A recent letter to the editor describes Sustainable Otsego as a “far left group whose agenda . . . is to keep business . . . and energy development out of our county.” In fact, we are pro-business as long as it’s good business, unlike shale gas development. Those among us who want to keep out gas cut across the political spectrum, and include many conservatives. We are better described as populist, not far left or far right.
Populists historically have advocated the interests and values of local communities while resisting the harms that too often accompany big government (the far left) and big business (the far right). Today big business and big government have merged. This topic is treated at length in my recent book, “Fixing the System: A History of Populism, Ancient & Modern” (Continuum, 2008)
Conservatism should be about preserving our local communities and resources; conservative rhetoric is all about individualism and small government. Yet some so-called conservatives betray these principles by embracing the big-business/big-government energy agenda. Far from being conservatives, they are the radicals, advocating a wholesale transformation of our region without recognizing the destructive consequences.
Hurricanes Sandy and Irene have shown that extreme weather is here to stay. The scientific consensus is that climate change is accelerated by greenhouse gases from fossil fuels, including methane which escapes from all phases of natural gas production. Since methane is 25 to 100 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2, natural gas is at least as dirty as coal or oil.
We need to transition to renewables locally as quickly as we can. Fortunately, we live in the midst of a vast biomass region, counting field grasses as well as woodlots. We have local pioneering initiatives such as Enviro-Energy in Wells Bridge, making grass pellets, and New England Wood Pellet in Delaware and Herkimer counties. Our biomass resources could be sustainably harvested, processed, and consumed locally for heating, replacing fossil fuels including gas as well as oil, and potentially developed into a biofuels industry. Talk about jobs!
Economists call this process import replacement, a proven path to wealth creation. The more dollars circulate locally, beginning with harvesting raw materials, to transporting, processing, distributing and consuming them, the better off we all are. This is the ultimate boost to the local economy and a real energy independence!
Unfortunately, big business dominates Washington and Albany. As a result, current public policy promotes fossil fuels, including shale gas, at the expense of renewables.
Shale gas is no mom-&-pop operation. It is produced by national and global corporations to benefit distant investors. Although initially this might be a locally derived product, it would be available to us only after circulating through a complex national and increasingly global system of distribution, storage, refining, pricing and redistribution.
We are told that we will reap great savings in heating costs for homes, businesses, and schools. But what gas company is going to write a contract for 30 years of gas at current prices?
We are told that natural gas will be a boost to local industry. Yet the availability of natural gas for decades in parts of our county – Oneonta and Richfield Springs – has failed to spark any significant economic development. The traditional gas-producing counties of Western New York are among the poorest in the state.
Finally, it is the ultimate NIMBY argument to be against fracking but in favor of drawing gas from the proposed Constitution pipeline. It is still fracked gas. Is it okay to accept the devastation of other communities to get their gas?
It’s time to look seriously at renewables, especially biomass, in Otsego County. This is not a panacea for national and global problems; we and others rich in biomass cannot supply the world.
Adrian Kuzminski is the moderator of Sustainable Otsego.