Energy Case Summaries
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
There has been, since the 1980’s, a continuous controversy concerning the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. This controversy has been caused by pressure from increasing dependence on foreign oil. Proponents of drilling in the arctic cite economic reasons for their support even though this action is only temporary in its ability to sever dependence on foreign oil (Raven, 2010). In opposition to this plan, environmentalists argue that the damage to the ecosystems would be severe and permanent. As well, they argue that the drilling would only stave off foreign oil dependence for about decade (Raven, 2010).
Oil companies and politicians share a strong stakeholder interest in having the arctic refuge opened for drilling. Politicians desire to be free of foreign oil dependence because it would reduce energy budget costs. At the same time oil companies realize that their product only has limited time before it runs out and in order to maintain profit they must take advantage of all available resources. In opposition to these groups the conservationists have a large stake in saving the refuge as it is protecting a large part of the ecosystem and the food web (Raven, 2010). Thus the conservationists are protecting the environment from permanent damage for a temporary solution.
This case in point shows a true disparity in economics and ethical decision making. For the sake of economic growth oil companies and politicians are willing to destroy a large portion of nature and the ecosystem for a very short-term solution (ten years). This is a problem is systemic of a larger issue in that humans view ecology and nature as something separate from themselves. The evidence of this is the fact that many people think that the tradeoff of ten years of oil could possibly justify the destruction of habitat and wildlife which will one day affect humans as well.
What is frustrating is that there are viable solutions to this problem. For instance, bio diesel can be used to run cars along with gasohol and other plant and waste oil fuels sources. While these sources are not a complete solution, they do however present a way to lower oil consumption.
The proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility in Nevada has been approved for storage by the federal government. This approval came in spite of resistance from the state of Nevada. At the heart of this controversy is the fact that Nevada will become a storage facility for the nation’s nuclear waste while the state will gain nothing from the transaction. Although a remote location Nevada insists that there are dangers from a nearby volcano which has not been active in 10,000 years and from earthquakes from nearby fault lines. Most scientists argue that the risk is minimal but there are many people who still fear leakage (Raven, 2010).
Nuclear Energy while very clean during its reactor life, poses severe problems when the reactors are decommissioned. The waste created from these reactors can take fifty to hundreds of thousands of years to reach their half life. This means that they are lethal to humans and animals for a very long time. The true problem presents itself in disposal in that there are no containers which can contain the waste for the time needed to allow for breakdown.
The major ethical issue presented from this scenario is two parts. One, is it fair to demand states to be waste facilities for reactors for which they do not benefit from? Two, is nuclear waste another problem being passed on to future generations to deal with? For states storing this waste it would seem obvious that they should receive some form of compensation for having to deal with this problem. Government and the general public take the view as stakeholders, that nuclear waste might be necessary evil because of the reality of limited fossil fuel resources.
A viable solution in this problem could be to offer states like Nevada which have remote locations, tax incentives or even land leases for the storage and management of the waste. The reality is that nuclear power might be one of the alternatives necessary to help break dependence on fossil fuels.
The Three Gorges Dam
The Three Gorges Dam in China at first seemed to be a great idea for curbing pollution from fossil fuel burning, however the scale of the project has come at great cost both ecologically and historically speaking. Many animals were displaced and some went extinct while at the same time archeological finds were lost in the flooding. Although the dam has helped to solve many problems with flooding and power supply, it has also displaced over a million people and created problems of corruption (Raven, 2010).
While damming offers an inexpensive and clean energy source, they are often very destructive to the ecology where they are placed because of the flooding and construction process. For humans, building dams seems like a viable alternative energy source but the ethics of such decisions is muddled in controversy. Is it ethically correct to destroy the local ecosystem for power needs? The destruction of the environment seems obvious as an ethical problem since humans are ultimately damaged by the damming process. In this case, the loss of good farmland reduced food production, thus affecting the human population (Raven, 2010). In China, the need for energy is exploding and these ethical considerations are often overlooked in light of the necessity. The major stakeholder in this is the Chinese government in that they face pressure from foreign nations to reduce their pollution output and economic concerns of becoming dependent on foreign resources.
For China, with its incredible population size, finding viable alternative fuel sources is very difficult. However, one alternative might be to use human waste to create biofuel (methane). The large population in China, of just humans, generates a tremendous amount of waste. If one were to take into account livestock the amount of biofuel potential becomes tremendously larger (International Energy Agency, 2004). The biofuel alternative could help to reduce the need to use fossil fuels and reduce the need to encroach on the environment by building dams.
Raven, P.H. (2010) Environment and Ethics 7e Ch11 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. pp, 255–256
Raven, P.H. (2010) Environment and Ethics 7e Ch12 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. January 22, 2011 pp. 270
Raven, P.H. (2010) Environment and Ethics 7e Ch13 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. January 22, 2011 pp. 289
International Energy Agency (2004). Biofuels for transport http://www.iea.org/textbase/nppdf/free/2004/biofuels2004.pdf