Junior Mad Scientist – Lab Notes

Carbon Print Shell Game?

December 4th, 2009 by Weber

The Future Begins Tomorrow!

As anyone who reads this (IF anyone still reads this) knows, I don’t usually jump into discussions on environmental issues or politics, at least not here. But the science part of my brain couldn’t leave this alone.

Just caught a news story about Tesla Motors new +$128K roadster: “faster than a Ferrari and with zero emissions.” Nice design, looks fun to drive — and it makes that winding-dynamo buzz, so it really does sound like the future.

But here’s something I’ve been wondering for a while:

All this talk of “zero emissions” is great, but what about the emissions from the electric plants burning coal or running nuke power to juice those cars? How much more in the way of emissions will be coming out on the front end? I never hear the greenies talking about that, do you?

Has anyone read anything about the expected increases in overall power plant emissions due to ever-higher demand for electricity?

Yeah, yeah, there’s all kind of talk from people promoting solar (a pipe dream for now) or wind (too much opposition from people who think the turbine farms are ugly or that the blades kill birds) or wanting to burn high-density grasses to fuel power plants (easily renewable resource, good for the environment, etc.). Again, sounds great, very forward-thinking, etc.

(But first someone has to get the coal and oil interests to let go the free-flowing, government-subsidized teats of their respective cash cows. For the chances of that happening, see my aside re:solar power.)

So, if we’re really planning to burn grass for power, will we then be trucking those hundreds of millions of yard waste bags full of sticks, leaves, and clippings to the plants as well? If not, why not? It’s a better alternative than the landfills.

Anyway, just wondering.

Because unless we do go with solar or wind (or tidal or geothermal, which are even longer-shots than the first two), we have to burn something to power the turbines that generate electricity. That’s just how it all works. It seems like it’s just a question of what gets torched in order to power all our stuff.

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