Written by Gillyan Christensen
In the instance of finding energy that best suits the sustainability needed to fuel the American power, one may question the types of energy that are most sustainable, clean, and safe.
When pondering these types of energy, Nuclear energy seems to be the best fit for all three factors. Nuclear energy is the energy in the nucleus, or core, of an atom. There is an immense amount of energy in an atom's dense nucleus. In undeniable fact, the power that holds the nucleus together is officially called the strong force. Nuclear energy can be used to create electricity, which is released from an atom within the process of nuclear fission. The types of machines and technology needed to enact this are nuclear reactors, or power plants, which are a series of machines that can control nuclear fission to produce electricity. The fuel that nuclear reactors use to produce this is the element uranium. In a nuclear reactor, atoms of uranium are forced to break apart. As they split, the atoms release tiny particles called fission products. Fission products cause other uranium atoms to split, starting a chain reaction. The energy released from this chain reaction creates heat. The heat created by nuclear fission warms the reactor's cooling agent.
The steam caused by the cooling agent turns turbines, or wheels turned by current. The turbines drive generators that create electricity. Rods of material called nuclear poison can adjust how much electricity is produced. The more rods of nuclear poison that are present during the chain reaction, the slower and more controlled the reaction will be. Removing the rods will allow a stronger chain reaction and create more electricity. As of 2011, almost 15 percent of the entire world's electricity is generated by nuclear power plants. The United States has more than 100 reactors, although it creates most of its electricity from fossil fuels and hydroelectric energy. Nations such as Lithuania, France, and Slovakia create almost all of their electricity from nuclear power plants. The advantages of using nuclear energy are numerous; it provides value, unlike anything that can be found in other sources of energy.
One significant benefit is that the electricity supplied by nuclear energy is carbon-free, which makes it valuable for environmental protection. It’s a way of fighting climate change. The reliability of the electricity provided by nuclear power is also worth mentioning; it is continuously produced without hiccups. Power provided by nuclear energy doesn’t contain mercury, nitrogen oxide, or sulfur dioxide making the air cleaner, with fewer pollutants. It can also power electric cars, which also reduces discharges of carbon. This is a great move with using more clean electricity, but at what price would it come to go from 11% clean to 100% clean by 2050.
The answer is simple: it would come at too big of a price, not only for economics but also for the environment and international relations. The Biden Administration presented these four points on how to use better energy for the environment: Ensure that the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050, recommit to the Paris Agreement on climate change, and rally the rest of the world to meet the threat of climate change, enforce environmental regulations and punish polluters who violate them, and support and retrain workers and communities whose industries will be negatively affected by his reforms. These policies, in my opinion, are not only discrediting and destroying our national sovereignty, but they are also job killers, environmental hazards and unconstitutional. The goal of hitting 100% clean energy by 2050, is not realistically safe enough to be plausible. The use of energy is considered sustainable if it meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations. Definitions of sustainable energy typically include environmental aspects such as greenhouse gas emissions, and social and economic aspects such as energy poverty.
Renewable energy sources such as wind, hydroelectric power, solar and geothermal energy are generally far more sustainable than fossil fuel sources. However, some renewable energy projects, such as the clearing of forests for the production of biofuels, can cause severe environmental damage. The role of non-renewable energy sources has been controversial. As an example, nuclear power is a low-carbon source and has a safety record comparable to wind and solar, but its sustainability has been debated due to concerns about nuclear proliferation, radioactive waste and accidents.
The concept of sustainable development for which energy is a key component, was described by the United Nations Brundland Commision in its 1987 report Our Common Future. It defined sustainable development as development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This description of sustainable development has since been referenced in many definitions and explanations of sustainable energy. No single interpretation of how the concept of sustainability applies to energy has gained worldwide acceptance. Water consumption, and depletion of non-renewable resources. Improving energy access in the least-developed countries, and making energy cleaner, equality. Sustainable Development Goal 7 calls for “access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all” by 2030.
An embolding takeaway is the massive and extensive amount of land it would take to reconstruct the production of energy and distribution nationally. For instance, figuring out where to site a multitude of new solar arrays and wind turbines and constructing thousands of miles of transmission lines.
“‘The current power grid took 150 years to build,’ one of the study researchers said. Now, to get to net-zero emissions by 2050, we have to build that amount of transmission again in the next 15 years and then build that much more again in the 15 years after that” (Biden's '100% Clean Energy Economy' Will Require Huge Trade-Offs, Reason.com, 24 December 2020). The only way to ultimately make 100% clean energy by 2050 would be through sovereign dependency. Sovereign dependency is never something to take lightly. The Unites States of America has been one of the most powerful countries on earth since it began, and allowing us to become dependent on other countries for minerals to create “cleaner” energy is the worst thing possible to do when coming to the consensus that climate change is impacting our country to the point of no return, “Many major oil companies and their trade association, the American Petroleum Institute, are some of the most vocal opponents of increasing American energy independence and reducing global warming pollution.
This is likely because they profit by buying oil from “dangerous or unstable” states” (Oil Dependence Is a Dangerous Habit, American Progress, Rebecca Lefton & Daniel J. Weis, January 13, 2010). When you allow for sovereign dependency, companies like Big Oil are allowed to thrive off of a system of ownership from other countries, and overall reduces our chances of being independent in making our own oils. From the eia.doe.gov, we currently depend on the countries of Saudi Arabia, Colombia, Nigeria, Iraq and Chad for most of our oil. According to an article by the Los Angeles Times from January 31, 2009, accumulatively in 2008 Chevron made a profit of $23.9 billion while almost half of its imports, which were 138 million barrels of oil, came from these countries.
ExxonMobil made $45.2 billion while getting 43 percent of its oil, which was 205.6 million barrels from these countries. About one-third of BP’s imports were 110.6 million barrels from these countries in 2008, when the company’s profits were $25.6 billion. Through Biden’s policy to gain 100% clean energy by 2050, we will have given up not only our sovereignty, but also our national security in the process. If we achieved President-elect Joe Biden's vision, it would mean choosing between being beholden to China for most of the minerals necessary to make technologies like solar panels and rechargeable batteries or mining the raw materials ourselves.
For another, huge photovoltaic installations and wind farms have direct impacts that, while different from those made by fossil fuel development, have their own environmental consequences, “Biden's climate plan describes how he wants to hold China accountable for its carbon emissions. But China dominates the global supply of minerals critical to making many electronics after years of buying up mining rights and stakes in Africa, South America, and elsewhere” (Biden's '100% Clean Energy Economy' Will Require Huge Trade-Offs, Reason.com, 24 December 2020). China also owns the capacity to process these minerals as well which is why the U.S. depends on 8-% of China’s rare earth elements.
The only possible alternative would be to ramp up American mining of critical minerals, which would require not only huge investment but also the traditional impacts of mining that any environmentalist worth her salt decries scarred landscapes and the risk of contaminating water and soil, not to mention potentially harming fish and wildlife according to Wired UK’s article on lithium battery environmental impacts. Another study by California researchers found that most utility-scale solar installations in the state have been sited in natural environments or undeveloped landscapes. Construction of the sprawling Ivanpah solar plant in the Mojave Desert required clearing habitat for a type of endangered tortoise. The installation's mirrored panels have also killed thousands of birds, an issue that could be a particularly big problem for migrating avians.
This mirrors into the Paris Agreement. This agreement is within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, on climate change mitigation, adaptation and finance signed in 2016. The agreement’s language was negotiated by representatives of 196 state parties at the 21st Conference of the parties of the UNFCC in Le Bourget, near Paris and adopted by consensus on December 12, 2015. The Paris agreement was withdrawn by President Donald Trump, and re-joined again in 2021 by President Joe Biden. This is a long-term agreement to keep the rise in global average temperature to well below above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to recognize that this would substantially reduce the risks and impacts of climate change. Ensuring that the Paris Agreement on climate change is implemented and that countries meet their commitments is in the national interest of all countries around the world.
After all, we owe our children and grandchildren the prospect of a safe place to live that is free from the damages of climate change. This agreement benefits Americans. It is in our interest to stay in the agreement and ensure that all countries live up to their commitments. The United States’ National Climate Assessment assesses the intense changes already occurring in the U.S. as a result of climate change. Citizens who reside in some coastal cities across America have seen streets flood more regularly during storms and high tides. Communities near large rivers, especially in the Midwest and Northeast have experienced this as well. This has led to higher insurance rates as our communities become more vulnerable to climate-fueled disasters. Hotter and drier weather mean more intense wildfires that burn more acres closer to more people’s homes. Erosion could cause more communities to relocate. The historic commitments secured from all countries by the Paris Agreement are essential for reducing these and many other risks to the U.S. prosperity.The Paris Agreement significantly “lowered global projected temperature rise from 7° Fahrenheit to 5° Fahrenheit (3.9° Celsius to 2.8°Celsius).
Less climate devastation will occur thanks to this agreement. While more action is needed, this agreement can further limit disastrous climate damage thanks to the climate commitments it secured”(Why The Paris Agreement is Good for The US, 2017 Jan 31, Par. 4). This however does not clearly instate how this ties into climate change and needing the government to interfere with it at all. According to The Medium article, the carbon emission goals are not anywhere near ambitious enough. The overall goal in the Paris Agreement to keep global warming “well below 2 degrees Celsius” is proven to be ambitious. The issue is that the nationally driven contributions are not. Scientists estimate how, even if the countries in the Paris Agreement honor their carbon reduction footprints, the Earth’s temperature will increase by 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial levels.
Climatologists have long said that just a 2 degree increase will cause a worldwide catastrophe. The participating countries need to significantly increase their individual carbon reduction efforts.
When thinking upon the conclusion, there is only one way that President Joe Biden will have a chance at gaining this goal to one day produce 100% clean energy, and that is going to be through nuclear. Civilian nuclear power supplied 2586 terawatt hours of electricity in 2019, equivalent to near 10% of global electricity generation, and was the second-largest low-carbon power source after hydroelectricity.