Sound familiar? That’s what adolescents do: They ignore reality, and
count on Daddy to come through in the end. There, right in my own
driveway, I found a metaphor for our nation’s energy policy, or lack of
To protect the guilty I will change the names of the children in
this story. Let’s call them Cape Cod, Nevada and upstate New York.
Cape Cod has a beautiful coastline with gorgeous beaches, but it
doesn’t want anyone to put up windmills to create clean energy, lest
such giant turbines disturb the gentle cooing of young Kennedys playing
touch football on the lawn of the family compound. Fortunately the
Interior Department, before it got busy ignoring BP’s failings in the
Gulf of Mexico, approved the ocean windmills in spite of the NIMBY
Nevada has hundreds of sun-soaked square miles of desert ideal for
generating solar power, but some of the locals fear it will disturb
tourists en route to its glamorous casinos and bordellos. (Those are
the same casinos that feature 24-hour air conditioning escaping through
airplane hangar-sized doors flung wide open to the desert). To be fair,
activists opposing solar development in the desert—which some say may
eventually produce half of the nation’s electricity—also have concerns
with the wellbeing of the desert tortoise, two dozen of whom may lose
their homes to solar plant construction.
And upstate New York, land of fresh air and pristine water, come to
find out, sits on a vaporized ocean of natural gas. Extracting that
gas, for sure, poses risks both to the water and the air, and involves
significant, although largely temporary, disruptions to the rhythms of
To be sure, there is a serious difference between our gas and their
sun and wind. Natural gas is not renewable. It is undeniably cleaner
than either the coal or the oil that we now use to generate most of our
electricity. And unless I’m missing something, it will be a good 20
years before we can depend on renewables for a serious share of our
energy needs. Even with government support and subsidies, renewable
technology is not going to catch up for some time.
For as long as I leave my car out in the sun and the wind, it still
wants gasoline to run. Mulching twigs and shoving them in the gas tank
is still not recommended and will void the warranty. Even if I get an
electric car, that electricity may well come from oil and coal-burning
This is not to say that we should recklessly start punching holes in
the earth and sucking out gas; hydrofracking has demonstrated risks and
requires stringent regulation. These risks have to be weighed against
the potential benefits. We may feel good and green by railing against
drilling in our back yard, but we should be clear that when we do, we
are at the same time insisting that coal be scraped from West
Virginia’s mountaintops and oil be siphoned from beneath the Gulf.
(Already the energy lobbies are using the Gulf spill to argue for more
shallow water drilling off the Arctic coast of Alaska.)
There is no free lunch in our energy economy, but there is the
option of a lighter lunch. Smaller homes that cost less to heat.
Shorter commutes in smaller cars. Improved mass transit and
bicycle-friendly roadways. And yes, higher gas prices.
Ever since Jimmy Carter lost an election after advocating for
reduction in our energy appetite, politicians have believed that
telling Americans hard truths is political suicide. It’s up to us to
show that we can handle the transition to renewable energy like
Conservation is the only responsible option for people who would
deny the nation access to that natural gas. Otherwise we all end up
like the three kids pointing at the other ones, waiting for someone
else to solve our problem.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in the Syracuse New Times.