By Michael Strelcheck
Over the past few years I’ve found myself moving away from watching the news on TV (or on any mobile device) and have focused my attention more on the print media. I know this may sound like a retreat into the past (since everything in the media industry seems to be moving towards electronic formats), but I have found that I like the quiet silence of reading the news at my own pace. I guess I find the rapid and hyper-dramatic presentation of news today a little overwhelming.
Recently, when visiting friends at their home before dinner, they turned on ABC’s Evening News show, sharing that they usually watch it so that they stay in touch with what’s happening. “Okay,” I thought, “I can honor that.” As I sat on the couch I was struck with the tone of the broadcast. The opening story was about a recent tragedy that they went into great depth on. Although the report was well done, I felt a heaviness as I listened to the many victims’ stories. Then, the next story was also quite a dramatic presentation of some negative situation. This just increased my sense of uncomfortableness. Then there came a commercial break. I spontaneously thought – “Thank goodness! Maybe it will be funny.” My reaction surprised me, (I never thought I would ever cheer when a commercial came on). Then, as luck would have it, the ad was for home insurance. You probably have seen it, the one where it tells you that “mayhem” is coming and you have to protect yourself. This didn’t help my mood any. Back to the news, the next news item was another negative story and then came yet another one. At this point I’m counting them and wondering when we would get some good news. The next to last story was about our old friend the weather and a discussion about the increasing concerns over global warming. This one was really a piece of “bad” news, for the experts interviewed proclaimed that we have only a few more years (nine) to halt the advance of carbon pollution before we pass the point of no return, and with no real solution in place, the future looks dire. Finally, after this downer comes a positive story nicely done about a woman overcoming adversity in her life. As the broadcast ended I was profoundly struck with the ratio of bad stories to good stories. I concluded that if a person wasn’t aware of this ratio they unconsciously just might get the impression that “life” is heading in the wrong direction. Although every news cast isn’t weighted this heavily negative, I think generally speaking the news media needs to be more balanced in their reporting.
So enough of the “bad” news! In an effort to notice some “good” news let’s acknowledge the 45th World Environment Day (on June 5th), and look at some facts about the topic of global warming and how humans are responding. Most of the world is well aware of the problem of weather patterns changing and individuals are quietly working on different types of solutions that are helping. Taking our country for example, although our culture is divided on whether global warming is real or not, our social trend is leaning strongly towards a more green economy. In fact, the energy landscape is changing so fast that experts are having trouble keeping up. Over the past couple of years the cost of renewable power has plummeted and its cost today is competitive today with the more traditional forms of generating electricity. And, the energy industry projects that the methods of creating renewable energy will only get cheaper in the coming years.
Carbon pollution, caused by burning fossil fuels, is believed to be a major factor in producing greenhouse gases that increase global warming, and needs to be addressed. The debate of how to do that has been going on for decades and has caused the field of energy production to progressively transform itself. Coal’s share of the U.S. electricity mix fell from 48% in 2008 to 27% in 2018, and is projected to drop to 22% in 2020 (per U.S. Energy Information Administration). Natural gas produces 35% of our electricity (and is cheaper than coal). Interestingly, wind and solar power are, in many cases, now competitive with natural gas. Although wind and solar currently make up a smaller percent of production (roughly around 10%), now that their costs have dropped, the demand for their production is rapidly increasing. Experts see utilities recognizing that and they’re buying it and backing down their gas plants to save fuel. Bruce Nilles of the Rocky Mountain Institute believes coal fired electricity will be gone by 2030. The prices per megawatt hour from coal range from a low of $60 to a high of $143, in comparison, wind production now ranges $29 to $56 per megawatt hour (coming off of a high of $70). Solar, being the most desirable green production of electricity, unsubsidized, now is costing in a range of $40 to $46 per megawatt hour. In 2010 the average was closer to $120 (per the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory that conducts scientific research on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy). For reference, the average home uses about 10 megawatt hours of electricity each year.
Many experts feel this shift is good but not nearly enough to end the carbon pollution problem. But, since our economy runs on “supply and demand,” the fact that utilities see a cheaper way to provide power increases the demand for green energy – which will “fuel” a more rapid change. It won’t take the renewable power producers very long to ramp up their production.
This developing change in our energy market gives hope that our nation will keep moving in the right direction and when combined with other countries’ efforts (that recognize global warming) there’s a real chance that humanity’s part in the current environmental conditions will be abated.