Explore More Energy
help teacher resources contact us
web sites glossary careers explore more
profiles uses issues viewpoints


An environment is a combination of physical and biological elements that affect the life of an organism. When we talk about the environment as it relates to energy, we are sometimes talking about small areas, like a pond or a backyard, and sometimes we are talking about the entire planet.

We cannot talk about energy without talking about the environment. They are tied together. Most sources of energy require us to do something to the earth that we cannot fix. We drill for oil in sensitive areas. We strip mine for coal in places that will never completely recover. We store our nuclear waste, knowing that it could be hundreds of thousands of years before that waste is safe enough for humans to be around.

Environmental Issues and World Energy Use | Clean Air
Environmental Impacts of Hydropower | Help on the Horizon

Environmental Issues and World Energy Use
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. It occurs naturally. Rotting biomass, people, and animals give it off. There are actions humans take that cause its release. It has two major human-caused sources: fossil fuel use and land-use changes. Nearly three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emissions come from fossil fuel combustion. Another environmental impact is oil spills. In December of 1999, an oil tanker broke in half off the coast of France. Three million gallons of crude oil were dumped into the ocean. In November 2000, a tanker's engine exploded while it was in the Lower Mississippi River. That spilled over 500,000 gallons into the river. And Prince William Sound, where the Exxon Valdez ran aground in 1989, is just now coming back to life.

Nuclear energy has different problems for the environment. The hazards of spent fuel, both transporting it and storing it, are a huge problem. The U.S. government heavily regulates the nuclear industry in America, but we are not without our share of accidents. Three Mile Island leaked a radioactive cloud over Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1979. And the New York Times recently reported on two spent nuclear fuel rods that have been missing from a Connecticut nuclear power plant since April 1980.


top Clean Air
We disagree even when we try to do the right thing for the environment. For example, cars are able to run on a fuel called ethanol. Ethanol can be made from many different types of biomass, but the most common are corn and sugarcane. Advocates of ethanol claim it is a clean fuel. But an environmental consultant for the American Lung Association says that is not entirely true. "There may be a lot of good reasons to promote ethanol, but air quality really is not one of them." This could be why California, a state with some of the strictest air quality laws in the country, is angry with President Bush. California requested a waiver to federal clean-air laws. California requires MTBE, a petroleum based additive, in its gasoline. The MTBE reduces the air emissions a car gives off as it burns fuel. The U.S. government said that California cannot use MTBE any more and must use ethanol instead.

Another study recently published in the journal Science said that more people are being killed by pollution from vehicles than by traffic accidents. Devra Lee Davis, the lead author of the study, said that the fossil fuel we use in our cars and power plants create air pollutants. These pollutants include ozone, carbon dioxide, and sulfur compounds. People can get asthma, heart disease, and breathing disorders.


Environmental Impacts of Hydropower
Building dams for hydropower also have an impact on the environment. Usually rivers are blocked and a lake forms behind the dam. This changes the entire ecosystem of the environment. Fish that require fast moving water (trout, salmon) give way to fish that prefer lakes (carp, catfish). Animals that depended on the fast moving river have to adapt to the new environment, move to another location, or even die.


Help on the Horizon
There is research that is helping limit the harmful effects of energy related pollution. Researches at the University of Texas at Austin have been working with Ford Motor Company to produce a distillery unit that works with existing engines to reduce hydrocarbon pollution put into the atmosphere when we start up a cold engine. Fuel cells are another hope for the environment. Major car manufacturers are hoping to have car models available by 2003 that use fuel cell technology. And several environmentally friendly hybrid cars are already available (Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight).

Check it Out!
Hydropower can do more than affect the environment. It can change entire economies. Read this article from ENN.



IPTV Market to Market Links

Global Warming Report Released
Climate change is likely to create more weather extremes such as flooding and drought

Ethanol could get boost from demise of MTBE
The petroleum based fuel additive was originally seen as beneficial because it reduces fuel emissions and boosts octane levels. But worries about the oxygenate arose when groundwater in California was found to be contaminated by m-t-b-e.

U.S. Senate Passes Energy Bill
In more than five weeks of debate, the Democratic-led Senate has crafted an energy bill that includes everything from oil exploration … to wind … solar … and ethanol.

Ethanol Faces Fight in California
Last week the USDA was touting the benefits of bio-based fuels. The department implemented a broad plan to encourage its agencies to begin using biodiesel and ethanol fuels in fleet vehicles.

Biodiesel Gets Boost from USDA
For the past two years, the government has been testing a mixture of 20-percent soybean oil and 80-percent diesel, commonly known as "b-20 Biodiesel," in about 150 vehicles at USDA’s Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland. – Powering everything from tractors to tour buses on biodiesel.

PBS NewsHour Online Links

Global Warming & the Ocean

What causes Global Warming?

Developing Countires & Global Warming

The National Academy of Sciences report concludes the Earth is getting warmer and humans are helping cause it.

A global strategy to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases which scientists believe are warming the Earth.

Nearly 180 nations agreed to details of a pact to combat global warming today

Scientists off the coast of California are hoping the sea floor may offer a way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

A look at the air conditioning efficiency debate.

Web Links
Energy Star
ENERGY STAR is a government-backed program helping businesses and individuals protect the environment through superior energy efficiency and by lessening consumption.

EPA Clean Energy Programs
The EPA's Clean Energy Programs are working with state policy makers, electric and gas utilities, energy customers, and other key stakeholders to find clean energy solutions.