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Welcome to PSR's Environmental Health Policy Institute, where we ask questions -- then we ask the experts to answer them. Join us as physicians, health professionals, and environmental health experts share their ideas, inspiration, and analysis about toxic chemicals and environmental health policy.

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Clean, Safe, Renewable Energy: Fantasy, or Our Future?

Posted by Barbara Gottlieb


One of the greatest conundrums facing our world is how to sustain our ever-growing need for energy without overwhelming the planet with toxics and climate change.  There’s scarcely an aspect of modern life that doesn’t require external energy inputs.  From agriculture and industry to transportation, communication, heating, cooling and light, basic processes of the industrialized world would grind to a halt without a constant feed of electricity or a liquid fuel like gasoline or diesel.

Most of that energy comes from burning fossil fuels, and the toll on health and the planet is immense.  Pollutants from fossil fuels contribute to leading causes of mortality, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic lower respiratory diseases.  In addition to premature deaths, we pay by way of sickness, days lost from school and work, and the economic burden of health care costs.  Perhaps even more ominous, carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion are the major drivers of climate change, which inflicts death, damage and dislocation in the form of extreme storms, floods, heat waves, drought, forest fires, expanding disease ranges and crop losses, among other manifestations.  The greenhouse gases that drive climate change continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, threatening to reach an apocalyptic tipping point.

Another share of our energy comes from nuclear reactors, which impose on society the risk of devastating radioactive accidents as well as the unmet challenge of perpetual storage of radioactive wastes.  (For more information, see our recent Environmental Health Policy Institute.) 

Yet there are sources of energy that are relatively clean, largely free of climate change gases, and for practical purposes inexhaustible. 

Is that really true?  Do clean safe renewable energy sources offer a real solution to our energy-related problems?   Are these technologies viable?  How much energy do they supply?  How much energy could they supply, if we were to invest more heavily in them? 

The latest Environmental Health Policy Institute poses those questions to advocates and industry specialists from the alternative energy sector.  Read on for their hope-inspiring answers.

Responses:


Status and Potential of Sustainable Energy Technologies to Meet U.S. Energy Needs
Ken Bossong


Concentrating Solar Power: Prospects and Challenges
Michele Boyd


Heat from the Earth: Clean and Inexhaustible
Karl Gawell


Corn-Based Ethanol: A Win for Public Health and the Economy
William C. Holmberg


Response to "Corn-Based Ethanol"
Maureen McCue, MD, PhD


The Solar Option
Scott Sklar


Wind Power: Strong Progress Imperiled
Randall Swisher, PhD


The views expressed in these essays are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

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