Published Sunday January 22, 2017: Updated 1/25/2017

Zero Emissions? Really

Remember ten years ago when the first iPhone came out and people were losing their minds over this phone that didn't even have a keyboard? It's fun to look back at how unfounded people's fears were over this different and revolutionary cell phone. 

What are we as a people, freaking out about today that in 10-20 years we will look back at and ask, "what were we thinking?"

The car industry is just beginning to change over to electric vehicles. Keeping in mind that change is hard for people, someone who is accustomed to gasoline or diesel cars will be reluctant to embrace something different. 

Take a look at hybrid cars. It has taken them over 15 years to become mainstream. In Utah, coal and gasoline are king. So it might be a few years more before many Utahns can drop their preconceived notions and open up to the idea of driving an electric car or powering their homes and vehicles using only renewable energy.

The other day, after I mentioned in a public setting that my car effectively gets 100% of its energy from solar power, a man later replied to me: 

"Your car is made of steel and steel is made with coal, therefore your car uses coal and is not zero-emissions."

My response: 

"Nobody said that manufacturing a car doesn’t produce emissions. Besides, there’s a huge difference between using a mineralogical resource like coal to make a highly recyclable product like steel, versus burning it up forever the first time like some tenant farmer who burns fences for heat."

I really don't mind getting into tired debates like this. Not only does it give me an opportunity to educate them regarding the benefits of electric cars and green buildings, it also gets my brain thinking about the remaining environmental impacts and how we should solve them too. 

Like it or not, everything has an environmental impact. There’s just no getting around that one. It would be great if all our buildings and vehicles could be magically summoned out of the æther, with no trace of origins or impact on the environment, but guess what? I don’t know how to do that.

So instead of throwing my hands into the air and saying, “Screw it, let’s just ignore the problem and pretend it does not exist”, I choose to work with the problem and just solve it already.

I'm an engineer and that's what engineers do. We solve problems.
"Our electric grid causes pollution and contributes to climate change? Well, let’s just make it run on renewable energy instead!"

"You mean to tell me the products we buy require a lot of mineralogical resources and energy to make? OK, let’s exercise some portion control, or not buy as many, or let’s just design them to last longer, or make it easier to recycle them, or make our products out of recycled ones, or just re-purpose them!"

Some problems (like climate change) are easier to solve right now, than to keep coming up with convoluted ways to postpone solving them. 

You can keep hitting the snooze button but eventually you need to get out of bed and face the day. 

You have to start somewhere, right? Once our economy is 100% renewable powered, even raw materials like aluminum, copper, steel and concrete will have a much smaller environmental impact.

Now regarding steel and its need for coal: Steel is one of the most easily recycled materials there is and can be recycled over and over and over. And recycled steel does not require any additional coal because it already has carbon in it. It only requires energy to re-melt the steel. That energy could come from anywhere including renewable sources. As the energy infrastructure gets cleaner, instantly so do all our factories that run off of it.

Bring it on!!