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!