Peril of Perfectionism   4 comments

Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good. That’s an old saying that has never been truer than today.

Environmental activists tend to be perfectionists. They want air quality to be completely free of all pollutants. That sounds like a worthy goal until you realize that it is unachievable.

Image result for image of container ship

Seriously. If we want to have warm homes, be able to travel and make things for consumption, we have to burn fossil fuels to power things. Currently, renewables make up less than 10% of the energy available and that’s with massive government investment well above the return on the dollar. Fossil fuels may be replaced someday by nuclear electric powering hydrogen fuel cells, but we’re nowhere near that dream right now.

And, then there are the forest fires. I woke up to completely natural air quality contamination on Sunday morning, but that’s another topic for another day.

While some activists want to eliminate all fossil fuels use in the name of air quality, it is not possible without major disruption to our quality of life, jobs and economy. That’s the “perfect” getting in the way of the good.

The United States has made major environmental improvements over the last 40 years. That’s a net good for all Americans and we certainly don’t want to backslide now, but many environmentalists refuse to see the good that has already been done and to recognize that clearing the air completely is not possible.

Consider this example of positive change. Totem Ocean Trailer Express (TOTE) hauls more than 35% of all goods consumed in Alaska. That makes them a vital part of the Alaska economy. When they lost a barge in a storm last winter, our grocery store shelves looked pretty barren for the next month while they strove to replace the lost stock. If they failed to sail at all, Alaskans would go hungry.

In 2012, TOTE announced plans to convert its maritime fleet to operate on cleaner-burning liquefied natural gas (LNG). The fuel switch on its East Coast ships operating in the Caribbean is complete. Now, TOTE Alaska Maritime is focusing on the transition of its vessels operating between Tacoma and Anchorage.

In 2014, TOTE inked an agreement with Puget Sound Energy (PSE), Washington’s largest supplier of electricity and natural gas, to furnish LNG for its ships, but now its LNG conversion has hit a roadblock.

Activists are attempting to block construction of PSE’s $300 million LNG plant on Tacoma’s Tide Flats. If they succeed, they will put Washington’s ports at a competitive disadvantage with Los Angeles and Vancouver, B.C., ports which are currently adding LNG facilities.

“By switching from diesel to LNG, maritime vessels at the port will reduce their greenhouse gas emissions into Tacoma’s air by more than 30 percent and dangerous particulate (smoke) emissions by more than 90 percent,” Puget Sound Energy Vice President Andy Wappler pointed out in The News Tribune in Tacoma.

The Environmental Protection Agency calculated there are 23 million people with port-related jobs and seaports account for 26% of the U.S. economy. There are an additional 39 million Americans who live in proximity to ports.

LNG processing reduces greenhouses gases and eliminates other air contaminants. During conversion from natural gas to LNG, CO2 and other pollutants are removed. LNG is simply the same natural gas many Americans use in our homes and businesses, only purified and refrigerated to minus 260 degrees, where it turns into a liquid. It is not explosive or even particularly flammable in its liquid state.

When warmed, it’s the same fuel folks use in their stoves and furnaces, and requires the same safety precautions. LNG storage tanks are not pressurized, so cannot blow up if there is a breach.

The tank PSE plans to install in Tacoma is “designed to withstand a once-in-every-2,450-year earthquake (compared to our highway bridges, which are designed to a 1,000-year-earthquake standard),” Wappler contends.

PSE’s new facility doesn’t just benefit TOTE and other shippers. Wappler figures it will save its natural gas customers between $50 million and $100 million over 10 years compared to the cost of increasing pipeline capacity into the region.

There is one other environmental benefit. TOTE’s relationship with Alaskans for Litter Prevention and Recycling brings tons of recycled material to Tacoma for processing.

Grace Greene, TOTE’s Alaska general manager, told Alaska Business Monthly magazine there are other partners who contribute to the project, “but we’re probably one of the top three contributors, to the tune of more than $1 million every year.” Recycling has never really taken off in Alasaka because of the cost of shipping refuse to the Lower 48 for processing. TOTE is improving that situation and perhaps reducing the amount of trash Alaskan landfills collect.

As with everything humans do or build there are associated risks, but total risk avoidance is impossible. Why strive for the perfect and reject the good getting better?

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4 responses to “Peril of Perfectionism

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  1. On our news this week we heard that all diesel and petrol engine cars will be banned by 2040 and replaced by electric cars. Hope they improve the current electric cars’ range by then.

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