From powering wind sails along the Nile many thousands of years ago to pumping water and grinding seed in ancient China, wind energy has proven to be an invaluable and reliable tool for humans for millennia. Now, thanks to recent advances in renewable energy production, the expansion of this green power technology promise to help move us away from dangerous and exhaustible sources of power that hurt the environment and the living things within it. But in what ways, exactly, can wind set us on a better path for ourselves and the environment?
The safer method
The most obvious benefit of the expansion of wind energy is that it replaces many notably harmful ways of harvesting power that have done often, irreversible damage to the environment. In terms of safety and health benefits, using renewable resources of any sort has a significant advantage over the burning of coal and natural gases.
Fossil fuels have powered transportation, businesses, and industries successfully for a long time—but using them comes at a large cost. Burning fossil fuels releases a greenhouse gas called CO2 and traps heat inside the atmosphere and causes a worldwide increase in temperature, which results in severe and long-lasting damage to human societies and ecosystems. Such high and steady release of CO2, according to NASA’s website, has already impacted weather patterns and will result in increasingly stronger hurricanes, longer and more powerful droughts, and changing sea levels (which are expected rise 1-4 feet over the next hundred years). We can also expect the average global temperature to increase from anywhere between 2.5-10 degrees Fahrenheit in the coming decades—and the state of the earth’s ecosystem is only going to get increasingly more out of control without strong steps taken towards using safer and more responsible electricity production.
Using wind turbines to produce energy, meanwhile, releases no greenhouse gases and reduces the release of other toxic byproducts of burning fossil fuels, such as particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and oxides of nitrogen that play a part in the creation of smog and acid rain, which damage the environment by poisoning the water and impacting fish and wildlife, damaging forest ecosystems, and increasing algae to uncontrollable levels. The faster we can reduce fossil fuel dependency, the less we stand to lose.
The health risks associated with pollution
Pollution from the burning of fossil fuels doesn’t just mean ugly streets and foggy air—it has serious detrimental health effects on humans. In the United States alone, hospitals have seen thousands of pollution-caused cases of respiratory and cardiovascular issues, pneumonia, and premature deaths. In fact, a harrowing study done in 2013 by MIT found that pollution causes 200,000 premature deaths each year in the United States alone, with pollution associated with power generation accounting for 51,000 of them.
Like climate change, pollution also harms crops by increasing their susceptibility to environmental dangers such as disease and pest infestations.
A safer alternative
Wind energy has an advantage over many other, less harmful forms of energy development as well.
With 100 nuclear plants across the United States, nuclear energy produces a whopping 20% of the country’s energy, and although nuclear energy has the advantage of not producing carbon dioxide, it comes with its own very high risks. Nuclear power plants produce uranium mill tailings, reactor fuel, and other wastes that remain radioactive for centuries. Since the first nuclear power plant became active in 1951, there has been a host of accidents associated with nuclear energy that, in the best case scenario, put the local environment at risk—and, at worst, have resulted in hundreds of cases of thyroid cancer. Nuclear energy also relies on exhaustible resources. While wind energy has its own problems—such as birds and bats sometimes getting caught in the turbine and not always being totally efficient—it doesn’t approach the risk posed by nuclear energy.
Hydroelectric power (which accounts for 7% of power production in the United States), meanwhile, while having all of the benefits of being a renewable energy, still presents a few unique problems. Because the hydroelectric dams control water flow, the water downriver can become stagnant and filled with plant life that can overrun the ecosystem and rot, producing carbon dioxide. Dams also carry the risk of altering fish habitat and passages, changing the quality or temperature of the water, and displacing local aquatic populations.
So why (and when) should you use wind power?
Aside from all of the health benefits for you and the community at large that come from moving towards renewable energy, wind turbine projects are widely used to power rural areas and their schools, businesses, hospitals, and other important community buildings. They also provide a way to get energy locally and are used in local communities not only for generating electricity, but also have many local practical applications such as pumping water. However, it’s important to consider location and realistically assess whether investing in a wind turbine would be the best option for your community or home. For example, installing a wind power system would be ideal in windy, open areas where gusts and gales can be expected to be consistent. Nonetheless, even if it’s only in your back yard instead of towering over the hills, wind power can always be a healthy and useful way to help make a difference in the environment.
With its minimal environmental impact, lack of CO2 emissions, environmental safety, and ease of application, wind energy is one of the safest and cheapest ways to produce electricity—far safer, at the very least, than many of its riskier alternatives like fossil fuel and nuclear plants. While wind is undeniably a great source of energy, it can’t be perfect. As mentioned above, while wind turbines do pose some threat to winged animals and can’t be expected to be totally consistent, it is certain that the more we adopt renewable resources, which carry far reduced environmental and health risks, the less we need to rely on environmentally harmful and even dangerous ways of harnessing power—and the faster we can enjoy a cleaner Earth.