Friday, May 14, 2010

Clean Energy Indeed

Just when you think it can't get worse -- unending, undeclared wars, anti-immigrant legislation, massive unemployment, a degrading cultural landscape, an intellectually aloof president (OK, he's not the worst, we could have a moron again) -- up from the ground comes a bubbling crude.

Oil, that is.

Black gold.

Gulf tea.

No one can stop the gusher. Everyone stands, helpless and appalled. Yet the inertia about renewable energy development continues, with one senator proudly -- proudly! -- declaring in the midst of this truly existential crisis that there will be no movement on an energy bill this year.

It's pretty general sentiment that this country is going to hell in a handbasket. More dangerous than all the individual problems is the deficit of leadership and the perception that none of our institutions have any credibility anymore, whether government, Wall Street, schools, media -- you name it.

Our environment is even more basic than any of those institutions. We have been putting it through the wringer for centuries now and ignoring all indications that we have to change our ways.

We observed the 40th anniversary of Earth Day last month with all sorts of celebrations and media splash. If there's one thing we Americans are really good at, it's show business. But it's increasingly clear that we haven't changed our ways at all. In my narrow little anecdotal way, I certainly don't see it.

I live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Some national group just gave Milwaukee the dubious distinction of having the worst air quality in the US. Trust me, this city often stinks, badly. When I get off the crosstown bus to go to work on the south side, I sometimes actually hold my breath when departing the vehicle because the air is so nasty and distasteful. This is a city which has lost much of its manufacturing base over the last 40 years, the only upside of which, one would think, is a reduction in industrial pollution. But that's not the case. The utility giant WE Energies (Weenergies, to detractors) was just allowed to build a massive coal-fired plant along the southern lakeshore, and politicians of all stripes continually vote down alternative public transit systems and pour billions into widening highways. The internal combustion engine and single occupant vehicle are the waves of the future here in Wisconsin.

If the air in Milwaukee is bad, decades after the Clean Water Act, the water is even worse. The city is situated on Lake Michigan, one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world. The coastline (except for the coal and sewage treatment plants!) has miles of beautiful public parklands, a legacy of our far-sighted socialist forebears. But the beaches are often foul and closed to swimming. The level of contaminants is so high that you and your kids can get intestinal infections and even skin infections just from contact with the water.

I'm disgusted by the oil gusher in the Gulf but not surprised. It's the logical consequence of a dirty, greedy industry, collaborationist politicians, and an obtuse, gluttonous public which feigns reverence for the environment while doing little to demand real change.

Unless and until clean energy technology can be centralized, monopolized and squeezed for every dollar it can yield to capitalist profiteers, we will continue to stew in a sewer of our own making.


Post a Comment

<< Home