On last Sunday’s “60 Minutes,” a small band of thrill seekers were seen jumping off cliffs, wearing what they called “wing suits.” These suits were designed to make the divers look like flying squirrels, with nylon material stretched from wrists to waist and between the legs from waist to ankles, allowing them to achieve lateral speeds up to 140 mph, the thrill being to see how close they could come to the cliff sides as they sped by. It was that lateral speed and the proximity to the cliffs that created the thrills. Oh, yeah, a vomitous (I know, I know, there is no such word, but you get what I mean.) thrill, I would think. Sort of like sky diving without the cliffs, and, like sky diving, concluding by opening a parachute to bring the diver to a safe and quiet landing. In their search for ever more dangerous thrills, I can see this band of merry men working on a landing without the parachutes, sort of braking their landing speed by a series of up movements before touching down. Wow! I’ll leave such things to younger, stronger, more daring folks than I.
Two weeks ago on “60 Minutes” Leslie Stahl did a piece on the dumping of coal ash by the power companies, revealing several disturbing facts. One hundred and thirty million tons of coal ash a year require disposal. What does one do with that much stuff that might or might not be a health issue for the folks near the dump sites? EPA studies indicate that the stuff is toxic. The power people assured Leslie that it was no more dangerous than dirt. The disposal opponents said that coal ash contains a variety of bad stuff, like arsenic, lead, boron, selenium, cadmium, thallium, asbestos, and mercury. Leslie visited a golf course that had been built using 1.5 million tons of coal ash, the builders vowing they’d followed instructions to build a barrier beneath the fill and another eighteen inches from the top. These barriers were to prevent any bad stuff from leaching into the ground water. But the lawyer representing folks living near the golf course showed Leslie that the ground immediately under the grass was gray, powdery coal ash. Some of it is used in carpeting and construction materials, even in the production of bowling balls. But most is dumped in unlined waste ponds. A dike protecting one such pond broke in Alabama last year, sending over a billion gallons of gray coal ash sludge to cover some 300 acres of countryside and homes below the pond. How would you like to clean up a mess like that? Another disturbing fact: that 60% of all our electricity in this nation is produced by coal. Sixty percent. That strikes me as needlessly careless. We’ve had decades to develop clean, safe ways to produce electricity: nuclear power, water power, solar power, wind power. Granted, nuclear power was always suspicious because of the potential for radiation leaks. But we could produce all the electricity we need with solar and wind power. In most of the mid-western states, the wind blows almost constantly. The sun shines most of the days in the southwestern states. Why have we been dragging our feet? Probably for the same reasons we still don’t have automobiles that get 100 miles to the gallon.