Column, 514 words

The Answer Is Blowing in the Wind

Do we all have to drown in rising seas or broil in epic droughts before we decide it's time to switch to renewable energy?

William A. Collins

Oil and coal
Pollute the land,
But burning them
Brings profits grand.

There’s money to be made in wind and solar power, but so far, not very much. And that’s the way fossil fuel giants aim to keep it. As of today, they’re winning the energy battle because federal subsidies for renewable energy are about to expire, unlike Uncle Sam’s giveaways to the oil, gas, coal, and nuclear industries.

Although the fossil fuel biz could fare perfectly well without any corporate welfare, it gives the industry a cozy margin to plow back into advertising and lobbying. Its propaganda is paramount in holding public opinion at bay, and its campaign cash is handy for persuading governments to pass lucrative special-interest laws.

There’s no denying that energy is vital. Modern civilizations run on it, wars are fought over it, and fortunes are built on it. But it’s that last one that causes the biggest problem. Left to their own devices, sensible governments would rush into cheap renewable energy. That would reduce dependence on other nations and on risky fuel transportation, while making our air cleaner.

But sensible governments are few and far between at either the state or national level.

Coal calls the shots in West Virginia and Kentucky, while natural gas is buying political clout in the unlikely precincts of Ohio and Pennsylvania. A fast-growing gas and oil production technique called hydraulic fracturing and better known as “fracking” has become the most destructive phenomenon since mountaintop removal mining became all the rage.

The results are the same: A few people win out while the rest get poisoned water and wrecked land.

There’s good news in Vermont, however. Earlier this year, the state took the tongue-in-cheek step of banning fracking altogether. That might seem like a brave move — if the state actually had any significant natural gas resources.

Stuck in Customs/Flickr

Stuck in Customs/Flickr

There’s no good energy news to report from the Canadian province of Alberta. I have personally toured its massive tar sands moonscapes and watched the exorbitantly costly processing of that noxious oil.

Luckily for the moguls, it’s all so remote that only the abused and ignored Native Americans suffer the immediate poisoning. That reduces the political consequences.

The local caribou are suffering too, as their habitat is gobbled up, and for some reason they’ve got more clout than Canada’s First Nations communities. Check out Alberta’s stunning solution for this wildlife problem: Kill all the wolves so that the caribou herds can flourish. I’m not kidding.

Meanwhile, unless the protesters prevail, all that remarkably toxic oil will soon be heading south from Canada through the Keystone Pipeline to the Gulf Coast, much of it on its way to Asia and other export markets.

Do we all have to drown in rising seas or broil in epic droughts before we decide it’s time to switch to renewable energy? Wind and sunshine are simply too hard to monopolize and convert into excess profits, so they’ll have to wait.

The oil speculators themselves will merely build homes on higher ground.

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. OtherWords.org