Op-ed column – Now’s time to cut back

It’s high time to go on strike. I’m not talking about some union local or a guild out in California.

It’s high time to go on strike. I’m not talking about some union local or a guild out in California. I mean a comprehensive and all-inclusive national strike.

And a week on the picket lines won’t do. This might take a while, and it might require a long-term change in lifestyle. But it does not involve staying home from work, or anything that will hurt household finances or the economy. In fact it will increase disposable income and help our nation’s economic health.

I’m talking about an energy-consumption strike, a flat-out commitment to substantially decrease use of every kind of energy that we, as a nation, have come to waste, so blatantly.

You can pick from a variety of reasons: obscene profits of the oil companies, global climate change, mercury in our fish from the depths of the ocean to the most remote and pristine Adirondack trout stream. Or look at any small child and realize that we cannot continue this through their lifetime.

Nobody leading the way

The most immediate reason for me is the need to reduce the number of American dollars leaving our country and going into the pockets of people who hate us and will use the money to harm our soldiers, our friends and our nation.

Whatever the reason, it is clear that we cannot wait for politicians of either party to bring about solutions. The presidential candidates all support carbon reduction targets for 2050, but pursuit of these will only get difficult after they have left office. Neither party has truly led; their proposals have followed the opinion polls as the citizens have awakened to the issues. Even those that use the environment as their ticket to fame won’t talk about the impact of the needed changes in our lives, and they continue to fly around in private jets and drive massive fuel-eating road monsters. Politicians believe that we can’t handle the truth, and so they propose feel-good, nonsense solutions.

The use of oil company profits to find more sources of petroleum is a Band-Aid, at best. It means going after the sources that were too expensive and/or dangerous in the past. It means that costs and carbon dioxide levels will continue to rise, and Exxon Valdez-type disasters will become more likely.

Potential . . . for trouble

Nuclear power is a seductive path, and it would seem to sustain us for some time. But nuclear reactors generate materials that are very rare or entirely unknown in nature, materials that are toxic on levels that are hard to comprehend. To use this option on a scale to impact national energy consumption would pass massive disposal and cleanup problems to our children.

For the most part, biofuels are a cruel joke. Ethanol or biodiesel from corn consumes fossil fuels in planting, manufacturing fertilizer, harvesting and processing. And worst of all, biofuels take food from a hungry planet. After you pump that 10 percent ethanol fuel, ask a baker about the price of flour. These programs are about getting Midwestern congressmen re-elected. There is limited progress on turning farm waste into usable fuel, but the quantities involved will not sustain the lifestyle that we have.

Wind power is a step in the right direction. But the “not in my backyard” (or not anywhere in my scenic view) squawking about wind farms will limit their total contribution.

Hybrid cars show some benefit for city driving, but on the highway they make little difference. And electric and hydrogen vehicles have limited benefits; they pollute less in the area around the car. But ultimately the energy to charge the car or to manufacture the hydrogen comes from electricity. So unless the day comes where we can sustain the electrical demand with wind and hydro power — not soon — additions to the demand for electricity mean more nuclear power and/or more fossil fuel consumption.

Need for new habits

What it comes down to is WE have to change our habits. Much like the environmental and civil rights movements of the 1960s and ’70s, the citizenry will have to lead this charge. And it is far simpler and less dangerous than the Freedom Rider buses, or paddling the rivers looking for pollution sources. We just have to use less energy.

In comparison to all of humanity for most of history, and for most of humanity now, we live in unbelievable luxury, particularly when it comes to energy consumption. The cross-country trip, spring break in Florida, 50-mile commutes, heated pools and homes, and shopping malls that stay at the same temperature year-round are well outside the range of possibility for most of humanity.

I can’t control THEM, meaning the politicians, the oil companies, Hugo Chavez, the other consumers, etc. I can control ME, and I am going on strike.

The time is now

My power bill runs from the 19th of each month. As of the 19th of April, I am going to see just how much I can reduce my power bill and gas consumption — radically for one month, and significantly for the long term. From letting clothes dry by evaporation, and turning off lights to less water in each shower and a whole list of small changes, I’m going to cut my National Grid bill. I will reduce my gasoline consumption by walking, riding my bicycle, sharing rides or staying closer to home.

There are no shortage of great restaurants or movie theaters in Schenectady and Scotia, so I won’t have to travel far to put the money that I save back into the economy.

But in any case, I’m on strike. I will report back in May.

Norman Perazzo lives in Scotia. He will update his strike progess at the Gazette’s online eco-blog, Green.point, which will begin postings Monday, April 21, the day before Earth Day. For more info, click here to go to our community blog home page. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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