Volume II, Number 2: Building our energy future

Maybe we need a war on energy

BY RUSSELL POWELL

PAST AND PRESENT PRESIDENTS (at least those from Texas) have invoked war to harness resources, galvanize the national psyche and create a sense of urgency across the decades and the politcial spectrum, from Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty in the 1960s to George W. Bush’s current War on Terror. We could use something as drastic now to focus our attention on developing a sustainable energy policy. Unlike poverty or terror, the aim of a War on Energy would not be to eliminate its object but to radically expand our options and stave off disaster. The goal would be to increase our sources and supplies of safe, reliable, abundant, affordable and non-polluting energy.

New England Watershed Vol. 2, No. 2

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Strategic interests have always guided America’s international military forays, and in Iraq that means oil. While the debate rages on about how to get out of this morass, we need our political leaders to put the issues that created it front and center. We must make energy a national priority. We need to stop dumping poisons into our atmosphere to sustain our lifestyles and start developing less costly and destructive alternatives. We must accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to clean and safe sources of energy. We need to encourage each other to conserve because it is in our collective best interest. Waste not, want not.

Most of all, we need leadership that engages and inspires every one of us to take this effort seriously and recognize that we all have a stake in its success.

We should begin by acknowledging our irresistible thirst for warmth, light and travel. The menacing old bumper sticker warned, “You can have my gun when you pry my cold, dead fingers from it.” For most of us today, you could substitute “thermostat” or “computer” or “car” or a dozen other power-driven nouns for “gun.” The means may be suicidal, but we are not yet ready to sacrifice the ends. We must, therefore, develop a better means. We should expect nothing less from ourselves — and those who aspire to lead us.

Table of Contents, Vol. 2, No. 2

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Human beings, like the atoms that form us, can’t stop moving. We are in perpetual motion, en route to other destinations not only as pedestrians, on bicycles, in planes, trains and automobiles, but also when we seemingly land in one place. Our eyes blink, our feet tap, our head turns. Our novels and poems, movies and music transport us to other places; we circumnavigate the globe and penetrate the far reaches of cyberspace on the Internet. We walk to the bathroom, lift the remote control, make the bed. The clock ticks. Our mind wanders, continually. Even in sleep, we toss and turn, our eyelids flutter, we dream of faraway places and events. We can’t help ourselves.

We are always on our way to somewhere other than the here and now.

All this movement, mental and physical, requires enormous energy — not just for our corporal selves but also for the sophisticated apparatus that facilitate our movement: our cars and buses, jets and jet skis, DVDs and CDs, running shoes and computer boots and telephones. The lightbulb, the radiator, the combustible engine, even the computer chip already are forgotten, modern miracles, icons of convenience — and energy dependence.

Energy is fluid, but it is not all about movement. In New England, our stake in reliable, clean energy is greater than in many parts of the country. We must heat our homes for six months a year, after all; warmth, like the energy we derive from food, is essential to survival. Artificial light quells our primal fear of the darkness, keeping our minds from racing off in frightful directions.

For these diverse reasons — from locomotion to convenience to basic survival — it is reassuring to know that many people in the region’s scientific and environmental communities are making energy their priority. They comprise the front lines in a War on Energy. Some of their ideas will prove too costly, impractical, in need of further refinement or will simply lack merit. But to achieve our energy goals, our researchers, scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs need the same financial support we gave to create our federal highway system, for example, or fund the tragedy in Iraq.

Apartment for rent. Heat and electricity included.

For most of us, the danger is that energy can remain too abstract, too easy.

Flicking on a light switch, raising a thermostat or turning an ignition key are thoughtless acts; they do not compel us to connect the oil fields or coal plants or nuclear facilities used to fuel them. We need a War on Energy to help us better understand the political, economic, even spiritual dimensions of the problem. We need to take ownership of our collective future rather than assume we always will be taken care of by some invisible, benevolent landlord.


Russell Powell is editor and publisher of New England Watershed.

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