By Dave Bonaskiewich
This piece was written in response to Susan Nugent’s column, “Carbon emissions can be reduced without sacrificing comfort.”
First, I agree with Nugent in believing we must do something, not necessarily to save the planet (the planet will be fine with or without us), but to increase the quality of life for humans and all other living things that are presently here. However, we differ greatly on the approach to solving this problem.
We can’t simply all drive electric cars and switch to electric stoves over their gas-powered counterparts and call it a day. I’m not inherently against electric automobiles but they are fraught with their own set of problems. The mining of cobalt and lithium is a laborious task. It’s been well documented that child labor, along with almost zero regard to safety in general, is a huge issue, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where most cobalt is mined.
In this regard, it feels like we are substituting a reliance on foreign oil for a reliance on foreign cobalt and lithium. Additionally, Nugent omits the fact that the vast majority of Florida’s electricity comes from coal, petroleum and natural gas power plants. According to energy.gov, Florida’s power plant breakdown is as follows: 15 coal-fired, 27 petroleum, 73 natural gas, three nuclear, two hydro-electric and 15 from renewable sources. Unfortunately, this means the electricity to charge your EV is likely produced by fossil fuels.
She also states that “friends who now drive the newest electric cars just changed one means of transportation for another. They lowered their carbon footprint with no change in their travel plans. One such friend allows that he now takes longer, more leisurely lunches if he’s traveling further. When his car is recharged, his programmed phone notifies him that he can continue his journey.”
Purchasing a new car is not “lowering your carbon footprint.” Maybe if the person owns it for many years, they will realize a net gain, but all the raw materials and machinery used to build and ship the car must be considered. As for the longer lunch breaks, Nugent suggests her friend is enjoying this “leisure” time, when in reality, waiting for an EV to fully charge is quite an inconvenience. Oftentimes, a driver must wait in line just to get their turn at the charging station. This does not translate into “no change in their travel plans.”
In a 2022 article for treehugger.com, David M. Kutchta writes, “Currently, battery recycling is performed one pack at a time. The packs must first have their glues broken apart to access the individual cells. Then the cells can either be burned or dissolved in a pool of acid, producing either a lump of charred materials or a slurry of potentially toxic ones.” Of course, technology is improving all the time, so we can hope the recycling of these batteries will improve.
While I applaud Nugent for converting to solar to power her home, she must realize that not everyone can afford to do this. I also am curious about how long it will take her to recoup her initial investment with her newly lowered or non-existent power bill.
By now, you must be asking yourself, “Well, does this guy have any solutions or is he simply criticizing everything?” I do, in fact, have solutions, but they entail altering one’s lifestyle and, because of that, I don’t believe they will be received warmly by most Floridians.
One of the easiest things we can do is to reduce our pleasure travel. Ask yourself, “Do I want to book this seven-day cruise which is detrimental to the environment, or can I be content with a less luxurious vacation at or near my home?”
According to the University of Colorado at Boulder, cruise ships burn about 80,000 gallons of fuel (diesel) per day, which is 560,000 gallons for a seven-day cruise. Estimating that the ship carries 3,000 passengers, it would mean that each person is consuming about 187 gallons of diesel for their voyage. This doesn’t account for how much fuel they burned in their cars or in commercial aircraft to arrive at the port.
Additionally, cruise ships accumulate, and dump, roughly 210,000 gallons of sewage into the ocean during a week’s voyage, as reported by marineinsight.com. This raw sewage is supposed to be filtered by the ship before being disposed of but many claim it’s not filtered enough or not at all, as monitoring this process is difficult. Needless to say, I’ve never been, nor do I ever plan to take a cruise.
Another lifestyle change is to simply use less electricity. As a Central Floridian, I understand the need for air conditioning, but we keep our thermostat at 80 degrees during the day and 77 at night, even during the hottest months. Of the many people I spoke with, this is about 3-5 degrees higher than where their thermostats are set.
I would love to see more dedicated bicycle paths being made, not just for recreational use, but for actual commuting. I realize many roads here have bike lanes, but it is extremely dangerous to use these daily, and I don’t blame people for not using them.
I don’t take many vacations to faraway places, partly because I am content to stay at least somewhat local, and partly because of the environmental impacts it would create. But I am not perfect. I do in fact own a classic “gas-guzzling” muscle car. It has great sentimental value and I enjoy it immensely but is driven sparingly, less than once per month — and even then, only about 25 miles each time.
I have done two extended road trips totaling about 3,200 miles, but I considered these exceptions, and rare indulgences on my part. Call me hypocritical if you must, but I wanted to give full disclosure if I am to be critical of others.
We can all do better, but it will take much more than swapping our gas-powered cars and stoves for electric versions.
Dave Bonaskiewich lives in Altamonte Springs.