In the Fall of 2015, I was blissfully unaware of the coming catastrophe about climate change. That is saying something for a Green/Democrat. I had voted for Ralph Nader on the Green ticket in 2000, but that was it. I never really heard Al Gore (Sorry V.P. Gore, I apologize).
My mind was still in 1980’s-1990’s as far as environmental issues. We had plenty of time, I thought, but don’t do anything rash. I had worked at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Lab (EMSL), a national lab in Richland, WA. Bu the emphasis was more directed at biology , geology with physics, chemistry, and computational sciences. All separated sciences, working with scientists around the world. We did good and sometimes great science there, and if we could help develop new tools to clean up the mixed wastes of Hanford (just north of us) all the better.
A Lesson in Rashness
But Hanford lingered over us like a lesson in rashness. Using so-called solutions too fast, without thinking them through and address the root problem. There were a hundred+ huge tanks filled with radioactive waste. When it decayed, the waste heated up. Originally they treated each tank like a reactor and dowsed the waste in water. Sometimes the water evaporated away, so they thought…score!. Most times it didn’t. After a tank was completely full of water and waste, “what could they do?”
During the 1970’s, chemical engineers came in, and using the only tools they were trained with – drying agents – they threw massive amounts of organic chemicals into the tanks to try and dry them out. Now, as one can imagine with not enough forethought and few records, the tanks were a mess. The real problem – decaying radioactive waste – was never addressed. It was cooled with water. Then the water was dried with chemicals, generating a mixed waste, as it was called. “A present for our children,” commented one astute observer.
Another observer, Director Dr. William R. Wiley surmised, “this is a real problem.” He had worked as an engineer at Battelle since 1965. Now, in his new position at Battelle-PNNL he could have said, “We cannot let the rashness of the past stop us from finding new solutions,” although that would have been too direct. We have some solutions, he surmised, but we can come up with more. I was there in the mid-1990’s when EMSL was built and opened. I was one of the scientists hired by Bill Wiley – the first African-American Director of Battelle-PNNL. It took the attention of the very same people who were saying we had to solve the Global Warming issue…too.
It was the flank of a front that ‘humanity’ was trying to ignore or put off for as long as possible.
Stopping Fossil Fuel use is not Rash
Whether it wanted to happen or not, the American government had to stop using Hanford to produce radioactive fuels and bombs. The waste continued to decay. The mixed waste continued a life of its own with new reactive chemical reactions going on in the radioactive stew. Some known, Most not known.
Today, as in 1990 some clearly knew that humanity was emitting too many greenhouse gases and that our planet was heating up in an uncontrolled manner. It had to stop. I was using 5.0 Earths per year with flying, driving a SUV, and living in a two-bedroom condo.
In 2016, I put myself on the list for a Tesla Model 3, but I had my doubts about ever seeing one. In 2017 I bought a Chevy Bolt EV, with a 53 kWh battery. It got you just far enough on a full charge “to get you into trouble.” It was an horrible year to be an EV pioneer. But if I had not gone through that year, I would be like every other unthinking American, I guess.
First, I sold the condo. Then, I cut back flying. Now I was down, by all estimates to a typical German citizen, 3.5 Earths per year at the end of 2017.
In 2019, I am now down to 2.3 Earths. Driving a 2018 Chevy Bolt with 60kWh battery, I can make it into from DC Fast Charger to DC Fast Charger in Vancouver, BC or Portland, OR, or Yakima, WA. There are 5kW chargers in the garage I park my car in for overnight. I have given up most flight, only flying 4-6 hours a years (still too much!) inspired by Greta Thunberg, who pointed the way forward by eliminating it from her life – and her Mom’s life, too! I also live in a Studio apartment in a new, modern apartment building with thermal insulated glass (two-pane), super efficient water and sewer, etc.
I gave up eating wild salmon three times a week, and grass-fed beef four times a week. All healthy for a human, or cat, but too much a strain on the Earth. I now eat meat 1-2 times a week, salmon or beef.*
All electricity is generated by Seattle City Light, from our own Green River, Green River watershed, and hydroelectric dams. Seattle City Light is a Nordic tradition in Seattle, I guess, based on community-ownership or socialized, utilities.
*I know I could go to 2.1 Earths by giving up all meat. But the goal is 1.0 Earths minimum per person. Even that may not be sustainable with the Great Debt we owe as a species to ourselves.