Thursday, July 10, 2008

Symbolic Gestures

Earlier this year, I wrote a whine here about John McCain proposing to offer Americans a summer-long “tax holiday” from the federal taxes on gasoline ( I panned the idea as a mere symbolic gesture, figuring that the holiday would, at most, save my family about $30 over the course of the summer.

Since then, a lot of other politicians (including Barack Obama, showing that empty symbolism is a tool of the left as well as the right) and pundits have jumped onto this and similar bandwagons, insisting that things like tax holidays and national speed limits are going to help us.


We need bigger thinkers, like T. Boone Pickens, who this week announced plans to invest billions in wind power plants and push Congress to make changes in the nation’s energy policy. His ideas sound pricey – spending $1 trillion to build wind power plants from North Dakota to Texas and another $200 billion to build transmission lines to send that power to the national grid – but, as he says on his web site, the nation is already spending $700 billion a year on imported oil. He envisions wind power supplying 20 percent of the nation’s electricity needs when this plan is carried out. That’s not too shabby.

Another things I like about this plan is that it doesn’t discount our reliance on fossil fuels for vehicles. We’re not going to get away from them any time soon. What his plan does is free up domestic natural gas – which is used for electricity production – to fuel our vehicles. We already have vehicles capable of running on natural gas, a fuel which produces far less pollution than gasoline or diesel. I think it makes sense, and I like that this private entrepreneur is getting in on it and making more than mere symbolic gestures.

But that brings us to a conundrum – we have to be willing to put up with these wind plants. Earlier this year, folks in Bingham County, Idaho (near where I live) successfully lobbied the county commission to deny plans to build a wind farm in the Wolverine Canyon area, because they were afraid the mills would mar the landscape. No matter that the mills would be spaced so far apart that you’d have to stretch hard to see one from the other, this was a no go – because some local idiot with money bandied around and got people riled up about it. We can’t have our cake and eat it, too. If we want less dependence on foreign oil, we’re going to have to allow more things like this in our own back yard.

Now, I’m an advocate of nuclear power. I work at a nuclear research facility that is powered by hydro and natural gas generated power, when we could get our needs from nuclear. Why we don’t have nuclear power in this region boggles my mind, given that we live in the center of nuclear reactor research for the nation. Do we not have any backbone?

Waste is definitely a problem. I work at a landfill where we’re digging up waste buried since the 1950s, and it’s nasty stuff. But there’s way to deal with waste, including reprocessing “spent” fuel to extract the “unspent” portion. And considering that France, where 56 nuclear power plants are online, has never had a meltdown, considering that the U.S. Navy, which pioneered nuclear propulsion for its ships and subs in the Idaho desert since the 1950s has never had a meltdown, I pooh-pooh those who scream like Chicken Littles about the safety of nuclear power. Airplanes, you know, they crash. They kill people. So do cars. And cigarettes. And hamburgers. So let’s not use them, either. That’s the logic we get from those who don’t want nuclear power. Too many people get that knee-jerk reaction and cite Chernobyl (a terrible accident caused by human arrogance and a faulty reactor design) as reasons to avoid nuclear power. They seem to think every nuclear power plant or nuclear power plant proponent is some acolyte of Monty Burns. Then you’ve got to ask how many people have died in accidents at petrochemical plants, refineries, or who suffer daily because oil profits in countries like Nigeria don’t trickle down to the common man, and they can’t tell you a damn thing.

I’ll stop frothing at the mouth now.

And just so you know, I’m not above making symbolic gestures myself – I ride the bus to work, rather than commute the 178 mile round-trip to work every day. We make our trips in our vehicles count and don’t use them needlessly. We live in a small town where we can walk to the store, church, the post office, the school. So we do. We take advantage of off-peak hours to run our clothes dryer, washer, dishwasher. We’re using compact fluorescent bulbs, we use breezes to cool the house, we don’t eat out, we don’t have cable, and we’re still getting squeezed as gas and food prices go up. I feel like we’re making a lot more symbolic gestures than our politicians are willing to offer.

No comments: