Archive - Apr 2010

April 29th

The Sun: Above The Ground

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You would think this'd be obvious. Ask even the most die-hard, committed creationist whether the sun is above the ground, or under the ground, and eight out of ten times, they'll get it right. It's a largely undisputed fact. Yet this undisputed fact is completely absent from our energy debate in America.

Coal is under the ground. This makes it more difficult to get to than sunlight. If you want to get the coal out from underneath the ground, you have several options. There's mountaintop removal, where they blow up mountains to get at the coal underneath them. What happens to the chunks of mountain that get blowed up? They go wherever the coal companies can get away with putting them as cheaply as possible. We know how that shit plays out.

If a mountain is blocking the sunlight, it's much easier to either move, or wait for the Earth to move, than it is to blow up the mountain. Unlike coal, those options are available on account of the sun being, you know. Above the ground. Just a bit of relocation or patience, and we get our sun, the mountain stays unblown up, and the countryside isn't covered in mountain kibble.

If you don't want to or can't blow up a mountain to get to the coal, you can dig holes in the ground and send people in to bring the coal out of the hole. This doesn't blow up mountains, but it is dangerous. And because it's dangerous, it's pretty expensive to do it in a way that keeps the people who go into the hole from dying horrible deaths. Since people are bastards, they'd rather let the workers die horrible deaths and keep the money, and "pro-business" factions of government are more than happy to help them get away with it.

The sun's relative abovegroundness doesn't make people any less bastardly. I freely admit that. But collecting sunlight from above the ground is a lot less likely to lead to a horrible death than pulling coal from underneath the ground. So the worst the bastards can do is fuck you over and rip you off. It's a lot tougher for them to kill you.

Here's an interesting fact. The sun's inability to be below the ground also drastically limits its ability to be below the sea. This stands in stark contrast to, say, dinosaur juice. We've pulled a lot of dinojuice out from under the ground that isn't under the water, so we're spending a lot more time and energy trying to get at the oil below the ground that IS under the water. This is, of course, expensive, difficult, and dangerous. Sunlight rarely makes things explode. And on the off chance that sunlight does make things explode, that sunlight never then goes ahead and leaks all over the fucking Gulf of Mexico, where we can't even stop it, and the best we can do is set it on fire in the hopes that it'll be slightly better than letting it get all over fish and birds.

Yes, I'm oversimplifying. No, we don't have anything approaching a solar infrastructure in America. And no, solar power won't ever completely obviate the need to dig for coal and petroleum. But the only thing we ever factor into energy decisions is the mighty cost per kilowatt hour, or price per gallon. And on the heels of the deadliest American coal mine disaster in over two decades, and an oil slick the size of West Virginia coating the Gulf of Mexico, maybe we oughta consider something other than short-term economic feasibility when we decide whether to get our energy from below the ground, or above it.

(The sun? That's the one above it. Wind's above it too, now that I think about it.)