Natural gas explosions in Massachusetts and Florence’s threat on energy infrastructure remind us that energy can pose enormous, sometimes deadly, risks.
Why it matters: Energy is the thing we all need but many don’t notice until it is gone, expensive or going awry. Energy facilities — particularly nuclear plants — appear to be withstanding Florence well. We saw a tragically different outcome in Massachusetts Thursday, with one death and roughly two dozen injuries. They both inject a consciousness into our energy dependence we usually overlook.
Think about it:
- We drive gasoline-powered cars.
- We use plastics made from petroleum.
- We live in homes with electricity. What kind? Most of us don’t know or care.
- Our homes in America are increasingly powered by natural gas — particularly Massachusetts.
But we don’t actually think about this. We aren’t thankful when the lights come on. Reporters don’t bother writing stories about how nuclear power plants stood up well to hurricanes. As someone on Twitter told me last week, “Dog doesn't bite man is rarely newsworthy.”
Embedded in all of this is risk: how much we’re willing to take and what tradeoffs we’re willing to accept in order to minimize risk.
- Some risk we’re aware of and can choose: driving a car or flying in a plane.
- Then there’s risk we may be unaware of or have no choice to avoid: natural gas exploding in our homes, or a nuclear plant 30 miles away at risk of melting down.
- The risks of these are infinitesimal, but the fear is real. And, in rare moments they happen: Massachusetts gas explosion, Fukushima nuclear meltdown, BP oil spill.
Some folks might be thinking right about now, "Hey, you’re forgetting renewables, they’re the answer." Yes, they are part of it. Renewables aren’t explosive (big plus), and their share of the world’s electricity mix is growing fast.
But the world is deeply dependent upon fossil fuels and tradeoffs exist with wind and solar. So even while a transition is underway to safer forms of energy, it's critical to make sure the risk of our current dominant sources is as close to zero as possible.
Go deeper: Read the rest of the column in the Axios stream.