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November 22, 2011

Sustainable shouldn't be a dirty word

By Adrian Kuzminski
Guest Commentary

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Sustainable Otsego has been in the news a lot lately. We have been vocal critics of hydrofracking for natural gas both locally and statewide, and we put together with the Democrats a winning slate of pro-sustainability, pro-home rule, anti-fracking candidates in the recent elections.

Our critics portray us as lefty tree-huggers who want to use regulations to take away their property rights. They are puzzled by the idea of sustainability.

"Just what is going on in the county that is unsustainable?" wondered Chuck Pinkey in a recent column.

The answer is almost everything.

Sustainability means living within the means given to us by the resources available to us.

This is something we haven't been doing. We've come to depend on burning a limited store of fossil fuels in order to keep our society going, thereby contributing to global warming and climate change.

We are nearing the limits of growth on this planet. As a booming population and consumer demand outstrip finite resources, commodities will become scarcer and more expensive.

Since we cannot continue to burn up the furniture in our house to keep warm, some kind of global breakdown seems inevitable.

We depend on long chains of production and distribution, which are increasingly vulnerable to financial and ecological disruption. This puts us at serious risk.

Otsego County, for example, produces very little of what it consumes. Nearly all of our food, energy, and manufactured products come from distant sources. As these become harder to get, we will increasingly be thrown back on our own resources.

Our federal and state governments no longer effectively protect or represent us. Grassroots communities are increasingly the victims, not the beneficiaries, of big government and big business. The latter seek to perpetuate a growth system that now rewards the wealthiest 1 percent and punishes the 99 percent.

Sustainability cannot be achieved without home rule, which means local control of resources. If communities can't decide what kinds of enterprises are compatible with their needs and values, those decisions will be made by politicians, lobbyists, and corporate executives in distant board rooms. You can bet they will be indifferent to local interests.

Sustainability means going local. Our greatest assets are clean water and air, viable agricultural land, quality hardwood forests, and cultural/educational/health care institutions, as well as rural beauty and outdoor recreation. These renewable resources are the basis of future permanent jobs.

We need to revitalize our agricultural base, move to organic farming and value-added processing of local products. Our future lies in industries like Ommegang and Chobani which enhance, not diminish, local resources. Sustainable Otsego supports enterprises of this sort.

We cannot continue to degrade the planet with fossil fuels, including natural gas, whose methane emissions make it a greater contributor to the greenhouse effect than coal or oil. We need a critical inventory of local renewable sources of energy, including wind, solar, hydro, and biomass.

Enterprises in these fields need to be locally managed and environmentally clean. Most of the profit should stay at home.

Such sustainable practices are the best guarantors of property values. Our pro-drilling critics forget that it's the gas industry that is poised to steal us blind by destroying residential property values, polluting the water, increasing the tax burden, compulsorily integrating your resources with your neighbors', all while skimming off most of the profits to distant investors.

Finally, sustainability defies conventional politics. The labels "liberal" and "conservative" are irrelevant. Though nearly all our candidates ran as Democrats and our opponents as Republicans, some Republicans like Sen. James Seward of Milford support home rule, while key Democrats like Gov. Andrew Cuomo are pushing to frack for natural gas.

Our candidates could not have won without support from Republicans, as well as Democrats and independents. By partnering with Sustainable Otsego, the local Democratic leadership rejected Cuomo's pro-drilling stance. We can only hope the local Republican leadership will do the same regarding their state and national parties' uncritical support for big business.

NIMBY is good. Call it home-rule democracy. If local communities can seize control over their destinies, a giant step will have been taken toward a sustainable future.

Adrian Kuzminski is the Moderator of Sustainable Otsego and can be contacted at