Year 3, Month 5, Day 16: While You’re In The Neighborhood

The New York Times makes half the case:

The federal government has given generously to the clean energy industry over the last few years, funneling billions of dollars in grants, loans and tax breaks to renewable power sources like wind and solar, biofuels and electric vehicles. “Clean tech” has been good in return.

During the recession, it was one of the few sectors to add jobs. Costs of wind turbines and solar cells have fallen over the last five years, electricity from renewables has more than doubled, construction is under way on the country’s first new nuclear power plant in decades. And the United States remains an important player in the global clean energy market.

Yet this productive relationship is in peril, mainly because federal funding is about to drop off a cliff and the Republican wrecking crew in the House remains generally hostile to programs that threaten the hegemony of the oil and gas interests. The clean energy incentives provided by President Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill are coming to an end, while other longer-standing subsidies are expiring.

Fun with analogies. Sent May 6:

America’s energy economy bears a remarkable resemblance to a heart patient who’s beginning to recognize that a pulmonary condition requires old habits to be abandoned and new ones taken up. On the one hand, no more cigarettes and cheeseburgers; on the other, lots of exercise and plenty of vegetables. Any part of this program can be beneficial, but for a robust recovery, both are essential.

As in our own bodies, so too in our nation’s consumption of energy. Since it’s essential for our long-term survival that we shift rapidly toward renewable sources (exercise and vegetables, if you will), expanding government subsidies to clean energy is an essential part of a systemic return to health. But the fact is inescapable: if we are to end our dependence on oil and coal (cigarettes and cheeseburgers), it’s time for our taxpayer dollars to stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 5, Day 15: The Biggest Bankruptcy…

The Barre/Montpelier Times-Argus (VT) writes about “Connecting The Dots”:

Thus, volunteers in Waitsfield will be cleaning up debris along the Mad River left by Tropical Storm Irene. It is part of what is calling Climate Impacts Day. At the same time, villagers in Pakistan have participated in demonstrations showing their understanding that cataclysmic floods that destroyed vast regions in Pakistan over the past two years are also a manifestation of the changing climate.

The climate change movement is focusing broadly on fossil fuel industries and new projects for expanded exploitation of fossil fuels. It is the burning of fossil fuels, after all, that has heated up the atmosphere to a degree that extreme weather events are spreading devastation across the globe. Drought in Texas and Mexico, floods in Vermont and Pakistan, hurricanes, tornadoes, rising ocean levels, destruction of habitats — Climate Impacts Day has much to consider.

The climate crisis cannot be addressed without confronting the fossil fuel industry, which has billions of dollars at stake in the coal they hope to mine and the oil they hope to extract. Many current controversies grow out of industry’s determination to make use of new sources of hydrocarbons, including oil from tar sands in Alberta, coal from the American West and natural gas from shale formations underground in Pennsylvania, New York, Wyoming and elsewhere.

This is a fairly generic better-get-our-shit-together-soon type of letter. Sent May 5:

Industrialized civilization’s gleeful consumption of fossil fuels over the past century or so is turning out to be more expensive than any of us anticipated. Like teenagers turned loose with our parents’ credit cards, we’ve racked up enormous bills with no thought of paying them.

While we’ve long been aware of the health and environmental impacts of coal and oil extraction (factors never included in price calculations), the long-term costs of carbon-based fuel are only now becoming apparent. As human-caused global climate change emerges as an imminent threat to agriculture, infrastructure, and regional environments everywhere on the planet, we are faced with the necessity of transforming our energy economy, mitigating the damage we cannot prevent, and finding ways to restore equilibrium to the planetary climate system. It’s going to be expensive and inconvenient — but we have no choice if we are to bequeath a livable Earth to our posterity.

Warren Senders

Month 3, Day 16: Personal Habits and Public Policy

This one goes to the National McNewspaper. Some days I just look through the big publications to find something worth writing about. USA Today had a good interview with retiring Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA), and he made a lot of excellent points about the need for changes in our energy use patterns. Read the comments if you’re a fan of idiocy. Climate-change news seems to bring out a particular kind of mindlessness that is absolutely resistant to information or logic.

So USA Today heard from me. Plus which, I put this letter up in the comments, which should earn me a bunch of derision from the clueless denialists who’ve stunk the place up. What fun.

Brian Baird has the right idea. We need to make big changes in our habits of energy use if we want to avoid the worst effects of global climate change. Shorter showers, better equipment maintenance, more careful driving — all of these can go a long way to reducing our national level of greenhouse emissions.

But it’s not enough. Why? Because some of the worst offenders aren’t individuals. A massively polluting corporation cannot reduce its carbon footprint by taking a shorter shower or driving at the speed limit. As long as energy conservation leads to a lessening of profit in the short run, no corporate entity can be expected to go along with it. If wasting energy becomes more expensive, corporations will find ways to conserve. Which is why we need laws and enforcement mechanisms.

Neither voluntary behavioral changes nor legislative strategies are sufficient by themselves. Once America recognizes the severity of the crisis, we will have a genuine national response to the looming climate emergency — bottom-up (from the citizenry) and top-down (from the government). There is no time to waste. All of us need to change our habits, and all of us need meaningful climate legislation on the President’s desk.

Warren Senders