Energy and Human Welfare

In today’s issue of Energy & Environment Daily ($ubscription required), there is a comment from Steve Wozniak — an original co-founder of Apple along with Steve Jobz — which seems quite misguided:

“Coal plants are just obnoxious,” Wozniak said. “Look at an Apple product. It’s cleanliness all the way through … people like that kind of beauty.”

Luke Popovich, spokesman for coal trade group National Mining Association, defended coal’s value.

“I doubt coal plants are ‘obnoxious’ to households that benefit from very affordable electricity, to industries that need competitive energy or to the thousands who work in the plants,” Popovich said.

Now, admittedly, Apple’s products are quite elegant and “sleek” technology brings to mind a windmill sooner than it does a coal-fire power plant, at least to me. However, Apple’s products work whenever they have access to electricity, even if the wind isn’t blowing. Roughly 50% of our electricity comes from coal, so there’s a pretty darn good chance that Apple product is being charged with coal.

It’s worth mentioning that some things in life aren’t “pretty.” To many, the emissions from a coal plant aren’t “pretty.” However, energy is pretty vital to our nation’s well-being, and its clear that solar panels and windmills can’t produce anywhere near enough electricity to satisfy our demand.

This is why saying things like “coal is obnoxious” is ignorant. You might earnestly believe that we would be better with using alternative forms of energy, but that doesn’t make coal “obnoxious,” especially when you look at its historical usage in the United States. As this chart demonstrates, for developing societies energy usage is closely linked to the wealth of a society:

This is a graph for the United States. As you can see, energy consumption per capita drops off eventually as we are capable of producing more and more wealth without using as much energy. However, the link during periods of growth is undeniable. Far from “obnoxious,” cheap energy is much more essential to meeting life’s needs than anything else — iPhone’s included.


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