were killed when a mine in West Virginia exploded.
Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virgina said on National Public Radio the day after that accident, "There will always be accidents."
He is right. There will always be accidents, and most of the time, they'll have unacceptable consequences, including lives lost and precious environmental resources destroyed.
President Obama has thrown a lot of support behind developing a renewable energy economy for the U.S. but he is equally supportive of "clean coal," which many scientists and most environmentalists consider to be a fiction. He also favors expanding offshore oil drilling. And he's a fan of relaunching the U.S. nuclear power program, despite the potential for catastropic accident on the level of Three Mile Island or Chernobyl.
I believe this is wrong-headed. If any good can come of the recent disasters, it should be a renewed commitment to transition to renewable fuels as quickly as possible, not to expand our non-renewable fuel dependence.
We are throwing good money after bad and unnecessarily endangering human health and the environment with every decision we make to continue to rely on fossil fuels and dangerous energy sources like nuclear power.