Opinion: Science should guide energy future

It’s time to step back and take an honest look at ourselves and the energy we use. We all, including me, use energy. In fact we use lots of energy daily, hourly, every minute of our lives. Energy for food, clothes, the air we breathe indoors, our medicines, our transportation, even bicycles, for it takes energy to build and sell and repair them, skiing, paper, and all our electronic gadgets, and everything we do.
The United States uses 19 percent of the world’s energy (per U.S. Energy Information Administration). Yet we are only 4.7 percent of the world population. Residents of Addison County probably use as much energy as the average in the U.S. and therefore most of us are using energy at a greedy rate. We must first admit to this if we are to have a rational discussion and make informed decisions about our use of energy and where it comes from.
Energy is something we should be constantly be thinking about and trying to use less of. Our personal use of energy should be foremost on our minds, because our use of energy is probably the most damaging thing we do to our environment.
There is no source of energy, nor any use of energy that is not damaging to our environment. If that statement is not correct let me know. But don’t go overboard on some idea about gardening and growing all your own food and clothes and leaves for shelter, because while some few people, infinitesimally few, might be able to do that, the most of us are merrily using energy as if it didn’t matter.
Where our energy comes from and how we use it does matter. There are major differences in the amount of harm to our environment that each form of energy causes. As hard as it is, it’s our job to ferret out the best form of energy to use. Or a more accurate way to put it, is to find the “least worst source and use of energy.”
Emotions need to be involved in the decision making process. But not in selecting which form of energy to use. Emotions should be commanding us, motivating us to act. To do something toward saving our environment. For after all that is what the whole energy issue, its extraction, transportation, and use, is about: saving our environment so that we and nature might continue living in it.
It’s time to approach the source and use of energy based on science. We need a pragmatic approach. Our emotions are not good judges of what is best for our environment. The Golden Rule is not particularly useful since emotions get in the way of wise decisions. If we invoke the Golden Rule, and pledge not to despoil other people’s lands by a particular form of energy extraction, then we must in turn invoke the rule in all forms of energy extraction, because all damage the environment. Otherwise we are being duplicitous. And beyond that if we invoke the Golden Rule on one form of energy extraction and go on using energy from some other form of extraction we are being dishonest.
I have no faith that faith by itself will help much in making wise decisions based on science and the reality of the energy situation. Faith hopefully will motivate us to act, but not exactly what action to take.
The science approach to our energy issues presents a problem of knowing the truth of each form and use of energy. Where do we get reliable information that is free of emotional connotations? The state of Vermont isn’t much help. Efficiency Vermont does have information and programs about energy efficiency, but not about extraction. There are organizations with good info, but unfortunately many with the snake oil sales approach. Care must be taken when searching for information, because pretty much we are on our own.
The state of Vermont does have an energy plan in mind but not on paper. It would be helpful if the state would get moving and draft a plan for comment as to how we will achieve the stated and laudable goal of 90 percent renewable energy by 2050. In the meantime, sometime before 2050, it would be very helpful if the state would put in place strict energy efficiency regulations covering all construction in Vermont.
Hydroelectricity damages rivers. Some of the electricity used in Vermont comes from Hydro Quebec, the world’s largest producer of hydro power with 60 dams in Canada, damming rivers and flooding some lands of First Nation People (the Canadian term for Native Americans). Vermont calls this electricity renewable and environmental friendly. Is it?
Electricity from power plants burning coal, natural gas or oil all cause all sorts of pollution from extraction, to transportation to the final phase of burning to generate electricity.
All renewable sources of electricity, wind, solar, wood, biomass, etc., cause pollution in their manufacture, use, and disposal when worn out. Nuclear has its own problems.
Which is the least worst? Here we need help and one of our important sources of help should be the state energy plan if ever finished. Drafting the plan should prompt a reasonably and realistic discussion of our future source of energy. How else will we know where we are going?
I have some faith that we will eventually get to a point where renewables are a major source of our energy supply, but it’s going to be tough going without better state leadership.
So encourage your emotions to motivate you to act, but act on science based information.
Paul Stone

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