Thursday, April 17, 2008

Texas Winds, Pollen & The Myth Of Clean Coal

As I woke up this morning and began coughing and wheezing, I began wondering about the recent growth in asthma. When I was a child, my asthma was an anomaly. I was the weird kid with the inhaler who couldn’t play in PE because he would start wheezing and turn blue.

Today, seeing a kid with an inhaler is commonplace, and in fact seeing adults with them is common as well. Older Americans develop asthma-like symptoms in record numbers and childhood asthma is growing in epidemic proportions. So why isn’t anyone upset?

Well, here’s my take. Asthma is a chronic disease that can be pretty much controlled with the right medication. That means there is a multi-million dollar market for asthma drugs and since there is no cure, it’s a money machine for pharmaceutical companies. Steriod inhalers, with patented formulas sell for $150 a pop and last the average patient about a month and a half. That makes the yearly cost somewhere around $1200. Now if you have an insurance plan that covers it, no problem, but if you live without medical insurance or have no drug plan, too bad!

Why the rise in asthma? There are a few explanations and most involve the environment both indoors and out. Allergens cause the majority of asthma and pollution from fossil fuel burning is a major contributor. In specific coal burning power plants really add to the toxic brew we breathe every day.

While I was in East Texas last week, I drove through several miles of hill country with row upon row of majestic wind turbans spinning in the persistent Texas breeze. They looked graceful and otherworldly and even more attractive because they emit no pollution. Scattered among them were a few oil wells slowly pumping the last drops of oil from the West Texas fields. The contrast was interesting.

Wind power has been a source of energy since men first sailed ships using cloth sails. It cost nothing but the infrastructure to harvest it and when properly used has a minimal environmental impact. Oil on the other hand requires a lot more investment and leaves a huge environmental footprint on the land and in the air.

Why am I going on about the air? Well, I keep seeing the oxymoronic phrase “Clean Coal” being bandied about on various TV ads and as I take another hit off my inhaler, I have to wonder how much my breath is worth. Aside from the drug companies who are reaping a windfall, pardon the pun, there is little reason to continue to pollute our skies, land and lungs with the byproducts of any fossil fuel.

With so many companies standing to make a profit from the suffering of our citizens it is understandable why it has taken so long to recognize the problem. Business controls the media and they have a vested interest in keeping us ignorant. The change is that some businesses have found ways to make a profit generating power without adding to the pollution. My hope is that they will prevail and the need for my inhaler will become a necessity only when the Texas winds blow pollen my direction.

No comments: