The Hydrocarbon Hokey Pokey

Ball-and-stick model of the methane molecule, ...

Ball-and-stick model of the methane molecule, CH 4 . Methane is part of a homologous series known as the alkanes, which contain single bonds only. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is almost time to gear up for my second summer canvassing for environmental issues. I am not sure which one we will be working on, my boss doesn’t even know yet, but either way it will be good to get out in nice weather (as opposed to the crappy weather I’ve been canvassing in) and educating the public on serious issues. As I get my head into that space again I start wondering about the various problems facing our environment. I think of the solutions offered, I think of the less than inspired refutations of those solutions, and I think o f the solutions rarely spoken of.

I am of a mind that we need to get away from hydrocarbons altogether, except as a back up plan to kick in emergency generators in the case of disasters. There is plenty of energy to be retrieved from the sun, wind, and water to make sure we never need to use hydrocarbons in our day-to-day needs, whether it is lighting and heating our houses, running our computers, or moving our vehicles. We have the resources and know how to make burning chemicals to create energy obsolete.

That said, while we transition (and why we need to take so long to do so, I will never understand) why do we need to get those fuels by despoiling our environment? Why do we have to risk killing hundreds, thousands, even millions of animals in spills? Why do we need to risk poisoning our water supply by hydrofracking? Why do we need to turn vast swaths of our country into blighted landscapes for any kind of drilling? We create plenty of hydrocarbons just in our need to feed ourselves.

Some “liberal” politicians have pushed for biomass technology in the past. They want to create fuels from vegetable matter, usually corn, to offset the need for crude or methane. These plans drive up the cost of corn for food, though, making it harder on the poorest of us. They also ignore the fact that we already produce plenty of methane. Climate deniers, in their haste to look smart, have pointed to flatulence from our animal product industry as being a potential cause. In their rush to try to paint environmentalists into a corner, they opened up an argument for vegans, but also have pointed a path to harvesting methane to avoid having to do greater environmental damage.

Most of the animals we raise for meat or milk spend at least part of their time indoors. If we can separate methane from all the minerals it sits in underground as well as the hundreds of chemicals we use to retrieve it, why can’t we separate it from the rising air in a barn, given the right filters and venting systems? I am no engineer, but it seems like it should be as easy, if not easier. That is a vast amount of methane going to waste. Methane that is more dangerous to our environment if we don’t burn it than if we do. It looks to me like a win-win scenario, except for the people who make billions of dollars destroying the environment by building unnecessary rigs and creating toxic chemicals to make those rigs work.

Maybe this would not work, but I don’t hear anyone talking about it at all. We say we want to solve our worlds energy and environmental problems, but too many of those invested in the business of the former are willingly blind when it comes to any solutions for the latter. They will not step up to the plate, so it is up to us to start brainstorming and coming up with new ways to live, ways that will guarantee we can do so a few generations more.


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