As society evolves and technologies advance, an increasing number of people desire to minimize their impact upon the earth, understanding that everything is finite. Resources are limited. Supply and demand becomes more problematic with additional billions of people on earth to accommodate. So, a more deliberate accounting of what we have and how earth’s citizens can better utilize or re-use our resources has led to an “adjustment in our thinking”. Essentially, it is to be perpetually aware of humanity’s impact on the earth. Many people have altered their life style, placing ecological considerations above mundane routine.
Instead of driving their car, they ride a bicycle. Instead of printing a hard copy, they go paperless. Instead of discarding trash, they consciously re-cycle.
This mindset has become a “green movement”- a green agenda, which took hold in the latter 20th century. It soon burgeoned as a specific application of ecology, the relatively recent scientific discipline (mid 19th century) thatstudies relationships of living organisms with other organisms, and their relationship with their natural environment. The modern environmental movement, somewhat synonymous with a green agenda, gained widespread popularity with the first Earth Day- celebrated on April 22, 1970. US Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin organized the first Earth Day one month after the vernal equinox as a “teach-in”. Ever since, the patron holiday of environmentalism has expanded on an imperative that more and more people observe earth friendly behavior.
The date itself was determined as a convenient time in which students were neither on spring break nor taking exams. It didn’t conflict with any religious holiday. So the early spring date was a perfect time to learn more about ecological ideals in order to protect the planet from human caused damage. The first Earth Day was also Vladimir Lenin’s 100th birthday. Lenin was leader of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and first Soviet Dictator.
Despite these political considerations of capitalism versus socialism, re-using resources makes economic as well as ecologic sense. Any product that can outlive its original shelf life, has value added. Technology continues to push forward with new insights into everyday living, mindful to not waste anything. Toothbrushes, extra mileage synthetic engine oil, tofu, low energy light bulbs (CFLs), etc. There are an infinite number of ways to accomplish daily life in a new way that barely touches our natural or erected infrastructure. And environmentalists are inventing fresh methods every month that respect the earth, animals, plants and all our living and non-living neighbors on the planet. Green industries have expanded over the past 40 years and, with continued government funding for research, they will be carving out a larger role in daily life through the foreseeable future.
Wind has been doing work for mankind dating far back to ancient sea travel. The first wind turbine to power a machine was developed by the Greeks in the 1st century AD. Northwestern Europeans built large elaborate wind mills for grinding grain as early as the 12th century. The iconic wind pump, seen throughout western portions of the US, was invented in 1854. Modern wind turbines that produce electricity have been around since the 1930s. Wind energy proliferated in the 1960s and by the 1990s a growing turbine boom featured bigger and bigger turbines. Today, huge wind turbines are in production that generate 7 megawatts of power each. These towers are being erected in more states across the country and in more countries around the world. No doubt, even larger wind turbines will be built in the future.Solar energy can be captured whenever the sun is above the horizon and unhindered by clouds. Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel, a Parisian, invented the process of converting photons of light into a higher state of electrical energy in 1839. Photovoltaics have expanded far beyond his dreams into the 21st century. The sun provides a global input of more than 174 petawatts (1015 watts) of energy to the earth, thousands of times the average energy consumption of humankind. Solar stations are being built every day across the world. China and Taiwan are the leaders in Solar Cell production (15 times greater than the US), due primarily to raw material availability there. Solar power production in the US has increased 125% just since 2005. A study by EPIA/Greenpeace indicates that by 2030, 10% of the world’s population will have their electricity produced through solar cells, an astounding 2.6 terawatts (1012 watts). By 2050 the percentage will increase to 20%.
Hydroelectric power has been a primary source of energy for centuries. The concept was introduced by a French engineer in the mid 1770s. By 1881, Niagara Falls would be the site for a massive electrification project. More than 200 hydroelectric power stations were in operation in the US by 1889. Gargantuan dams were built during the mid 20th century in the US and the USSR, creating vast man-made lakes that would provide enormous power generation for much of the civilized world. Currently there are about 2000 hydroelectric dams in the US, providing about half of all renewable electricity.
The earth’s internal furnace, a combination of nascent dynamics, pressure and radioactive decay, is estimated to rage at about 9,000 degrees F. That heat convects toward the surface with outputs at various locations around the world. This geothermal energy can be converted to electricity through conventional power generation, and produces over 3 giga-watts of electricity from 77 geothermal stations in the US, representing 0.3% of total electric production. The largest US station is at The Geysers in northern California.
Tidal power is perhaps one of the most intriguing methods of electrical generation. It is the only renewable energy technique which uses the orbital mechanics of the earth-moon system. Ocean tides rise and fall each day predictably. Why not harness the power of that moving water like any other hydroelectric plant? The idea for tidal energy plants was first proposed in the 1920s in France. A tidal plant was finally built in Brittany France on the Rance River in 1966. The concept is a viable one, although there has been little additional construction of tidal power stations over the years. Still, another captivating concept is to harness the constant movement of ocean currents. However, logistics for construction of offshore Ocean Current power stations are overwhelming at this point and investment in such an endeavor is lacking at this time.
There are many ways to thoughtfully and deliberately extract latent energy from multiple sources right before our eyes. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Denver, Colorado is constantly working on the perfection of new methods. Bright young scientists of today are being challenged to explore and find new ways to understand every corner of our universal energy grid. And just like discovery of the genome, with its endless applications for good, these intrepid explorers are even now pushing the technological envelope forward to cleanly power the dreams of mankind. It is the new Space Race which, like in the 1960s, will demand advanced technology to bring humankind into a new world that connects people with their environment.