The coal sludge flood near Harriman, Tennessee, is a reminder that our current "calculations" about energy costs are bogus. When we figure the costs of burning coal to make electricity it includes the cost of mining, moving and burning. But the collateral costs? Hah. Black lung and other worker health costs? And the long-term environmental damage when the coal mine is played out and abandoned? Sludge spills and their clean-up costs? All those dead fish? Sorry, they aren't in the formula.
Not sure we're any more realistic about other fuels. We've blogged about the huge number of future oil slicks just waiting for a breach in a pond like the one in Harriman. And do we calculate the cost of the pollutants spewed into the air or water from coal or natural gas or petroleum fired plants and refineries? No, in most states and countries pollution is an acitivity carried on for free. I recently blogged how some states and Canadian provinces are beginning to sell carbon permits. An attempt to get to a more realistic energy calculus.
Of course, the nuclear industry has long dodged the long-term, ultimate costs of storing all those spent radioactive rods and other fine spoils of nuclear power plants. And even greentechs like solar and wind have numerous costs never put into the calulations of whet they really cost. What's done to our planet to produce the silica or metals needed to build the equipment, the footprint on the land, the proximity of the generating plant to the users? Sometimes it seems global warming issues have narrowed the focus of even green tech to air pollution and greenhouse gases. Our planet's way more complicated than that. A real calculus of costs would include as much of the real costs as the human mind can comprehend. It would be like trying to calculate the total losses from the current financial industry debacles, hard but perhaps worthwhile for the sake of any future generations.