Category Archives: Municipalization

Conservation Is a Conservative Value

April 10, 2010
By Ed Byrne

When an addict wants to threaten his dealer, “I’m looking for a new supplier” has no where near the impact as, “I’m clean and sober, and I intend to stay that way.” For the good of the planet and to strengthen our economy, we have to kick the carbon fuel habit. That such a commitment would rattle a few cages in the Middle East, Venezuela and West Virginia is just a side benefit. Such a commitment will also evidence a willingness to sacrifice to secure a better future, a quality noticeably lacking in the U.S. since WWII.

Our “burn” rate is alarming enough by itself, without bending environmental laws or incurring additional human and ecosystem health risks to feed our energy-consuming beast. We must create economic resiliency in our towns and cities, while hedging our generation’s GHG/Post-Peak Oil bet. Let’s plug every hole, insulate every wall and roof, calk every window (after replacing the porous ones), retire every gas guzzler, ride every bike and bus we can, build new walkable neighborhood centers, add multi-family homes along transit corridors, etc.

We know what needs to be done, but we’re whistling past the grave yard, hoping to put it off another day. Instead, let’s reduce our leaks and our profligate use of carbon fuels, before opening up the supply spigots further. Expensive, hard-to-find, environmentally risky oil and coal production should wait until our entire energy system has been fine-tuned to waste none of it. Conservation is a conservative value, isn’t it?

Shared Sacrifice, Smart Re-Tooling

January 17, 2009

As a nation and as individual consumers, we’ve borrowed too heavily from our children and grandchildren and wasted hundreds of millions of years of solar energy stored in composted carbon compounds. We know in our hearts that our fossil fuel energy usage is not sustainable. Our minds tell us the sooner we wean ourselves off of it, the better. Since we’re looking for ways to kick-start our debt-deadened economy by creating new jobs and investing in new infrastructure, let’s peer fifty years into the future and envision a land use armature that makes environmental and community sense – one that depends far less on the automobile and far more on a mix of compatible uses that permit us to find most of what we need to survive closer to where we sleep.

As we figure out where and how we need to evolve our human settlement patterns in order to survive as a species, we also need to thank the dinosaurs – who did not survive – for providing us with ready access to cheap and abundant energy for the past hundred or so years. This enabled us to force technology to a point where we may now be able to retool our society and economy in order to stop borrowing from the past and the future to underwrite our current quality of life. We must begin a transition to renewable energy sources now. I hope President Obama will inspire us to embrace this fundamental transformation, which may require considerable shared sacrifice, beginning on Tuesday, January 20, 2009, the day when I think we all hope the United States will, in good faith, fully commit our nation’s people, resources, creativity and expertise to the defense of our planet. It might also pull our economy out of recession and renew our confidence as a people.

Sustaining Quality of Life on Renewable Fuels

March 16, 2008

Should we be concerned about our profligate exhaustion, in less than two centuries, of several hundred million years’ worth of stored solar energy? Coal, natural gas, and oil may be Afree@ to us (on a sliding scale calibrated by ease of extraction and burden of exploitation), but if the industrial era teaches us nothing else, it teaches us that easily converted energy, as a substitute for brute force, makes life considerably more pleasant. Draining carbon fuel reserves before we have figured out how to sustain life as we know it on the annually renewable solar, wind, tidal, geothermal and hydrologic forces available to us seems an indefensible risk.

Nuclear energy could provide an additional buffer, but it would be comforting to have a radioactive waste disposal solution in place before we rely significantly on this alternative.

Is it too soon to presume conservation/more efficient use of known energy resources should be a higher priority? Would the United States be better off if we were less dependent on unreliable sources of oil? Is there a better market-based tool than Aprice@ to achieve this objective? Is research in this area more likely to produce positive results if we provide funding for it? Would an earmarked tax on carbon consumption raise more funds for this sort of research?

Rhetorical questions all, but inescapable if we want to find our way out of this mess.

Ethical, Economic and Environmental Sustainability

February 20, 2008

Joe Klein’s (Time Magazine, 2/7/2008) critique of Senator Obama’s gifted oratory bears a smug tone. Sure, he can make our spirits soar, but has he dazzled a policy wonk lately?

For 20 years, Congress has governed like they were engaged in a “Celebrity Death Match.” The media, facing daily deadlines and the need to sell ads and papers, has been content to keep score as though the results matter less than the way you play the game. How else can one explain the ability of the Republican Party to convert the Senate’s cloture rules into new Amajority@ rules – where 41 votes beats 59 votes >til the pork comes home – while still being allowed to blame the Democrats for running a “do-nothing” Congress, to the Ahuzzahs@ of pundits praising the obstructionists’ Abrilliant@ coup d’état?

In a little more than a century, a privileged few members of our human species have run through hundreds of millions of years of solar energy – stored in biomass, and composted below ground for so long it has been converted to natural gas, oil and coal. In the process, we have created an exceedingly fragile, cheap-energy dependent civilization. We stare into an abyss of our own making out of which our children and our children’s children may one day have to climb.

Still we blunder forward, selfishly maintaining profligate consumptive patterns, prosecuting people living in HOAs who hang shirts and towels out on clotheslines to dry, hoping our Judgment Day lies in the distant future, not just around the corner. I Ahope@ that’s right, but in case it’s not, I voted for Barack Obama.

America needs inspiration more than perspiration, elevation more than explication, common purpose more than common enemies to find our way to a future that is ethically, environmentally and economically sustainable. Shared sacrifice and prudent investment in long term enhancements of our energy, food and creativity Adistribution systems@ are an urgent priority. Motivate people to ring congressional phones off the hook and the politically possible becomes probable.

Nelson Mandela best explained the role of modern leaders by harkening back to his own childhood as a sheep herder in South Africa. He used a long-tailed whip to flick the sheep heading in the direction he wanted to go, speeding them up and effectively turning the herd. Catch people doing something right, praise them for it, and watch ingrained habits change overnight.