Pipeline Whack-a-Mole

Didn’t I write this column already?

The one where I say, hey, it’s so awesome that New York state banned fracking, but companies are still trying to criss-cross our state with new pipelines that allow gas fracked in other places to get to market—whether that market is New England, or abroad via tankers.

The one where I explain how these companies who care for nothing but a quick buck and destroying the climate in the process are using eminent domain and federal regulations to force us to allow them to transport stuff across our state that (a) does not benefit us and (b) needs to stay in the ground for the future of humanity.

Oh right, I did. Continue reading

The Fight Comes to Us

If you have paid even a modicum of attention to the climate justice fight over the past couple years, you have probably been aware of both the movement to keep fracking out of New York state, and the fight to prevent the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from North Dakota and the tar sands of Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico, from being built.

If you are like some of us, you have admired the ranchers, farmers, and First Nations people along that pipeline and in the tar sands itself who have been creatively and consistently and bravely saying they want no part in this horrendous environmental catastrophe that is destroying communities in the short term and threatening to keep us from being able to head off catastrophic climate change in the not-that-much-longer-term. You might have wondered whether you would do the same if you lived in these threatened communities, and felt quietly grateful you did not.

Well, now you do. Continue reading

Energy Independent by 2030

It is a surprisingly strong and sad thing that someone did along the way to convince many of us that “cynic” and “realist” meant the same thing.

It’s this uncomfortable niggling belief that keeps many people who are in fact, opposed to a dangerous, unhealthy, job-killing practice like fracking or worried sick about the Keystone XL pipeline sending tar sands oil into the atmosphere, from really stepping out to fight it. They believe in the backs of their heads that there’s nothing for it. We won’t really be able to meet our energy needs any other way, and we can’t really change make a massive shift to reduce our energy needs either. The “realists” have convinced them.

It’s not true.

And if all those people were convinced that there was another practical way, and then they had turned out this past Monday to the Crossroads anti-fracking demonstration here in Albany, what was already an impressive crowd of thousands (who represented the opinions of the majority of the state) would have been so massive as to be un ignorable.

So, going on the theory that we are going to have to turn out in numbers again before this fight is over, I urge everyone to read the study from Stanford and Cornell engineers—funded by no industry, activist, or government groups—that outlines in detail how New York state could be 100 percent run on “wind, water, and solar” (WWS) by 2030.

I found the study notable for several reasons. First, it is specific and concrete—how many turbines of what kind where, how many solar rooftop systems, use of solid biomass (i.e. wood) for transition. It says why what it would do would save energy, and it takes into account, extraction effects, air pollution and land use effects, not just point-of-burning carbon footprint.

Second, it takes the time to do a detailed, well cited take down of the idea that natural gas is actually a short-term transition fuel that’s better than oil or coal with regards to climate change. Short answer: because so much methane is released during extraction and handling, and methane is so much more of a potent greenhouse gas than carbon, it’s definitely no better, and might be worse. It also follows up with a take down of biodiesel, which is fascinating also. It does both to explain why they are not part of their plan.

And then of course, there are the economics. If this isn’t a classic worthwhile long-term investment, I don’t know what is: Invest in the infrastructure up front, which creates a ton of jobs right now while jobs are desperately needed. Then you have created energy price stability (fuel is free, costs of maintaining infrastructure steady), which is good for attracting businesses (low, predictable costs!) and residents. And you have created a larger job base for your state, because not only are all the jobs related to your energy creation in-state, but every single kind of renewable energy creates more jobs per GWh of electrical energy produced than gas, coal, or nuclear. Wouldn’t you rather more of your utility bill went to job creation and less to fossil fuel executive’s obscene profits? I sure would.

And of course there’s the safety and health benefits of a WWS system—protecting drinking water and farmland, and reducing air pollution deaths and related illnesses. The study authors suggest that just due to reduced air pollution, their plan would save New York state $33 billion/year, or 3 percent of its GDP.

This is one of those moments where I’m waiting for all the fiscal conservatives and chambers of commerce concerned with long-term costs, deficits, and business location appeal to come jumping up and down with excitement at the opportunities this lays out—from saved government costs to chances for a ton of small businesses in conservation and PV systems installation. (It’ll happen, but we can’t wait for them to go first, I’m afraid.)

Want a practical next step in making this a reality? The Sierra Club and the United Steelworkers (yup—jobs and environment, together as they should be) have a suggestion: Something that has worked to jumpstart the renewables sector in many places around the world, including, famously, Germany, is something called a “feed-in tariff” or FIT—essentially a long-term contract with a fixed price for energy generated that encourages everyone to develop and sell energy to utilities, even in small amounts. See bit.ly/nyfeedin for more information.

We can do this. No excuses. As the George Bernard Shaw quote goes, “Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”

(This column was originally published in Metroland, the Capital Region of New York’s former alt-weekly, on June 20, 2013.)