Invisible energy impacts

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

The cold spell brings back childhood memories when we could see the resource we were consuming. Our homes were heated with coal, and overnight, the fire dwindled down to a bed of glowing coals. With adequate blankets, we were warm in bed, but getting up in the morning was a challenge. A few shovels of coal were added to send a stream of warm air up to the floor register. We siblings would rush to the register and jockey for a position to capture some warmth.

As we grew older, we were expected to feed coal into the furnace or take ashes out to spread on ice-covered sidewalks.

With the arrival of natural gas, the coal furnace disappeared, as did our involvement with our heating system. We no longer saw coal being delivered to homes or ashes spread on slippery spots on the sidewalk.

Concern about the source of energy supplies or the pollution involved was never a topic in our households. Most adults were pleased by the cleanliness and convenience of natural gas. The cost of energy was important, and adults were there to remind us to turn off a light, shut the door and turn down the thermostat at night.

The indifference of much of the public is changing as oil, gas, coal, wind, solar and grid developments expand and cover ever larger areas of the landscape. Wind farms and solar farms are increasingly visible. Potential resources of natural gas available through fracking are widespread, including most of Illinois and much of Wisconsin

Spokespeople for the energy industry speak confidently of a future of abundant fossil fuel supplies, if only environmentalists and government would let the market work its magic. The outcome is portrayed in the positive light of a growing economy, jobs and secure energy supplies.

Others point out the high risks involved in dramatically expanding our consumption of fossil fuels and the necessary infrastructure to serve it. When we seldom saw the adverse impacts of our energy consumption, it was easy to accept the dismissal of any adverse impacts and focus on the price, availability and promised economic benefits.

A recent book, Energy Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth, published by the Post Carbon Institute, provides a pictorial overview of the impacts of our endless pursuit of energy supplies on our planet and its residents. Along with the colored photography are writings of 30 authors focused on the true costs, benefits and limitations of all our energy options. It makes the case that our growth-based energy systems are toxic to nature and people, and leave no sacred places or untouched landscapes.

With the cold, our minds are focused on staying warm. Retaining body warmth starts with appropriate clothing, whether indoors or outdoors. Without it, our body lets us know we made the wrong decision. For society, the adverse consequences of our energy decisions were obscure, as the benefits are instant and the consequences are distant. Will their visibility stimulate a public rejection of energy economy?

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail

From the Jan. 30-Feb. 5, 2013, issue

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