Monday, July 28, 2008

News That Matters - July 28, 2008 - Energy Policy

"To be great is to be misunderstood." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Good Monday Morning,

My apologies for being late this morning but an NtM fan took me out for breakfast this morning. My schedule is open for those also inclined.

If you've noticed, gasoline prices have dropped a bit now that all this attention is focused on speculators and oil company profits (read: government encouraged price gouging). Congress is tied up in knots over offshore drilling and pretty much every politician from Albany, NY to Xenia, Ohio is pushing for increased domestic petro-production but notably few are calling for conservation and fewer still for an immediate improvement in energy efficiency. Oh, we'll get to that, once the oceans are spoiled, mountains are leveled and the future bankrupt but, as the Vice President once said, the American lifestyle is non-negotiable and thus we're not going to have to make any sacrifices. Somehow, some magical, mystical force will keep your SUV's running and your homes heated.

Here's the truth: what's going to save this nation is sacrifice on our part as individuals and as communities. Even if we were to allow drilling on our coasts tomorrow morning and drilled right into the bottom of Lake Gleneida, you won't see any benefits and the sh*t will still hit the energy fan. And by that time the politicians you voted for today, those who promise an oil-rich future, will have garnered their wealth and power and retired safely able to blame someone else.

Both candidates for the 19th Congressional district have taken the wrong position on this issue. Mr. Lalor following the national Republican mantra, believes we can drill our way out of the energy crunch and Mr. Hall, following the Democrat line, wants additional flows of national reserves to help stabilize prices. But as I wrote the other day, you can flow all the oil you want but we do not have the refining capacity to put additional supplies into the distribution network and so the only people who will benefit from either approach will be the oil companies.

There are manufactured goods we depend on which make our lives livable and comfortable, items that with current technology cannot be made using any other source but petroleum products. Do we empty the earth to move our cars today or do we keep that oil in the ground for the future to use? In other words, do we satisfy an immediate political need or can we be mature enough as a society to resist temptation and look to the future instead? If we use that oil today to lower the cost of gasoline a dime or so - 4 years from now assuming consumption stays the same - what will our children be left with?

If you want to see a reduction in the cost of fuel, use less of it. It's that simple.

We have a choice to make:

Should national energy policy be to enrich the oil companies and garner votes with the promise of continuing a non-sustainable lifestyle or should we push the nation into a crash program of energy independence and make some sacrifices along the way?

If you remember back to the oil crisis of the 1970's we took the latter approach and built the economy while using less - dramatically less - fossil fuels. That should serve as a model for where we need to be today.

There are things we can do right here at home to help. The county, rather than looking for developers to build shopping malls, should be designating land and encouraging investors to build wind turbines on county, municipal and private lands. Local zoning and planning boards should create regulations to allow and encourage the use of personal wind turbines and require that all new construction provide a minimum of %75 of its energy needs from on-site sources. This can be as simple as using passive solar to heat homes and hot water, green-roofing or requiring super-insulation (18" thick outside walls) as part of local building codes. While there are some added costs to initial construction, those costs are recovered the very first time you realize you heated your home for the winter on 50 gallons - or less - of oil. You might have to forgo the "bonus room" or that 4th bathroom, but the benefits for you - and for the community - would be more than measurable and continue on year after year.

None of this is rocket science and all is available as proven, affordable technology that keeps getting better with each iteration.

We should be looking to the Hudson River as a source of power generated by its twice a day tides. We should be expanding the availability of mass transit by scheduling PART buses to run at convenient times to deliver - and pick up - commuters to and from our several Metro North stations. And the cost of mass transit into and out of NYC should be affordable - it is not so now. It should be cheaper to take the train than to drive. In fact, several European capitols are experimenting with free or near free mass transit.

As a matter of regional policy, we should be encouraging what's left of our local farms to grow consumer crops and make monies available for hydroponics and other advances in local agriculture rather than giving those dollars to out-of-county developers to build housing, hotels and shopping malls. When properties in the Ag District come up for renewal, we should require they be growing produce for local delivery for continued inclusion. Previously cleared open space lands should be producing food.

And I've said it before but will again, the county should be working Tilly Foster Farm to provide both cellulosic ethanol and bio-diesel to power the county trucking fleet. Solar panels should cover the Putnam National and Centennial golf courses to take those facilities off the grid and the open space in front of the Kent Town Center should likewise be used. There is no logical reason not to do this. If the county and towns cry "we don't have the money!" let them take a look at their electricity bills and do the math. We cannot afford NOT to do this.

Why we cannot get elected officials nor their competitor-hopefuls to take any of this seriously is not their fault, it's ours. We have become energy fat and lazy and complacent and expect government to give us what we want when we want it even if we know it's not practical. Feed me today and we'll worry about tomorrow... tomorrow. We will vote for the guy that promises us no pain - even though we know he cannot deliver - and then complain when it hurts anyway.

The rest of the industrialized world is taking all of this pretty seriously. In Germany and Spain any new construction needs to meet energy efficiency standards that are unknown in the United States. Both Sweden and Norway are working towards the removal of fossil fuels from their lives. Even Arab nations are light-years ahead of the United States on weaning themselves off fossil fuels. And, if they're doing it don't you think there's something we're not completely understanding? Yes, they are running out of oil and are preparing themselves for the near future and they're doing it on *your* petro-dollars. Why aren't we doing it on our petro-dollars?

We need to make a dramatic change in the way we think, work, build our communities and live our lives and we cannot look to Washington for help. The National government will only assist the oil industry in consolidating profits and will not work to see us through the coming energy crunch. This is something we're going to have to do without their help and will have to, (as federal policies keep changing to thwart alternative energy competition), fight against our own government to ensure a successful future.

Get active today. Call your Town Hall, call the County Legislature and pressure Albany to do the right thing energy-wise. And please, don't fall for the charlatans who tell you that we can drill our way out of this for they're lying to you and you know it. Deep down inside you know it to be the truth. Be brave for the future is scarier than you think and there's no one in Washington who is going to help us.

This is something we need to do on our own. Let's get to it.

Jeff Green

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