activity invariably has an impact on the earth’s ecology through changes to the environment. Major impact drivers are energy and transport, resource use and waste production, and water use and management. These drivers are, however, not exclusive to each other and in fact have considerable overlaps.
Examples of these overlaps are the interdependence of water and energy/power production, the extraction and use of fossil energy resources and the production of wastes, and the utilization of energy for the production and distribution of agricultural and potable water.
Water and Power
Water in the power industry is utilized in many ways, including:
1. steam production for spinning turbines,
2. humidifying air flow into gas-turbines,
3. inter-cooling air in gas-turbine plants,
4. steam injection for nitrogen oxides control,
5. acting as a heat transfer medium in some nuclear plants,
6. condenser cooling in steam plants (coal, gas and nuclear fuel fired), and
7. plant maintenance, including blow-down, and hydraulic ash disposal.
The water quality for each use will vary according to the standards required for that application, and deviation from the required water quality will lead to loss of performance, possibly plant failure, and misery for operators, accountants, owners and power users. The lack of suitable water will quickly lead to loss of power production and stakeholder and management misery.
The allocation and use of water for power production may impact on ecological systems in ways that include the production of very saline waste streams from water desalination operations, and the increase in the temperature of cooling water used for steam condensation post turbines. Both of these water challenges require careful management for ecological harm minimization.
Coal mining and utilisation involves the use of a finite resource and the production of waste streams, as well as the use of considerable quantities of water in the mining, beneficiation and utilisation of coal. For coal mining and utilisation the management and conservation of water are major challenges, with the control of acidified water both during and after the cessation of mining being long term activities with a direct relationship with regional ecological wellbeing.
Malthus, Water, Power, and Food
Thomas Malthus (1766 – 1834), the English economist, warned that human beings would eventually over-populate the earth in terms of the earth’s ability to produce the required food for the expanding population. Perhaps the 21st century’s take on Malthus’s theory is that the earth will not be able to supply the energy and water required to keep food (and now bio-fuel) production to a level that satisfies even a moderate human demand.
There is a developing conflict of interest between water demand and availability, energy demand and availability, resources use and waste production, the human need for living space and transport, and ecology maintenance, which is exemplified in the great river valley and delta regions of the world. These regions of high population are some of the major food growing regions, but failures in the supply of agricultural and potable water, the proper management of wastes and the supply of adequate energy will bring on food shortages, which will lead to conflict, disease and misery. These disruptions to the supply of essential commodities and services will speed the degradation of the environment and the continuing loss of ecological diversity as humans desperately look for alternatives, substitutes and unsustainable remedies.
Perhaps the advent of a human-to-human transmissible form of the Avian Flu H5 N1 virus will be the savior of the world’s ecology . Another natural event that will severely reduce the human population will be an ice age, either mini or full blown. In support of the second scenario, the world has shown a general cooling trend since 2000. An ice age will bring mass extinctions, which are a recurring natural event.