The Corruption of Environment by Air Pollution

The corruption of our environment by pollution of the air has grown tremendously over the last century. In fact, according to Jonathan Kaiman, correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, the human habitat has deteriorated to the point where adults in China die 5 years earlier than they might should their environment be less toxic to their well-being (Kaiman). These disastrous trends could be reversed, however, with a committed world effort toward repairing the only planet we have the ability to destroy. Each day, scientists make crucial advancements on improving the efficiency and reliability of numerous sources of renewable energy. Solar power tends to be a prominent topic of discussion when new sources of energy are debated, mainly because the sun transmits energy to the surface of Earth every second of every day and the vast majority of people are still against making an investment in the future of the planet. Air pollution is a threat not a single human can evade and as this threat continues to worsen, the dire need for some form of action grows exponentially. World leaders have made fairly significant progress toward a worldwide solution, but each promising resolution typically fades into inaction once more. This pattern can no longer continue as humans are rapidly approaching the point where the damage begins to become irreversible, and as noted by Noah Greenwald, director of endangered species at the Center for Biological Diversity, the evidence of damaging man-made effects on other species is obvious as 99% of all endangered species are endangered due to human activities.

Humans are responsible for injuring our environment severely, but humans are also the only ones with the power to heal as without the full effort of world powers and individual people, we may soon be without a world to heal. With this in mind, the next logical step is to continue to invest and build renewable technologies such as solar since the sun has existed long before human beings and will continue to shine down after they are gone and will continuously provide energy free of charge, meaning every bit of energy after paying off the original cost of the panels is pure profit. Imagine the human relationship with Earth as a relationship between two people. A human can build a personal relationship with someone else, but once one betrays the other, the trust between the two is shattered and will never be the same again. Likewise, human beings have a trusting relationship with earth that has existed harmoniously for years. Since the dawn of the American Industrial Revolution, however, the world's dependence on nonrenewable energy sources has increased exponentially and has destroyed the metaphorical trust in human relations with the earth. The United States Energy Information Association, or EIA, estimates that approximately 39% of the nation's energy is generated by coal, followed by natural gas and nuclear energy, but the EIA estimates that only 13% of the nation's energy is currently created renewably ("Electricity'). The need for an alternate source of energy grows more and more dire each day as according to CBS News and the Associated Press, every second 2.4 million pounds of carbon dioxide are released into the environment by vehicles and power plants, to name a few sources (“Carbon”). Both, however, can be negated with the addition of renewable energy sources, namely solar power. Nonrenewable energy will likely be difficult to part from as the infrastructure to support it has been established over the course of the past century and a half, leaving people to be reluctant to tear everything apart and install the framework to support new forms of energy. Sources such as coal and natural gas are substantially unsustainable and will cease one day, whether the population is prepared for this outcome or not. Therefore, it stands to reason that the world makes an effort to switch to a source of energy the world can rely on.

Renewable energy can only be in the future of this world if this world is willing to make renewable energy its future. Completely changing the way we obtain a force that drives our work, travel, leisure, and entertainment will not be a painless adjustment, but this is a revolution that simply must take place. Julia Layton, contributing writer for HowStuffWorks, estimated that the average temperature around Earth has risen approximately one degree fahrenheit. This number may not seem shocking, but it puts the very existence of the polar bear in serious jeopardy and may cause sea levels to rise as much as two to six feet, submerging many coastal cities and nations. In fact, environmental conditions have already worsened to the point at which even if humans drastically cut emissions, the planet will still grow warmer until approximately the next millennia (Layton). This means it is more vital than ever to stop the downward trend in its tracks and reverse it as much as possible by replanting forests that have been cut down, radically reducing our emissions, and remove our dependence on harmful power sources by starting a massive global effort to transition to clean energy, namely solar energy. Sunlight is everywhere. In fact, people have referred to it as money falling from the sky and all humans need to do is to invent the net to catch it. Solar Energy Facts estimates approximately 170,000 terawatts hit the planet each day. In contrast, a smartphone uses approximately two thousand watts per year (“Solar Energy Facts”). This is easily the best trait about solar energy when compared to other forms of renewable energy as not many other forms can claim they can generate energy anywhere there is unblocked access to daylight.

Solar thermal energy heats the earth every day, but with an investment in solar panels and improvements in energy storage, this massive amount of energy striking the surface of the earth each day can be put to use to run vehicles and power homes. Many people express concerns with the visibility of solar panels and the amount of space they take up. They fear that the world will evolve into a world where every open space has been transformed into a solar farm, with ugly black solar panels covering every visible surface. This, however, is not the case as solar panels can be placed where they will hardly be noticed as they generate the power to run the world. In fact, according to Tech Insider correspondent Rebecca Harrington, nearly 800,000 homes currently have rooftop solar panels, and this number is expected to exceed one million in 2016 (Harrington). This is fantastic news for the environment although it remains only a drop in the bucket towards the goal humans need to accomplish. Benefits of solar power remain strikingly obvious and any buyer of solar panels will concur: after the high initial purchase price, the panels are completely free, the energy is provided costlessly each day whether cloudy or sunny, the efficiency of the panels will only rise in coming years allowing more energy to be captured as electricity, and energy storage will continue to make massive leaps to allow this tremendous amount of power to be stored throughout the night hours when it can no longer be generated by the panels. Other people, such as Scott and Julie Brusaw, engineers based out of Sandpoint, Idaho, search for new methods to seize this energy in ways no one has realized before. For example, the Brusaws saw miles upon miles of roads sitting deserted and baking in the sunlight and sought to put forth a type of solar panel that could be implemented both as a road and an energy capturing device. This led to the birth of Solar Roadways, a company that has been utilizing recycled materials and photovoltaic cells to capture energy from the sunlight while also forming a strong road surface tough enough to withstand large semi trucks. These panels are individual hexagonal cells that can be installed in mass quantities to form roads that generate the energy to power the light emitting diodes they contain that form road lines for drivers to follow. In addition, these roads have cable corridors along the sides to replace overhead power cables that can fall in storms and cause massive power outages, and in addition, these corridors allow the power grid to be decentralized, removing the ability for a terrorist to disconnect an entire region by disabling just a few key power stations.

Finally, for the cold weather states, the panels contain heating elements that will melt snow on contact, preventing ice buildup and the need for harmful chemicals that damage both cars and the environment. The best part of this invention is that even after you subtract the energy required to power the road lines and heating elements, if Solar Roadways are installed on every currently paved rural road in the nation, which according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics is approximately six million miles of roadway, the energy generated would still be enough to provide the United States with 150% of the power needed to electrify our homes and businesses nationwide (Brusaw; “Estimated”). This planet is in dire need of reliable energy sources to prevent further pollution to the atmosphere, and concepts such as the ones provided by the Brusaws help the human race take massive leaps toward saving the earth one step at a time.

The biggest concern about solar energy is the cost to implement nationwide as solar panels are currently quite expensive to purchase and until the mass production process is improved and made cheaper, these prices will remain high. Converting a home to solar power can cost several thousand dollars which will take years to pay off at current rates and plays a massive part in intimidating homeowners from shifting to solar power. To make matters worse, construction to install technologies such as Solar Roadways would take years, and transforming just a small stretch of highway to solar panels would require it to close for a significant period of time, and the costs could become astronomical. Further large scale testing is also needed to prove that these panels could be effective enough to provide the power Solar Roadways' estimates state they are capable of. While these are all valid points, however, the benefits of solar energy still manage to far outweigh the costs. Solar panels costs may initially be high, but once installed, they are costless to maintain and only require being occasionally cleaned, although in most climates rain will solve this problem anyway. As far as cost, solar panels have the ability to pay for themselves quite quickly, often within seven to fifteen years. In fact, according to NRG Energy's Top Ten Solar Myths, in states with better solar incentives, this can even be boosted to as little as two to four years (“Top”). Best of all, after this period all the money made is pure profit that can be used to pay off electric bills, other bills, and can even become pure cash-in-hand. Current energy methods require regular maintenance to be sure the grid can stay powered properly. In a decentralized grid such as the one proposed with Solar Roadways, a small section losing electricity will not cause a large blackout and can be fixed rather easily thanks to the roadside cable corridors (Brusaw). Therefore, solar power may be expensive and difficult to install, but once completed, the benefits can be reaped for years to come.

The carnage humans have put the planet through has become increasingly obvious over the past few decades. In fact, air conditions in some cities have deteriorated to the point at which citizens are forced to wear masks to prevent serious damage to their health. Therefore, it is imperative to mend the planet by making sweeping changes to the way people obtain energy. The sun is shining all the time somewhere around the world, and anywhere the sun shines is an opportunity to capture energy humans can utilize for purposes they would normally pollute the environment for. While it remains true that solar power's initial costs are currently quite high and further improvements in energy storage and management would be needed, it also remains true that the benefits triumph over the costs handily as once installed, solar energy is provided free of charge and nearly maintenance free. It will indeed be quite the struggle install and put into practice mass quantities of solar panels, but at this point, the question is no longer whether or not humans should make the investment in renewable energy; rather, the inquiry lies in how we should overhaul energy as if change does not occur rapidly, there could soon no longer be a world left to rescue.

Works Cited

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  • “Carbon Dioxide Emissions.” CBS News. CBS News, 2 Dec. 2012. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
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  • “Estimated U.S. Roadway Lane Miles.” Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 23 Feb. 2015. Web. 16 Mar. 2016.
  • Greenwald, Noah. “The Extinction Crisis.” Center for Biological Diversity. Center for Biological Diversity, n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
  • Harrington, Rebecca. “One Million US Homes Will Have Solar Panels.” Tech Insider. Tech Insider, 13 Oct. 2015. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
  • Kaiman, Jonathan. "China's Reliance on Coal.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 9 July 2013. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
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