Letter: Response to WRSE Column
Reader responds to column 'Is It Climate Changes of Just Weird Weather in Boston?'
To the Editor:
I would like to commend the authors of (West Roxbury Saves Energy's column) “Is It Climate Change or Just Weird Weather in Boston?” for answering the question correctly: it doesn’t matter. As the authors note, the climate has always changed and will always change to varying degrees, and that we’re in a period of accelerated change that is causing significant damage. What they miss is that this is a systematic problem that has less to do with turning the water off when you brush your teeth and more to do with what makes the lights turn on.
Out of all the water used in the country, only 1% of it is used for domestic purposes, according to a 2005 United States Geologic Survey report. That means that all the water used for laundry, showers, drinking water, teeth brushing, toilet flushing, and dishwashing is just a tiny drop in the bucket. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still important to conserve on a small scale, but even if we all stopped showering and brushing our teeth (not a good idea) the collective impact on water would be tiny.
Contrast that with energy production, which uses 49% of the annual water used in this country, and you begin to see where you can have the biggest impact. Huge volumes of water are used to cool power plants (nuclear, coal, and natural gas) and to extract those resources from the ground. For example, if you look at the cradle-to-grave water impact of a nuclear plant, it can use as much as 31,700 gallons of water to produce just one Megawatt hour of energy. For reference, a typical nuclear plant can produce 34,000 Megawatt hours in a single day, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Wind turbines, by comparison, have a lifecycle water impact of about 61 gallons per Megawatt hour. So switching one nuclear plant to a wind farm would save billions of gallons of water each day. That’s more than all the water used to brush every tooth in America.
Similarly, turning the lights off when you leave the room might save about one ton of CO2 from entering the atmosphere each year, which is a great start and very easy to do. However, coal plants emit about 100 times more CO2 per megawatt hour than wind farms, so if you convinced your town to trade a coal plant for a wind farm, you’d be saving millions of tons of CO2 each year. This would have a much greater impact on global warming as well as public health and water quality.
There are better options for energy production that will help lower both water damage and use as well as our carbon footprint, and these technologies are ready to be implemented now. A report by the Civil Society Institute and Synapse Energy Economics titled “Toward a Sustainable Future for the US Power Sector” showed that we could use currently available technology to replace all coal plants and reduce nuclear power by 25% by the year 2050. Better yet, this can be done with net savings. There’s no reason Massachusetts shouldn’t be at the forefront of the push for cleaner, healthier energy, and this starts with changing where we get our electricity, not our light bulbs.
I don’t mean to trivialize our domestic energy and water usage because it is very important to be aware of how much we’re using and how much we really need. However, promoting water-efficient renewable energy in your town will have a significantly higher impact than anything you can do at home. The personal actions are good for the soul and constant reminders of our responsibilities to future generations.
Massachusetts is blessed with an abundance of natural resources, including clean water. Let’s do our best to preserve that for future generations, so that they too can brush their teeth with clean, healthy water.