What Will Our Future Look Like? It is Uncertain – but Oil is NOT the Answer.

MY TURN by Nancy Hazard

May 5, 2010 – I am haunted by an article that I read in the Recorder that reported that a group of people in California were petitioning their state government to repeal all Global Warming / Climate Change legislation until the unemployment rate dropped below 5.5%.

As a person who believes that addressing the climate change crisis is the ONLY road to economic recovery – I was disturbed by the article – and I want to share with you why I think business as usual makes us VULNERABLE – and why addressing climate change is the answer.

I came to this point of view during the oil embargo in the 1970’s. At that time I saw two looming problems – bankruptcy as we imported more and more oil, and chaos as we run out of oil. Since that time, I have also learned of many unintended consequences of our addiction to fossil fuels such as carbon dioxide emissions that are causing global warming and the climate crisis, war to keep oil supply lines open, oil spills despoiling mother nature, and deteriorating health due to air pollution, to name a few.

My conviction that we needed to cut our use of oil and other fossil fuels was strengthened when I learned that the US owns only 2% of the world’s oil reserves, and while researching the Greenfield Energy Audit in 2008, I learned that in FY2008, 67 million dollars left Greenfield to pay for energy.

I do not know what the future will look like, but I do know that we humans cannot continue to live in this way. Over the past 40 years I have followed with interest the huge upwelling of technical solutions and lifestyle changes to address this issue.

On several occasions John C Yarmac III has written in this column about the “faulty economics of solar projects.” I would urge him to be patient. Solar electricity, or photovoltaics (PV), are one of the many experiments to learn how to generate electricity without fossil fuels. It is the hope of our government that by subsidizing the panels today that further research and advances in manufacturing due to increased demand, will make it possible for PV to become one way that we can generate electricity cost-effectively while also avoiding the unintended consequences of emitting climate change emissions. It may work - it may not - but it feels like a worthwhile experiment to me. I do know that we need to use less energy, and I agree with Mr. Yarmac that “The first thing we should do to save mankind is to learn to think.”

Another interesting way to look at future technologies is by looking at “net energy.” The question here is, how much energy can we put into building a widget, let’s say a PV panel, if we want to build a sustainable society? On May 21, at 7:30 pm David Murphy, from the State University of New York (SUNY), who has been studying this question for many years, will talk at the Wendell Town Hall about his new book on this subject.

Back to climate change, over the past few weeks, I have been enjoying our beautiful spring weather - but I am concerned about the fact that the leafing of our trees and the blooming of many spring flowers are three weeks early. This is not “normal.”

Luckily, I know that many people share my concern and are doing everything that they can to change how they live. I am heartened by the fact that Greenfield Community College’s sustainability programs are growing faster than any other department, and that GCC has taken on major constructions projects to reduce their energy use. Planners have tool kits for sustainability planning, and towns are developing their own sustainability plans. Farmers around the world are re-learning how to grow food without toxic chemicals, how to capture and hold carbon in our soils, and how to transform our world into a forest garden. Educators are experimenting with place-based education that fosters observation and informed decision-making skills. Builders have learned how to build zero net energy buildings that generate as much energy as they use. We are fortunate that Greenfield is a leader and is home to many of these experiments, demonstrating to our neighbors and the world that it can be done.

All of these efforts create jobs, and keeps our money in our own pockets and in our community. It staunches the flow of money out of our communities to purchase fossil fuels! The journey to a better future can be exciting, although not necessarily easy. For example, I have enjoyed tinkering with my home, and now enjoy the economic benefits, and peace of mind, that I use one-fifth of the energy I used to use - and I’m more comfortable. I, like many people before me, have a vision that cutting our dependence on fossil fuels can lead to a more equitable, peaceful and cooperative world.

You may, or may not, share this vision, but if you would like to join the conversation about what our future will look like, or if you are looking for resources to help you be more comfortable during the winter while paying lower utility bills, the members of the Greening Greenfield Energy Committee would like to talk with you. Our 10% Challenge offers lots of simple things that you can do to cut your utility costs. And our discussions are lively. You can reach us at or call 773-7004.

Nancy Hazard has lived in the Pioneer Valley for forty years. She is the former director of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA), co-author of the Greenfield Energy Audit, and co-chair of the Greening Greenfield Energy Committee.


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