Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Can We Save the Earth by Talking With One Another?

A friend who is of conservative political bent writes, "we are not and have not been good custodians of our earth."

Just a few days ago, in Seattle, the great progressive statesman Dennis Kucinich, said:

"Are you prepared to rescue our planet, to protect our air, water, and land from further exploitation by demanding an end to drilling the earth, fracking the earth, cracking the earth, an end to poisoning the seas and the skies with carbon based energies, and a rapid transition to an environmentally friendly, socially responsible green economy?"

Green energy, my conservative friend wrote, can "revitalize our own economy with our own resources . . .(and) . . . create U.S. jobs."

Can two such voices communicate across the Great Divide of political rancor in this land and formulate a strategy to rescue the planet?

My conservative friend offers to initiate such a dialogue with his own list of recommendations for a greener planet.  Some of them are quite good.

But it seems to me that before such a dialogue can begin, the participants need to establish their bona fides.  If we're serious about moving beyond "big oil companies and the failed ethanol experiment," as my friend puts it, we must begin by eliminating the government subsidies for Big Oil. My friend wants to reduce the corporate income tax rate to 17 or 18% to provide incentives for green practices.  I say that if corporations are persons, as the Supreme Court has ruled, then they should pay taxes at rates equivalent to those for the human persons who work for them.  As it stands, the corporate tax rate is irrelevant because most corporations pay little or no tax at all.

 If we're serious about being "good custodians of the earth," we have got to be willing to accept regulation of those actions that pollute its life-giving resources, damage the health of its inhabitants, alter its climate and disturb nature. The federal government is the obvious choice to do this, and its regulatory agencies must have adequate power over corporations in order to fill this function. These are essential first steps.

My friend acknowledges that "green talk" can "turn off moderates and conservatives," but insists there is a constructive middle course involving "intermediate options such as natural gas, hydroelectric, low-grade nuclear, and geothermal power."

T. Boone Pickens has already put his wealth and influence behind a big push for natural gas -- which, while it burns cleaner than fossil fuels, is still a finite resource whose extraction damages vast areas of public lands with enormous aesthetic, recreational, traditional and ethereal value to large numbers of human citizens.  If we are willing to sacrifice those values for the economic values of corporations we are doomed before we begin. 

My friend dismisses solar and wind energy as "neither economically nor technologically feasible at this time,"  but I believe that a sincere effort to formulate an effective energy strategy must keep them on the table.

In the Pickens plan, a vast wind farm in the Texas panhandle, utilizing the newest technology,would provide 20 per cent  of the nation's energy needs.  A national strategy of wind energy, subsidized by the government with tax incentives for private investment like that proposed by Pickens, would more than double that percentage.  Intelligent energy conservation practices by consumers would lower the demand.  Some interim energy strategies propose using "clean coal" to fuel power plants.  Clean coal is a myth.  Pickens advocates refitting coal-burning power plants to burn natural gas --substituting one finite fuel for another. Perhaps this has a place in an interim strategy.

Massive bird kills, including raptors such as the bald eagle, have been cited as an argument against wind energy that true conservationists ought to support.  The bird argument took flight when the bodies of a number of eagles were discovered beneath some of the turbines of the Altamount Pass wind farm in California.  These are old turbines, made obsolete by advances in technology.  Ornithologists have discovered that the turbine blades of Altamount Pass actually attract birds.  Newer blade technology eliminates the attractant.  Radar studies in New York and research in Denmark -- arguably the world leader in wind power technology -- indicate that wind farms and bird populations can co-exist.

The entire southwest could become energy self-sufficient, and sell surplus power to a national grid, if it harnessed its sunshine.  There may be animal habitat arguments against massive solar installations in the open spaces of the west.  But with government encouragement, diverting Big Oil subsidies to solar research, and government standards for the construction industry, solar-powered homes and buildings could be the norm throughout the southwest.  Keep an eye on Philadelphia, hardly the sunniest place on earth.  Jeff Lurie, owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, is turning his team's stadium into a solar-powered, 100% self-sufficient, aesthetically pleasing example of what can be done if we're really sincere about finding solutions.

By all means, let's have a conversation about these things.  But let's limit the participants to those who have demonstrated genuine concern about being "good custodians of the earth." 

1 comment:

  1. Very well worded with a concise summary.

    Liberals will have to open up to support this. Areas with an abundance of wind such as Santa Ana, Calif and Martha's Vineyard will have to be considered 'on the table'. It's time for others to make the committments that the Gulf Coast has made for years. In summary, the population bases need to be self-supporting.