Environmental Trade-offs In An Age Of Uncertainty

One of the “hidden” issues around water is the vast quantities which are often required for producing the goods we buy every day. Manufacturing of almost any sort of product generates heat. Water has an unusually high “heat capacity” — it can absorb a lot of heat without boiling, as anyone who has ever waited for a pot of it to boil on the stove is aware. This makes water an ideal substance for helping to cool down heat-generating manufacturing processes. Manufacturing plants therefore are often located near sources of water so they can circulate it through their facilities to remove excess heat.

This is true regardless of whether the product being produced is something environmentally unfriendly, like disposable plastic bags, or something “green” like an electric car. Recently a deal was announced in Germany for the electric car manufacturer Tesla to open a plant in Brandenburg. As reported in The Local Germany, eventually Tesla hopes to manufacture up to 500,000 vehicles per year, which would replace gas-burning cars on the road — a great goal for reducing carbon emissions. At the same time, the factory would provide jobs for many people in the area.

However, a group of over 200 protestors showed up near the proposed manufacturing site to demonstrate against the Tesla plant. Among their complaints, reported by Reuters, is that the plant would use over 300 cubic meters of water per hour — nearly 80,000 gallons — which would be drawn from an ecologically fragile area, possibly threatening drinking water reserves.

It’s a difficult call — protect water in the environment, or encourage the production of more environmentally-friendly cars and more jobs for people who need them. How has your community balanced these competing priorities?

PHOTO CREDIT: REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski

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