Today the occurrence of asthma is at record levels, with more than 15 million Americans suffering from it. Often set off by air pollution, its symptoms range from discomfort in breathing to death, with over half a million asthmatics hospitalized and over 5,000 dying annually in America. Not surprisingly, it is much more common in highly developed parts of the world than in underdeveloped regions.
Less common than asthma but causing many more deaths is emphysema. Generally attributed to cigarette smoking, emphysema can also be set off by pollution in the air. Likewise bronchitis, though associated with colds and flu, can also be caused by breathing unnatural fumes or other pollutants.
Except for the oil companies, gasoline is a no-win proposition. In an attempt to oxygenate gasoline in order to reduce CO emissions, a compound known as MTBE was added to the fuel, until it was discovered to be an exceptionally dangerous carcinogen that has found its way into much of our urban water supplies. It has recently been banned by a number of states, though some oil companies knew of its dangers as early as the 1980’s. Now the oil companies are looking to add ethanol to their gasoline in place of MTBE – though it has been shown to cause ozone levels in the air to go up even more.
Even if global warming did not exist in any form, it would be in humanity’s interest to phase out our dependence on fossil fuels and to do so as quickly as possible. Anyone who doubts that should speak to the parents of an asthmatic child. Fortunately, environmentally friendly alternatives do exist.
Seeking to reduce its dependence on foreign oil following the “oil shock” brought on by the 1973 Yom Kippur War, France turned to nuclear power plants, which now produce 80 percent of that country’s electricity, with a perfect safety record. The nuclear waste can be recycled to a certain extent but must ultimately be stored underground. French scientists are currently working on trying to find ways to completely consume the radioactive byproducts.
Because nuclear power does not contribute or either air pollution or global warming, many U.S. environmentalists are becoming increasingly open to it. Some, however, remembering the accidents at Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island, remain fearful, Overall, nuclear power has been proven to be the most energy-efficient form of generating electricity.
Far less controversial is hydroelectric power, which has been around for a long time and currently accounts for about 10 percent of U.S. electricity output. Unfortunately, most of the really “good spots,” such as Niagara Falls, are already taken. But America still has considerable potential for additional smaller hydroelectric plants. With no waste materials affecting either the air or the ground, much can be said for them. The only drawbacks are the comparatively high cost of the initial construction (which is recovered over the long run) and the fact that extreme environmentalists do not want to see rivers tampered with in any way (though any negative effect on fish and other wildlife can be kept to a minimum).
In recent years there has been considerable growth in the use of wind-generated power, which now accounts for five percent of all electricity produced in the European Union. At present, wind turbines have been developed that can function efficiently in areas where the wind speed averages 10 MPH.
As for transportation, electric, hydrogen-powered and even solar-powered vehicles are in various stages of development. Most advanced, currently, are electric cars.
In 1996 General Motors began marketing the battery-powered EV1 in California and Arizona. The engine was quite peppy and did not require a multi-stage transmission. The company went so far as to air commercials declaring “The electric car is here” and that it would soon be as common as toasters. With demand quite high, GM decided to only lease the cars and not sell them.
Once the leases were up, however, the company suddenly demanded the cars be turned in, even though many customers begged to be allowed to keep them. Then, for some reason, GM ordered just about all of the EV1s completely destroyed. According to the 2006 documentary film Who Killed the Electric Car? this was done at the behest of the major oil companies, whose executives are not about to sit idly by while demand for their products gradually dries up.