Updated: September 3, 2014 at 2:17 pm
When Americans transition from fossil fuels, anti-energy activists will confront something new: solar and wind.
Societies cannot survive or advance without energy. Yet, every new option becomes an object of moral strife involving water, air, birds, fish, weather or bugs. As activism obstructs one form of power, it typically enlivens another that comes with a new list of potential, perceived and legitimate horribles.
Those who fear oil and gas are typically the same activists who would not let this country develop nuclear power plants. Fission produces no greenhouse emissions. While nuclear plants pose radiation risks to humans and the environment, they eliminate the need for coal trains, coal mines and chimneys that spew volatile organic compounds into the air. Today's thriving coal trade has yesterday's anti-nuke movement to thank for its remarkable longevity.
Critics of oil, coal and fission used to advocate a transition to natural gas - a fossil fuel that emits half the carbon dioxide created by combustion of coal. Natural gas is abundant beneath American soil. If we use it, we'll be less dependent on foreign cartels that love American money but don't like Americans.
Halt the celebration. We harvest natural gas with hydraulic fracturing, a 40-year-old practice suddenly condemned by activists who have changed their minds.
One cannot drive an electric car to the fracking protest without an electric outlet powered mostly by conventional fuels. We cannot build windmills or solar arrays without fossil fuels. Here's the good news: Oil and gas can travel through pipes.
Efforts to build pipelines, which mitigate the need for trucks and trains, are typically trounced by anti-energy activism. Today's activists have impeded extension of the Keystone XL pipeline, which carries crude from Montana, North Dakota and Canada to American refineries.
By obstructing pipelines, activists force more crude onto trucks and trains - which pose more danger to humans and the environment. All over the news of late are stories of communities fearing tanker-car derailments as increasing numbers of oil trains pass through.
"I'm very concerned that large volatile oil trains pose significant risk for derailment, fire, explosion, loss of property and life," said King County Executive Dow Constantine, after a 100-tanker train hauling North American crude derailed in Seattle last month.
A 2013 derailment killed 47 people and destroyed a chunk of Lac-Magéntic, Quebec.
Just as moralistic obstruction to pipelines causes demand for more trains, objection to trains creates more need for trucks.
"They're bombs on wheels," said Mayor Jack Kobistek of Carnegie, Pa., after noticing an increase in oil trucks driving through town. The story, on a recent Pittsburgh CBS affiliate, told of growing demands for federal regulation of fuel trucks.
Some Americans accept no option for producing or transporting energy. Don't split atoms. Don't burn coal. Don't drill. Don't pipe. Don't ship.
Never fear, because sun and wind are the fuels of our future. Just 64 miles southwest of Las Vegas, in California's Mojave Desert, the $2.2 billion state-of-the-art Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System converts enough sun to power 140,000 homes. It's exciting. Owned in part by Google, this futuristic utility may become less popular with environmentalists than the coal plants of Colorado Springs.
The plant's 300,000 mirrored panels create so much heat they ignite birds in flight. Tens of thousands die each year. Plant workers call the birds "streamers," as they create long plumes of smoke while falling like meteors. The Center for Biological Diversity estimates the plant kills up to 28,000 birds each year. Federal officials fear the solar operation creates a wildlife "mega-trap," as it attracts insects that lure insect-eating birds to a zone of solar hellfire. Environmentalists and animal rights defenders want to ban expansion of the plant.
Other solar projects endanger desert tortoises. Wind farms draw protest for chopping eagles and other sacred raptors.
Humans, like all forms of life, must consume energy to survive and improve. Each action has an equal and opposite reaction. That means no life form - plant, insect, animal or human - converts or consumes energy without causing side effects. As top of the food chain, humans should reasonably mitigate the toll they take on the ecosystem. But let's not be fooled. We will always consume energy, never without consequence.