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sustainable sources of energy; and how to reduce or end other practices
(outside of energy use) that contribute to climate change. 37
But doing so is not enough. If we are to be honest about what we must
do, we need to take into account the obstacles that prevent us from taking
action. Even if we have a set of potential strategies in hand, they will not
do much good if they are too expensive, take too long to implement, or
harm the environment. Furthermore, what will it take to overcome polit-
ical opposition, to change actual atitudes and behavior, and to inspire
action on the vast scale that is required? This aspect of the question is the
most crucial, because so far it has proved the toughest to solve.
Accordingly, we have litle choice but to examine our potential course
of action taking all of the relevant factors into account. A thorough, com-
prehensive look at energy efficiency and technology, however necessary,
cannot take us far without an honest appraisal of our collective willing-
ness to act and to change.
Let's start with a basic principle: we simply must shift from our cur-
rent heavy reliance on oil, coal, and gas to less destructive fuels. Some
might argue that the recent shift from oil or coal to the relatively less
harmful natural gas is at least a step in the right direction, but it turns
out that enough natural gas (or methane) escapes into the atmosphere
during the drilling process to cancel out any such benefit.38 38 We can't fix
anything by shifting from one fossil fuel to another; our only real option
is to rely on renewable energy, if we must use energy at all. But at this
point we cannot rely very much on alternative sources of energy; a key
task is to figure out what technologies might work best and how soon we
can implement them.
Several sources of energy are very promising but may simply create
more problems than they might solve. Many experts suggest that nuclear
power is an excellent long-term option for providing energy at a com-
paratively small cost in injury to people, footprint on the landscape,
and the storage of waste, especially when compared to fossil fuels. But
it's clear that creating a new generation of nuclear power plants would
be extremely expensive and time-consuming; since few plants are cur-
rently in the process of being built and each plant takes roughly a decade
to come on line, nuclear power cannot help us right when we must take
huge strides toward cuting our emissions. Furthermore, because of the
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