Submerged Concern

I recently discussed a Reuters poll that showed that more than 60% of Americans of all political stripes would like to see the E.P.A. maintain its present strength or increase it to help protect the environment. Indeed, polls have shown for years that Americans are concerned about the environment, a concern that usually appears among the top ten with astonishing consistency. And yet, as I have noted, when it comes to electing our representatives to Congress we tend to ignore their stand on the environment and show a much greater concern for such things as terrorism, defense, and the economy.  This has been a pattern for many years and it requires some explaining.

I’m not sure I can provide that explanation, but I can speculate — a thing I tend to be fairly good at, since it requires little research. I am guessing that the concern over the environment is indeed genuine. I don’t question it at all. But it is what I would call a “submerged concern.” That is, it’s there, but it doesn’t surface in any meaningful way. It will surface, of course, when we can no longer drink the water, breathe the air, or are forced to pay two week’s salary for groceries.  But until then, since it is not as pressing for most folks as, say, being able to make the payment on the new SUV, it will remain submerged.

Much of our tendency to keep the concern submerged is fear, of course. None of us wants to think about the dire consequences of continued attacks on the earth which supports us and the air that we require. And none of us wants to make sacrifices. God forbid that we should drive more economical cars and grab a sweater when we are chilly rather than turning up the thermostat! But some of it, at least, is due to our unreasonable conviction that no matter how great the problem someone will solve it. We have blind faith in science — while at the same time we question the veracity of the scientists who tell us that we are destroying the planet. (No one said folks worry about such things as consistency — the minds of so many of us resembling in many ways a rat’s nest of confused bits and pieces of truth, half-truth, and blatant falsehoods — all of which are bound together by wishful thinking. It’s the only kind of thinking a great many people are capable of, sad to say.)

In any event, we are faced with the undeniable fact that a great many people in this society repeatedly elect to Congress men and women who are paid to vote for Big Oil and whose reelection depends on continuing to support programs and people who are hell-bent on taking as much plunder out of the earth as humanly possible and leaving it to future generations to clean up the mess — while they gasp for air and drink Kool-Aid made up of reconditioned toilet water, presumably. We fault those folks in Congress, as we should. They really should put the well-being of their constituents before their own political party and their own re-election. But, judging form the past, this will not happen as long as the cushy jobs in Washington pay well (and the representatives see to that) and the voters are stupid enough to keep them in office. And the fault that this is allowed to happen is our own.

The founders made it clear that the idea was to rotate the representatives every couple of years so there would be new blood and new ideas. George Washington was smart enough to know that the President, at least, should have term limits. At that time the jobs didn’t pay very well and involved a lot of work for men who had more important things to get back to at home. But slowly and surely representation in Congress turned into a full-time, high-paying  job and those in office found that they were making huge piles of money and really preferred to keep things that way. Voting for clean energy and against Big Oil simply doesn’t fit into that scheme. This is why there should be term-limits, of course, but more importantly, it is why we should vote out of office those whose only concern is for themselves and their own well-being. What will it take to wake enough people up to the very real dangers we all face in the not-so-distant future? That is the question!

“Sierra” Speaks

The recent issue of “Sierra” magazine has a most interesting editorial which I quote in part:

“Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been like an oil-train derailment in slow motion — the spectacle is awful to witness, impossible to turn away from, and mesmerizing in its sheer horror.

“Trump enjoys being a bully. His bigotry and his bile are nauseating: the calculated cruelty, the willful ignorance, the lack of empathy and grace. But, as the old saying goes, even a stopped clock is right a couple of times a day. It would be a mistake to blithely dismiss this real estate mogul turned politician. Trump’s brand of nationalism may be ugly, yet he has tapped into a deep vein of resentment that many Americans feel toward the way politics is practiced in this country. He isn’t wrong when he complains that many of our elected officials are ‘puppets’ who are controlled by ‘special interests, the lobbyists, and the donors.’

“Our democracy is, in a word, busted. In this new Gilded Age, U.S.politics has become a pay-to-play game in which the quickest way to bend a politician’s ear is to dip into one’s own pocket. Electoral watchdogs estimate that during the 2016 elections, candidates for office will spend a total of $10 billion. Much of that comes from a wealthy elite who can afford to buy an elected official’s attention; just 158 families have donated nearly half of the money raised by presidential candidates in this election cycle.

“Such an imbalance obviously undermines the one-person-one-vote ideal upon which this democracy rests. . . The environmental movement has popular sentiment on its side: poll after poll shows that a majority of Americans want action addressing climate change and value clean air and water. . .  But it is difficult to translate these positions into policy when elected officials are being funded by industrial interests like the Koch brothers.

“Note that I said difficult, not impossible. Given the sickly state of our body politic it is tempting to view cynicism as wisdom. The best antidote against cynicism is staying engaged in the political process, with the knowledge that reform only happens when people demand it. . .

“It’s a delusion, of course, to imagine that a self-described billionaire will wrench the political system away from wealthy interests. Real reform will require putting all political candidates on a level playing field, stopping voter suppression that disenfranchises poor people, and ending gerrymandering that keeps incumbents in office. That’s how we’re going to make America great.”

This editorial was written by Jason Mark, editor in chief of “Sierra,.”

Happy Christmas!

What with a circus going on in the political arena and so much agony around the world, it seemed to me that at this time of year we should focus for a moment, at least, on some good news. And there is good news, at least on the environmental front — which may be the most vital front of all — starting with the Paris Accords. . I quote here from this month’s Sierra magazine skipping, for obvious reasons, the bleak news they also tend to fill their magazine with.

To begin with, there is this nice tid-bit titled “The Clean Energy Boom”:

“Renewable energy in the United States has taken off faster than a smartphone-app-start-up. In the decade between 2005 and 2014, we increased our wind power by a factor of 10 and generated 33 times more solar electricity. Wind energy — which provides about 10 times more electricity in America than solar thermal and solar photovoltaic sources combined — has been surging steadily since 2010, while growth in solar power has spiked in the last two years. And the best news, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, is that the renewable boom is expected to continue at least through this year and next.”

And that’s not all, though I would add that a plan is in the works to build the state’s largest solar collector farm about six miles South of my home in Cottonwood, Minnesota. Good news indeed.  But, wait!

“Shell Oil has abandoned plans to drill for oil in Arctic waters.”

“The Interior Department has cancelled two oil-drilling lease sales in the Arctic Ocean.”

“China has announced a cap-and-trade program aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions beginning in 2017.”

In addition, there is this exciting news item:

San Diego wants to be clean — 100 percent clean energy, to be exact — in just 20 years, under an ambitious plan unanimously passed last week by the city council. This is big news. San Diego is America’s eighth largest city, with a population of more than 1.5 million. It also has a Republican mayor, who, unlike his compatriots railing against climate action at presidential debates across the country, is making a bold plan that puts his city at the forefront of America’s clean energy future.

The plan — which got unanimous, bi-partisan support from the city council — could become a model for other cities around the country to also move to 100 percent renewables.

Already, we’ve seen that cities around the world are far ahead of national governments in taking actions toward sustainability. Whether it is banning plastic bags, setting up municipal composting systems, or shifting away from dirty coals, it is cities that paved the path for countries to make a climate accord in Paris just last week.

San Diego’s plan is ambitious but realistic. It relies on expanding the city’s vehicle fleet to 90 percent electric cars by 2035, expanding bicycles and public transit, creating more walkable neighborhoods, and better managing waste.

Let’s hope the new year brings even more good news. In the meantime, Happy Christmas to all my blogging friends!!

 

The Lone-Brain State

I am so happy not to live in Texas where stories like the following are commonplace:

Despite Tesla’s best efforts, the Texas legislature this week opted not to pass a bill which would have allowed the electric automaker to sell cars directly to consumers. Instead, if Tesla wants to sell its highly revered vehicles in the lone star state, it looks like it’s going to have to do it through local franchise dealers, something the company has no intention of doing.

Unfortunately, this is a story we’ve seen play time and time again in many states over the past few years. Tesla, which prefers (read: demands) to sell its cars directly to consumers, is forced to lawyer up and fight against powerful and influential auto dealer lobbyists who want to protect their cash cows.. . . .

The following criticism from Texas state Representative Senfronia Thompson highlights the challenge Tesla is up against.

“It would have been wiser if Mr. Tesla had sat down with the car dealers first,” Thompson said.

Yes, if only Mr. Tesla came back from the dead to sit down for a nice little tete-a-tete with car dealers, perhaps then they could have hammered out a mutually beneficial agreement.

The losers in all of this, per usual, are the citizens of Texas who continue to have to jump through hoops if they want to purchase what Car and Driver recently called the “Car of The Century.”

Tesla, of course, is the electric car that now boasts it can go 250 miles on a single charge. This is well beyond the range that was previously thought possible for electric cars and now makes it reasonable to expect those cars to go from coast to coast, timing their stops at well-placed charging stations. The fact that the cars cost a small fortune makes them rare, but the latest news is that they will soon have a smaller model that sells for around $35,000, which is not out of reach for a much larger buying public.

The CEO, Elon Musk (not Mr. Tesla!) has insisted that the cars be sold directly to buyers in order to bypass dealers who would tack on unnecessary costs and he has announced that he will make his technology available to other car manufacturers — in order, no doubt, to make electric cars more available to a wider buying public, and to guarantee that there will be more charging stations in this country. He is also building a large plant in Sparks, Nevada (powered by solar energy) to manufacture his batteries in this country rather than to continue to import them from Japan, and the efficiency of his batteries continues to improve. This plant will not only employ a great many people, it will help to reduce the costs of his automobile. He is a very astute business man and is so far ahead of the rest of those who make and sell gas guzzlers that Car and Driver are not exaggerating when they call Tesla the “car of the century.”

But with moron legislators in Texas making decisions like the above, cars like the Tesla will not sell as rapidly as they should — given the benefits they bring with them to the environment — and this is, once again, a sign of short-term self-interest trumping wisdom; steps backwards rather than forward toward solutions to our environmental problems.

Bad News/Good News

It’s time once again to summarize the environmental news from the past couple of months as it appears in this month’s Sierra Magazine. Let’s begin with the bad news:

In the midst of one of the more severe winters we have experienced in the Midwest and Northeast in recent years — which has convinced the no-minds that global warming is a fiction invented by tree-hugging weirdos — it is sobering to realize that 2013 was the fourth hottest year on record. It was so hot during the Australian Open Tennis Tournament (108 degrees) that plastic bottles were melting and several players suffered from sunstroke. Having played tennis in hot temperatures, I can assure you that the temperature on the tennis court was considerably hotter than the air temperature as recorded.

In the face of the drought in California, officials have announced that farmers in California’s Central Valley will receive no state or federal irrigation water this year.  Some California ranchers have been forced to give up on grass-fed beef because of the drought in that state. And while this was happening, it was discovered that eight million acres of farmland in China are too polluted to grow crops — ever again.  As populations continue to grow and the globe continues to warm it seems evident that it will become increasingly difficult to feed the world’s hungry people. And it is not a problem that will go away simply because we ignore it.

In its wisdom, Congress allowed the tax credits for wind power to expire. Those credits were instrumental in getting 60,000 megawatts of clean wind power on-line in the last two decades. Simultaneously, by arguing that solar collectors have “saturated” the grid or that they are increasing costs to those without the collectors, the nation’s investor-owned utilities  have launched a full-scale attack on solar energy, “challenging the laws, rules, and programs that have made solar a formidable clean energy contender.” The attack includes anti-solar ads produced by a group affiliated with the Koch brothers. (Can there be any debate whatever about the question of who are two of the most wicked men in the world today?)  In the meantime, one can expect the $8 billion in annual tax credits to Big Oil to continue.

But, on the other hand, the 377 megawatt Ivanpah solar electric generating station, the largest in the world, went on-line in the desert southwest of Las Vegas.  Shell Oil has cancelled plans to drill in the Arctic in 2014 and the Los Angles City Council banned fracking. The EPA (which has been targeted by the Koch brothers) proposed fuel-efficiency standards for big trucks for the first time ever. And the Obama administration finally got off its duff and blocked the construction of the Pebble Mine, a massive gold and copper mine proposed for the headwaters of Alaska’s Bristol Bay, site of one of the world’s richest salmon fisheries. With food shortages looming, this would appear to be a no-brainer. I can imagine the federal government getting more involved as the food crunch gets worse. That may not be a bad thing.

Just The Facts, Ma’am

Old timers will remember the days of “Dragnet” when TV screens were small and the pictures black and white. Jack Webb, the expressionless lead in that show always asked for “just the facts.” In those days folks could distinguish between the facts and opinions. Nowadays, not so much. Corporations seem to have the greatest difficulty as they seek to manipulate or ignore altogether relevant facts in an attempt to persuade the public and the Congress that they wish only to help further the public good. Profits are secondary. Right!

One such example pops up every now and again in the ONEARTH magazine published by the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental group I support which does, in fact, seek to help protect the planet from greedy and duplicitous corporations. They are spitting into the wind at best, as evidenced by a recent example in this month’s magazine. The NRDC published a portion of a letter written by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity that seeks to respond to a negative report by the NRDC to the House Energy and Power Subcommittee. The NRDC printed the response by ACCCE with its comments in bright yellow, footnoted more or less as follows (“Just the facts, Ma’am”). They begin by insisting that the notion of “clean coal” is an oxymoron, which is a fact. They then to proceed point by point:

Claim by ACCCE: The clean air act “is not designed to regulate greenhouse gases and any efforts by the EPA to do so will cause unnecessary economic harm.”

Rejoinder (by the NRDC): “The Supreme Court disagrees. In 2007 it ruled that greenhouse gases meet the definition of an air pollutant in the Clean Air Act, and in 2011 it ruled that the EPA has the authority to set standards for carbon pollution from power plants.”

Claim: “Our conclusion is that the NRDC proposal would cause substantial economic harm and any such harm is impossible to justify.”

Rejoinder: “ACCCE uses an inflated estimate of energy efficiency costs, which makes the overall costs of reducing emissions seem higher. It also uses a shoddy apples-and-oranges comparison in weighing the costs and benefits of carbon emission reductions.” Further, “ACCCE kooks at only one side of the ledger, ignoring the economic benefits of limiting pollution in terms of improving human and environmental health and reducing climate change. [In logic this is called the “fallacy of ignored aspect” and it is an example of flawed reasoning.] If you factor in these savings, ACCCE’s own numbers show that the cumulative benefits would exceed costs by more than two to one.

Claim: “According to the analysis conducted by NERA, the CO2 reductions that would result from the NRDC proposal represent, at most, 1 percent of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.”

Rejoinder: “Power plants are the largest source of carbon dioxide pollution in the United States, and no other single policy would reduce emissions more effectively than setting limits on these emissions.”

Of considerable interest in this debate, of course, is the appeal by the Clean-Coal [sic] industry to the “economic benefits” of reducing restrictions on coal-burning plants. In a word: you are taking our profits away from us. (No wonder the industry hates the EPA and the government that supports it. People like the Koch brothers have their sights set on the EPA and are determined t bring it down.) But there is considerable evidence, suggested here, that the economic and health benefits to the public at large greatly outweigh the losses to the coal industry, thus giving the lie to the corporate claim to be concerned with the public good. So, what else is new?

In general, when it comes to claims and counter-claims, since the issues are often technical and beyond my ken, I tend to ask which side has a hidden agenda. If there is an axe to grind then the “facts” are likely to be skewed in favor of the one wielding the axe. As a general rule, the corporations don’t much care about the common good: they are almost exclusively interested in profits for their shareholders and huge salaries for their CEOs — 475 times the size of the salary of their average employee at last count. It’s not likely, therefore, that data, or “studies,” supplied by corporations to serve their own purposes will be reliable, whereas data provided by disinterested third parties are more likely to be reliable.  It pays to be suspicious. It should surprise no one to see how those who have something to sell will play games with facts or ignore them altogether. So it goes.

Bad News, Good News

As I have done in the previous blogs, I want to pass along several bits and pieces of environmental news culled from the pages of the monthly Sierra magazine. I will begin with the bad news first, because there is always some of that, and end with the news that provides a glimmer of hope for the planet.

Under the heading of “so what else is new” we find that 55 percent of the Republicans in Congress still deny climate change — and those people are all heavily supported by Big Oil. In the House, there are 128 climate deniers out of the 233 Republicans; in the Senate there are 30 climate deniers out of the 46 Republicans. Those deniers in the House collect $231,000 in contributions from Big Oil (as contrasted with $69,000 for the non-deniers). In the Senate, the deniers collect $699,000 whereas the non-deniers collect $171,000. I suppose we should be grateful that there are some who collect contributions from Big Oil who are willing to admit the truth that stares them in the face. But the correlation between the amount of money from Big Oil and the denial of the truth about our planet is stunning when seen in such detail.

To continue with the bad news for the moment, I shall simply list some of the items Sierra tells us will bring us “Up To Speed” about what’s going on in the world the past couple of months.

Ecuador has abandoned its pledge not to drill for oil in remote Yasuni National Park in the Amazon rain forest.

Fracking is now linked to an increase in U.S. earthquakes — as is geothermal power production.

High fertility rates in Africa have led demographers to revise their estimates of peak world population upwards. They now expect there to be 11 billion people by the end of the century — up from 7.1 billion. (I find this particularly unsettling since, as I have said in the past, I consider the population explosion the fundamental problem facing humankind, and the root of most of our other problems.)

Tons of radioactive water from Japan’s crippled Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant have leaked into the Pacific Ocean.

And now for some Good News!

The United States has installed 10 gigawatts of solar capacity, though it still trails Germany, Italy, and China.

The White House has re-installed solar panels put in place by Jimmy Carter and removed by Ronald Reagan.

The World Bank has declared that it will sharply restrict funding for the new coal-fired power plants in developing countries.

The U.S. Export-Import Bank has declined to fund a huge new coal plant in Vietnam on environmental grounds.

The Bureau of Land Management lease sale for 149 million tons of coal in the Powder River Basin failed to garner a single bid!

So, just when we are about to tear out what little hair we have left, we see faint signs that all humans have not lost their minds. Just remember what Red Green says: “we’re all in this together.” And “Keep your stick on the ice”!

Obama On The Ropes

I have been warned by a fellow-blogger whom I respect not to push the parallel between Barack Obama and George W. Bush too far, though the similarities are at times disturbing. So I will stay away from that button. But I will push another: in attempting to please everyone, Obama once again proves that you can please no one. This time it is about the pilfering of private information in the name of “national security.” As a recent story notes:

Into his fifth year in office, President Obama knows well attacks from the right. Obamacare, Benghazi, IRS shenanigans, he’s taken his lumps from Republicans and conservative activists. “Impeach him!” many cry. Only occasionally is he whacked from the left (see Guantánamo Bay prison camp).

But these days, it seems like the roles are reversed. Liberals are after Obama, while the likes of Republican political operative Karl Rove are in his corner.

The subject, of course, is government secret surveillance of phone records, a vacuum-cleaner approach whose purpose is heading off terrorist attacks but which pokes into what most people think of as private information.

It would be an exaggeration to insist that we are headed for Orwell’s world of 1984 — a few years late. But at the same time, there is some truth in the fact that this sort of nosing into the privacy of citizens of this country, presumably guaranteed by the Constitution which the President is pledged to serve is un-American, if it doesn’t smack of totalitarianism. It is certainly Machiavellian, since it embraces the notion that the end justifies the means — any means, apparently. It’s not at all clear that our “national security” is at risk, except in the minds of the paranoid. This is assuredly not something we would have expected from this man when he was elected, and the fact that he is pleasing Karl Rove is doubly unsettling. The man seems to lack a backbone: he is unable to find a principle he can embrace and defend. He is perfectly willing to disappoint those people who voted for him in the hope that he would lean at least a little bit toward the left on one or two important issues.

But he has ordered an escalating number of drone strikes in the Middle East, and inhibited the right of reporters to write what they regard as the truth. Further, he has shown himself unwilling to take a strong stand against the Keystone Pipeline, which many conservationists regard as the penultimate step toward environmental disaster. And recently he has indicated his willingness to remove gray wolves from the endangered species list, virtually guaranteeing open season on those animals that have struggled to make a comeback. And now he is checking on our phone calls and private correspondence. In a word, he is disappointing those who elected him to office seemingly because he doesn’t seem to know where he stands on any given issue and is willing to bend with the wind. And I dare to say that the wind blows strongest when it issues forth from the hot air that inflates the greed of the corporations that are increasingly finding this man to be their friend (I am thinking on Monsanto here, primarily, but the Koch brothers must be sleeping more soundly at night realizing that this man doesn’t seem to care in the least what they might do with their millions.)

In any event, even those who continue to support this president and hope that he will eventually “come around” must admit that he is far too conciliatory, too eager to please. As a result he seems to have managed to alienate folks on both sides of the political aisle. And in that regard, the parallel with George W. Bush does break down.

Half-Truths About Fracking

I will quote a recent story from Yahoo News (culled from the AP) in its entirety:

AP Wirephoto  (Thanks to Yahoo News)

AP Wirephoto
(Thanks to Yahoo News)

RIFLE, Colo. (AP) — Three hours west of Denver, across the Continental Divide, the Rocky Mountains begin the long transition into high desert plateaus.

This sparsely-populated land is dotted with ranches and small towns that were once local hubs for mining the rich minerals found under the earth.

But over the past few years, this town and others have become increasingly a local center for the natural gas industry. Off the highway outside town in all directions, one can see evidence, large and small, of the latest local energy boom, from natural gas extraction all the way up the chain to refining.

Hydraulic fracturing — “fracking,” for short — pumps millions of gallons of water mixed with fine sand and chemicals deep into oil and gas wells.

The water splits open oil- and gas-bearing rock. Specially formulated fracking fluids help carry the sand into the newly formed fissures and keep the cracks propped open.

The rapid growth of the oil industry in the region has brought opposition from those who warn of environmental costs. In some places the practice has been blamed for air pollution and gas leaks that have ruined well water. But federal and many state regulators say the practice is safe when done properly.

To begin with, note the brevity of this article, given the immense complexity of the subject! Have we really become so stupid in the minds of the media that they think we can’t handle a lengthy article giving full details of a story that has major implications for all of us? In one brief sentence, almost in passing, the article notes the “opposition from those who warn of environmental costs” and assure us that “regulators say the practice is safe when done properly.” This is supposed to inform us about the millions of gallons of water that are used in this process that are rendered too contaminated for human or animal use thereafter — at a time when continued drought threatens the farming industry and farmers in Kansas are already importing water from Florida. Further, the snippet ignores the growing concern about the health of those who live in the region of the fracking operations who are beginning to experience a number of alarming symptoms — not to mention the carbon dioxide that is being expunged into the atmosphere, in North Dakota in particular, from fires triggered by the process. As we learn from Robert Krulwich, who reports for N.P.R., “When oil comes to the surface, it often brings natural gas with it, and according to North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources, 29 percent of the natural gas now extracted in North Dakota is flared off. Gas isn’t as profitable as oil, and the energy companies don’t always build the pipes or systems to carry it away. For a year (with extensions), North Dakota allows drillers to burn gas, just let it flare. There are now so many gas wells burning fires in the North Dakota night, the fracking fields can be seen from deep space.”

North Dakota Aflame From Space

North Dakota Aflame From Space

(As you can plainly see, it makes for quite a spectacle when viewed from outer space: much of North Dakota seemingly on fire!)

In a word, the photograph showing the hard-working oil man set against the snowy mountains says more than the article below it: it’s man against nature with no thought for the morrow. We destroy the land, water, and air in the name of creature comforts — ignoring the reasonable alternatives of conservation and clean energy. And we sum it all up in a few words with a photograph that will suggest to many (who will miss the metaphorical implications) the jobs the oil industry has promised in order to help our economy get back on its feet. I don’t buy it. A half-truth is worse than a blatant falsehood, and this story and photograph tell a half-truth. What they ignore, or what is merely implied, is of major importance and will go right over the heads of most readers — if they bother to read it at all.

Delicate Balance

In the struggle to make inroads against Big Oil and Coal the renewable energy industry on occasion meets with obstacles from the unlikeliest sources. For example, an attempt to build an off-shore wind farm in the North Atlantic has met with considerable opposition from a group of wealthy individuals who have formed the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. The grounds of their opposition are, surprisingly enough, a presumed concern for the environment and the wildlife that will be impacted by the wind generators. Now, we can debate the question of whether this group is really concerned about the environment and/or the wildlife — the wealthy seldom seem to be. It’s quite possible that they simply don’t want to look out of their picture windows from their ocean-side estates and see a plethora of whirling propellers. But that point is moot.

The fact remains there are serious and sober concerns on the part of a great many people about the consequences of placing wind generators or solar collectors in certain parts of the world. A thoughtful article by Tom Zeller in “The Blog” published by HuffPost recently attempted to spell out the problems. In the midst of a very thorough and balanced analysis, Zeller made the following remarks that seem to present the strongest case for continuing to develop alternative energy at the risk of endangering wildlife and even the environment:

“Compared to the thousands of birds and fish and other critters that have been offered up as collateral damage in the nation’s thirst for oil, or the saturation of local wildlife and habitats with mercury and other poisons that arise from coal-fired power — not to mention the widely documented impacts of fossil fuels on human health and the global climate — some might argue that a fair bit more local fauna could be sacrificed before the tradeoffs of renewable energy proved worrisome.”

And that’s the issue: it is a question of trade-offs. The possible harm to the environment and to wildlife in the area of Nantucket must be balanced against the benefits, especially in light of the alternatives to renewable energy which have a terrible history of destruction to both wildlife and the environment, not to mention human health. It would appear to be the lesser of evils. But the issue will be settled in the courts and it will be most interesting to see how the judgment comes down, given the considerable weight the opponents to the wind farm in that region of the world can bring to bear.

Not so in the Mojave desert, however, where Bright Source has already begun to develop the country’s largest solar facility. The issue here is the danger to the desert tortoise and it has already cost Bright Source $56 million to try (not altogether successfully)  to protect the animal through relocation. This has not satisfied many critics who want clean energy but are unwilling to put any creature at risk in the process. Again, it is a delicate balance and one that humans have not shown themselves adept at managing in the past. As a species we seem to prefer intellectual extremes to the middle and would rather lean left or right rather than to balance upright.

But it is encouraging that steps to produce clean energy are being taken slowly and with every possible attempt to do as little damage as possible to the environment and to wildlife. Clearly, some damage is inevitable — though they seem to rotate at a snail’s speed, the tips of the giant wind generators, for example, travel at 100 MPH and there aren’t many birds that can avoid being clipped by one of those blades from time to time. But, given our increasing demand for energy, how much damage is acceptable — especially in light of the certainty of damage to both wildlife and the environment from such things as oil spills and the discharge from burning coal? That is the question.