One thing that strikes me is how blasé we are about the dangers of oil, gas and coal as compared with other less conventional energy sources like nuclear power.
And I’m referring not so much to the infamous underwater gusher created by BP in the Gulf of Mexico, which we are indeed concerned about, but to the disastrous explosions and fires that occur often enough that we just take them in stride.
Like the one in Congo the other day. A tanker truck tipped over in some woebegone area, people apparently rushed out of their shanties to collect the fuel in cans and buckets, the fuel ignited, and some 220 people were incinerated.
Another day in the gas and oil business. No big deal, really. It was a news story for a day, just as the gas explosion in Guadalajara that killed 252 people in 1992 was a news story for a day, and just as an explosion at a natural-gas plant in Middletown, Conn., that killed five people earlier this year was a news story for a day.
In terms of public reaction it was nothing compared to the leak at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, in 1979, which killed exactly nobody.
Do you remember the demonstrations that followed that event? — 200,000 people in New York City alone, with participation by personages as illustrious as Jane Fonda and Ralph Nader.
The construction of new nuclear plants immediately went into decline. Nobody wanted them anywhere near their backyards, and nobody does yet.
Especially not after the meltdown at Chernobyl in 1986, which resulted in 57 documented deaths, or a quarter the number in Congo from a gasoline fire.
But do you see any demonstrations demanding a halt to the construction of new gas stations or the suspension of gasoline-hauling on public highways?
Not at all. That would be ridiculous.
As for propane, some 20 people a year are killed by explosions of tanks in their backyard barbecue grills alone.
Back in 1990, for you old-timers, a propane pipeline running under North Blenheim, Schoharie County, leaked, causing a fireball that killed two people and destroyed 14 houses.
Do you hear any demands that propane be outlawed?
And then there is coal, the world’s most polluting but still highly popular fuel. Just a couple of weeks ago, 46 coal miners died in an explosion in Jenan province, China, and it was barely worth a mention, internationally.
Coal miners die in mine accidents in China all the time – an average of seven a day last year.
Here in the United States, conditions are better. In 2006, just 47 coal miners were killed. But imagine if 47 nuclear power plant workers died in accidents in one year.
We seem to have greater concern for the remote dangers of wind and solar power than we have for the daily dangers of oil, gas and coal.
Look online for research into “wind turbine noise syndrome” and see what you find.
Look again for “shadow flicker,” and you’ll find that too. If wind turbines stand between you and the setting sun, the rotating blades will cause the last rays of the day to flicker on your Venetian blinds, and as far as I can determine, there are more people agitated about that than there are about exploding gas lines.
Even solar power is not without its worry-warts. Some storage units “allow for the growth of allergenic molds and fungi,” I learn from an online database of articles. And as for the manufacture of solar panels, the risk there “may be between 11 and 21 deaths per quadrillion joules of energy produced.”
It’s bizarre, isn’t it?
We are downright superstitious about nuclear power, and we sincerely care about the pollution caused by coal and oil, but we care hardly a whit about the immediate danger to life and limb posed by coal and oil. We take that in stride.
An exploding gas tank here, a mine collapse there — it’s part of life.
Perhaps you noticed the letter to the editor published in this newspaper the other day under the headline, “Lions and other big cats shouldn’t become burgers.”
It was concise and well-written, just as newspapers desire, and it immediately raised my suspicions.
Sure enough, after just a little searching I found the same letter had been printed in the Monterey County Herald, in California, a few days earlier, indicating that it was a put-up job by some national animal-rights group.
They send it out to their members or subscribers, encouraging them to put their own names on it and submit it to their local paper as if they had written it themselves.
The one we printed was signed by Lee Perone of Watervliet. The one that appeared in the Monterey County Herald was signed by Heather Cauldwell of Monterey.
Ours had a couple of extra paragraphs, which had probably been edited out of the Monterey paper. Otherwise it was word for word.
I tried to contact Lee Perone for comment on this method of creating literature but without success.