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Why We Call it ‘Clean’ Energy

The dirty little secret about fossil fuels is that they are toxic. Extremely toxic. Coal, oil, natural gas, the tar sands, and even nuclear energy are such a standard part of how society functions that many of us fail to consider through the course of our day-to-day lives how poisonous these dirty forms of energy are.

If you stand on the right hill in San Francisco, you can look across the bay on a sunny day and see a potent smog hovering over Oakland and into the surrounding areas. Some days are worse than others, but it is often hard to tell looking from downtown Oakland towards the hills that there is green foliage to be found on the other side of the haze.
But is not just here in the Bay area. From Tacoma, WA to Chicago, IL, and throughout the country, our air is suffering severely from an overdose of dirty energy. And we, the people, suffer in return. Public health declines as pollution causes spikes in respiratory diseases, such as asthma and lung cancer. In a fascinating editorial piece written for Al Jazeera, Mark Jacobson makes the case for clean energy as a long-term strategy of protecting public health. His summary of the problem: “Currently, 2.5-3 million people worldwide, including nearly one million children younger than five, die prematurely each and every year from air pollution caused by the burning of biofuels and fossil fuels. Millions more become ill due to respiratory illness, cardiovascular disease, asthma, pneumonia and other diseases exacerbated by air pollution.”
And his summary of the solution: “convert our energy infrastructure to electricity and electricity-produced hydrogen for all purposes, where the electricity is generated by technologies running on wind, water and sunlight.” For years it has been understood that “long-term decreases in air pollution levels are associated with a gain in life expectancy and with declines in bronchial hyperactivity, the average annual trend in deaths from all causes, and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases” (taken from a 2005 World Health Organization study). In other words, CLEAN energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal can help cure cancer!
Taking better care of the air is a way to heal ourselves from generations of toxic energy consumption. The path to a world of clean energy has been already been laid, now we just have to walk it.