the definition of energy

I wish that US politicians and the media would stop using the word energy as shorthand for fossil fuels. The United States is banning the import of Russian oil, gas, and coal, which, while they can be burned to release energy, are not themselves energy.

Equating the word energy with fossil fuels only distorts our perception of the problems and possible solutions. Politicians and pundits panic and look for more oil and gas to replace the Russian supply, even though drilling for additional petroleum and building LNG facilities are time-consuming processes which we must not expand but scale back quickly and dramatically if we are to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius, as the recent IPCC report alarmingly illustrates.

Rather, if we consider energy more broadly, we can see other ways forward that are cheaper, quicker, and better for the environment. A couple of weeks ago, Bill McKibben published a piece outlining how President Biden could invoke the Defense Production Act to churn out heat pumps to send to Europe so that they can break away from dependency on Russian methane for heating. Bonus: this would create jobs in the US and help our country in its own transition away from fossil fuels after the immediate crisis in Europe has passed. Amazingly, McKibben’s eminently practical and sustainable idea is gaining traction and is being studied by the Biden administration.

It’s also wise and practical to take energy efficiency seriously. It’s been said that the cheapest kilowatt/therm is the one that you don’t have to use. It’s helpful to weatherize and retrofit existing buildings so that their heating, cooling, and lighting needs are lessened, making it easier to run them with available and developing renewable energy resources.

At this point, some of the electricity needed will be generated from fossil fuels and nuclear plants but it is shortsighted to expand these rather than phase them out. Developing new drilling and mining sites is a long, expensive process, as is building new plants, which come with decades of environmental and public health consequences. It is quicker, cheaper, and healthier to move to renewable energy.

The same argument goes for the electrification of transportation. Many countries are already moving toward this goal, which helps in both the environmental and political realms.

While Russia is uppermost in everyone’s minds right now, the truth is that fossil fuels have been used as a political weapon by autocrats and oligarchs around the world. (Rachel Maddow’s book Blowout tells this history in fascinating detail.) Their power will be greatly reduced by a rapid phaseout of these fuel sources in favor of wind, sun, water, and geothermal sources.

These gifts of the earth are a common inheritance.

No one owns the sun or wind.

Make your own climate plan!

Bill McKibben writes a weekly newsletter on climate issues for The New Yorker. The link will take you to a recent one that encourages readers to explore a website that allows you to devise your own climate action plan and see the likely results. There is an introductory video:

The En-Roads website from Climate Interactive and MIT Sloan’s Sustainability Initiative is fascinating. You can change parameters, such as the mix of energy supply, energy efficiency measures, and electrification, and see what the global warming impact would be. You can tweak your plan and then share it with others via social media. Check it out!

updates on local environmental stories

I’ve been quiet on the fracking/methane front lately but wanted to give updates on several local issues.

Two Dimock, Pennsylvania families were awarded $4.2 million this week from Cabot for water contamination caused by methane drilling activities. This is a major victory against an industry that nearly always buys its way out of lawsuits and then seals the settlements so that they aren’t held publicly accountable for the pollution they cause. You can read more about the trial and verdict here and here.

The Constitution Pipeline that Williams is planning to build has been delayed another year, which is heartening to those of us fighting expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in New York.  New York hasn’t granted a water quality permit that the company needs to go forward with the project and our attorney general fought back against feeling trees along the proposed route without the permit in place. All trees would have to have been cut down by March 31st to proceed and the company admitted this week that this would not be possible. The reprieve is bittersweet for our Pennsylvania neighbors who have already lost trees to the project, which now won’t be built this year – and may never be built. You can read more about it here, although I will offer the additional information that the Hollleran farm had had their maple trees tapped when the cutting crews accompanied by armed federal marshals arrived and cut down 90% of their sugarbush.

Early in the morning of March 7, Bill McKibben and 56 others, including three friends of mine, were arrested for blockading an entrance to the Crestwood site near Watkins Glen, New York, and Seneca Lake. Crestwood is already storing some hydrocarbons in old salt mine caverns and wants permission to open more caverns, despite known intersecting faults and prior history of cavern roof collapse and leaks. You can read more about that here.

Many of us are still deluging Governor Cuomo with calls and emails to try to stop further build-out of fossil fuels and double down on our renewable energy and efficiency options instead. It’s still a long haul, but we are grateful for any moves in the sustainable direction.


One-Liner Wednesday: people and physics

“Lobbying physics is useless; it just keeps on doing what it does.”
~ ~ Bill McKibben on dealing with climate change from this article: about keeping the vast majority of fossil fuels undisturbed.
Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday! Find out how here:

And enjoy our new One-Liner Wednesday badge! Congrats, Wes, on your awesome design!

#1linerWeds badge by

#1linerWeds badge by

“Healing the World”

I have spent countless hours over the last several years working on the issues of shale oil/gas fracking, climate change, and renewable energy, primarily through online commentary.  Although I make my case using science, real-world experience, sociology, and economics, much of my personal energy for this work comes from my grounding in the principles of Catholic social doctrine and my calling to live them to the best of my abilities.

Earlier this month, I was very grateful to attend a workshop/retreat entitled “Healing the World:  One Step at a Time” led by the Rev. Dr. Bruce Epperly.  It was designed as a time to reflect on challenges to our natural and human environment as we in the Christian churches prepare for the Lenten season. The timing was perfect for me because just as we in New York received the fantastic, unexpected news of a planned ban on high volume hydrofracking (HVHF), I developed a case of shingles, which kept me from participating in the spontaneous celebrations that happened in the following days.  It was a blessing to have the opportunity to see some of the other people who had worked so hard on this cause and to meet others who were also working on caring for creation, including humanity, and to renew our hope as we continue our work.

There were so many important reminders:
To remember to take time away from activity to reflect, pray, and renew.
To not let opponents become dehumanized in our own minds, which I manage quite well with my environmental advocacy, even in the face of derogatory comments directed at me, but less well when it comes to confronting those who commit atrocities such as the terror attacks in France or the horrible massacres and kidnappings by Boko Haram in Nigeria.
To not get caught in the either/or of dualism.
To realize that one small action or prayer can have an effect in the world that we can neither predict not know, a principle that played out for us in the battle against HVHF in New York, where hundreds of thousands of individual actions added up to what had seemed to be an improbable, or even impossible, victory.
To challenge what is in need of reform while offering an alternative path that is good, sustainable, life-giving, and cognizant of the interdependence of creation, which, while I understand that to be within the concept of God-who-is-Love, exists both within and apart from spiritual traditions.

One of the great gifts of the workshop was a special video message to us from Bill McKibben, co-founder of and one of the world’s leading voices on climate change issues.  I had expected a somewhat generic welcome and acknowledgment but was stunned at how personally Bill spoke to us. It was obvious that he knew our area of the country, calling Interstate 88 “Warren Anderson’s driveway”, which is an inside, local joke, and talking about our beautiful rolling hills and our history of technological innovation. He recognized the immense work of the Broome County fractivists, which was very meaningful to me because, however hard we worked to get our message out there, it seemed that the public perception of our county was that our pro-fracking politicians were speaking for their constituents rather than for themselves, the JLCNY, and the fossil fuel and other business interests who gave them campaign contributions. While I will always be grateful to our allies in Ithaca and the Catskills and NYC and around New York State and our beleaguered friends from PA who fought so hard for our cause, it was heartening to know that Bill McKibben recognized our efforts here as vital to the victory.

Bill went on speaking to us from both an environmental and a faith perspective, challenging us to build new sustainable systems. I appreciated him mentioning building up local agriculture, in which initiatives are already underway with more to come, and alternative energy, another area in which we have already made advances and hope to build upon rapidly now that we no longer have the threat of HVHF’s industrialization and pollution making our homes unpleasant or unlivable.  I think everyone in the room loved when Bill spoke of taking “energy from above, rather than below.”  Such a potent metaphor.  No to fossil fuels. No to negativity. Yes to wind, water, and sun. Yes to responsible use of biomass/biofuels.  Yes to heat pumps (Even though the geothermal ones probably fit in the “below” category, I’m claiming them for the surface.) Yes to the energy of people taking action to protect the environment and to protect people, especially those most vulnerable to the ravages of poverty and climate change. Yes to the power of Divine Love, which we envision as coming to us from above, but which also surrounds us in creation and imbues us with energy to protect and cherish every being and every thing.

Bill McKibben said, “People of faith bring their own reasons.”  I thank him, Dr. Epperly, all the workshop participants, the Peace with Justice Committee of the Broome County Council of Churches and all the other sponsors for reminding me of my reasons and renewing my energy to continue to serve God in love through cooperating with others to care for creation – the environment, creatures, and humanity.

This post is part of Linda’s Just Jot It January:

%d bloggers like this: