alternatives to fossil fuels. In that three and a half decades talk is
about all weve done.
To be sure there has been some incre-mental progress. Solar energy
technology has improved enough that converting sunshine to power is
easier. There is significantly more wind energy. Maine, for example, has
made a genuine commitment to wind energy and is progressing apace.
Geothermal energy production, however, seems to be still in its embryonic
stages and the dream of hydrogen fuel cells producing nearly perpetual
energy is still just that; a dream.
Democratic presidents Carter, Clinton and Obama all talked about the need
to make a commitment to alternative energy. We know they must have been
sincere because weve seen nice photos of them standing next to arrays of
Republican presidents during the same arc of time have promised to find
more domestic oil and natural gas. They believe the solution to ending
our increasingly inane dependence on foreign oil is to start capturing the
fossil fuels we already know exist beneath us on land and under the oceans
off our coasts. Frankly, they havent been a lot more successful than
those promising alternatives.
It is time we decided. Are we going to seriously explore alternatives or
are we going to seriously go after our own fossil fuels?
The starting point for any debate on energy has to be the reality that
there is no such thing as absolutely clean energy. At least no such thing
weve yet discovered.
The manufacturing of wind turbines and solar panels involve mining (copper
wire) and manufacturing using petrochemicals. The transportation and
installation of the finished products present additional challenges.
Once up and running the energy produced is remarkably clean by todays
standards but there are complaints by neighbors about shadow flicker and
noise and birds flying into the blades of wind turbines. Complaints about
the glare of solar panels and their lack of aesthetic compatibility with
residential neighborhoods also continue.
Additionally, costs continue to be prohibitive for individual use of both
solar and wind. Not all of us can afford to lay out $20,000 or more to
install a solar array on our roof or in our backyard. Wind turbine towers
are even more expensive and neighbors seem to get cranky if we try to
erect them in our back yards. Geothermal is breathtakingly expensive and
weve not yet really figured out how to affordably break hydrogen out of
the air or water to power fuel cells.
Perhaps more telling is the fact that the energy produced by all the
alternatives is currently so expensive it will have to be subsidized to be
affordable for most of us.
If we arent going to make the necessary commitment to overcome the
hurdles alternative energy presents, then maybe we should get busy finding
more fossil fuels.
There is still a lot of oil under the ground and offshore. Lets get
Sure, there will be the occasional mishap but, what the hell, this is just
eggs and omelets. Its even conceivable some clever engineer or designer
will finally come up with that elusive 100 miles per gallon, low emissions
engine. It could happen.
And we have a century or more of natural gas underground. It burns
cleaner than the gasoline we get from oil and, at least now, is cheaper.
That a lot of it is trapped thousands of feet underground is a problem
already solved by the invention of fracking, a process by which millions
of gallons of water infused with a cocktail of unknown chemicals (the
companies doing it claim the chemical mixture is proprietary and,
therefore, a secret) is blasted into the earth to disintegrate the pesky
shale in which and under which the natural gas lurks.
Yes, there have been a couple of incidents in which the gas and water
table sort of intermingled resulting in flaming tap water. And one
fracking operation recently blew up, but those kinds of incidents are
probably not going to happen often. Probably.
If we insist on going the fossil fuel route, were going to have to accept
the occasional BP-type spill at a well site, the occasional Exxon Valdez
transporting accident, the occasional explosion at a natural gas well and
the fact that were going to keep spewing carbon into the atmosphere while
we use our plentiful supplies of oil and natural gas.
No matter how you analyze it, the alternatives are cleaner and safer.
Weve made little progress in actually using them because we simply have
not had the will to move forward in a way that makes them economically
Nothing weve yet tried is perfect and every alternative has drawbacks.
But no alternative has the kinds of drawbacks we now face with our
continued dependence on fossil fuels. The exploration, pumping and
refining of oil is incredibly destructive and inherently dangerous. And
we end up with a product that despoils our air and, too often, our land
and water, too. Not to mention the promise of $5 a gallon gasoline.
The time has arrived for some national leadership that does more than
talk about alternatives. We know the technology exists that can help
move us away from a dependence on oil and gas. We know the alternatives
work and become more efficient the more we develop them.
Weve talked long enough. Lets make up our minds what kind of energy
future were going to leave our children and then actually do it.
Alternative energy is there for the asking if we can summon up the will.
If, on the other hand, we want to be a fossil fuel country for the
foreseeable future then lets stop worrying about environmental impact and
dependence on lunatic foreign leaders and quit whining and get busy
fracking and drilling.
What were currently doing is a commitment to neither to the detriment of
both. Were just blowing sunshine and importing fossil fuels.