To my nieces, nephews, family, & former students,
As an adolescent and young adult, I lived through the 1973 Oil Embargo followed by the 1979 Oil Crisis which Wikipedia refers to as the “first & second oil shock” for our nation and the world. I remember the lines to buy fuel, closed gas stations, and empty cars on the side of the road. But more importantly, it was a non-political awaking of America to a new understanding that our natural resources were not inexhaustible. In 1977, the US Department of Energy and State energy offices were created. For a decade following the oil crisis, massive communication campaigns were carried out to educate the public about energy, including understanding the difference between renewable and non-renewable energy along with the EPA’s efforts to educate the public about smog, greenhouse, and ozone reactive gasses on our planet. Solar, Wind, Geothermal, and Biomass energy research projects were funded as alternatives to burning fossil fuels. Every K-12 School Science Fair had dozens of student research projects about efficient use of energy. There were surges in the purchase of wood burning stoves and tree planting campaigns, so that we might put carbon into the air, and then pull it back out again with a tree. I personally went on trips to plant white pine groves in central Ohio. The Ohio State Fair had displays of model energy efficient homes, and yellow stickers began to appear on appliances showing energy efficiency. Everybody talked about energy and light switches in classrooms and restrooms had notes or plaques on them reminding folks to turn off the lights. There was a continual stream of public service announcements keeping the conversation alive! And as a young chemistry teacher, our energy units included a ton of high quality information and experiments, much of it government funded, to get kids to think about energy usage and the impact on our earth.
So….Did we know? Absolutely we knew…..40 years ago!
Then, rather suddenly, the conversation stopped. I vividly remember in 1989, taking students to Argonne National Laboratory, outside Chicago, and the researchers showing us a cavernous Laboratory located in an old aircraft hangar containing a huge, super efficient, Prototype Magnetohydrodynamic Electricity Generator covered in tarps. The work space looked like an evacuated ghost town – because in the matter of a day, the entire project was shut down by a pen stroke from Congress. This huge metal machine seems to have died, literally and metaphorically as quickly as the nation’s resolve to understand and mitigate our energy sins of the past.
I remember my disappointment. For one decade we were approaching “the energy crisis” like the space program, as a national priority, everyone on board, and then it all stopped. Did we get distracted by extreme artificial lowering of fuel prices? Did the nation’s indifference to the Carter Administration’s National conversion to the Metric System embolden rejection of Government and Scientifically inspired change? Did Big Oil, Coal, and Gas scuttle the conversation? or Were we we just concerned about other pressing issues in a fluctuating world and economy? I don’t know, but I do know this…we knew. Fortunately, some of us got the message, unfortunately many did not.
In the fall-out: Housing, appliance, auto, and other energy efficiencies steadily improved, but now, motivated by cost containment rather than environmental responsibility. Energy Research continued with less funding at Universities and some industries and Science Fair students still did projects on energy efficiency. Most importantly, amazing and persistent research seeking to understand the data of human impact (like the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center right here at The Ohio State University) continued to collect and interpret environmental change through time by collecting physical samples and data such as the historical composition atmospheric gasses trapped in ice cores.
Then in the 1990’s something happened that blew my mind, a seemingly planned agenda to refute the preponderance of scientific evidence or create doubt in the science of global warming became the conversation. In some circles, it became Un-American to even have the conversation. A lot of money was made by talk show pundits (on both sides) who spoke broadly saying very little; only to be exacerbated by social media. For the past two decades the conversations about energy and the environment have digressed into polarized topics between liberals & conservatives. How did this happen? How did we suddenly turn our back on the same kind of intellectually rigorous science that sent us to the moon? As a species, aren’t we supposed to be getting smarter? Having traveled to Northern Europe, Iceland, Greenland, Alaska, and The ice fields in Canada, I have personally seen the result of glaciers receding by hundreds of meters. The past two decades have, in a word, been a disappointment.
But I am optimistic and a firm believer in Martin Luther King’s truthful quote that says “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
• First, I am so impressed with the Pope Francis Release (THREE DAYS AGO) of ‘Laudato Si’ Encyclical providing a moral case to address climate change. Though I am not a particularly religious person, I believe this position will do more than any government, political, or scientific initiative to bring awareness and action.
• Second, small persistent improvements in energy efficiency and generation have made renewable energy cost effective. I remember my surprise, hinging on glee, when I saw solar & wind farms start to pop up in the States after seeing them nearly everywhere in Europe and Australia.
• Third, seemingly the national conversation has drifted to global warming as a fact, but the response are still issues. This is at least better than the previous position of total denial.
• Fourth, it is so refreshing to see that energy prices periodically fluctuate wildly driving a need for more fuel efficiencies, especially in transportation, but more importantly amplifying the nations sense of vulnerability and dependence. I am one of the those individuals who loves it when gas goes over $3.50/gal, it should be more like European prices. ($7.50/gal. or higher)
So, within all that context, what decisions have I (we) made because “we knew”. Well honestly in the past 4 decades, some decisions I am proud of, and some I am not.
I am very proud of:
⁃ Nearly all of our lighting is either compact fluorescent or LED technology.
⁃ For the past 20 years we have driven a Volvo, intentionally chosen, with the smallest engine available, easily giving us 10 more mpg efficiency than other cars by this manufacturer. Our other car has always been fuel efficient lease, including a hybrid.
⁃ We decreased mowing in several parts of our yard, especially around our wetland by 10 meters, which increases carbon capture equivalent to a rainforest. We also maintain over 200 pine trees and a deciduous forest even though local loggers contact us annually to harvest. In addition we use no fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides to maintain our lawn (full disclosure, we do use herbicide to kill driveway vegetation and poison ivy).
⁃ Small but important features of our house make it energy efficient, sky lights and large southern windows provide solar heating, thicker walls increase insulation, and long life recycled decking material is outside.
⁃ I have personally contacted local and federal legislators as a former science teacher and constituent to consider the science of global warming.
⁃ We have collected rainwater for the past 21 years in a 10,000 gallon cistern for our household.
⁃ We recycle aluminum, steel, plastic, glass, and cardboard and all of our news is on electronic with energy efficient settings rather than print.
⁃ Our EPA carbon footprint calculator shows us to be 31% lower than others in our comparison group.
⁃ All of our replacement appliances have all been selected with energy efficiency as the first and most important criteria using latest technologies including an electronic thermostat.
⁃ We are researching total cost of ownership to install solar panels even though PUCO of Ohio is currently considering more limits on net metering (selling electricity back to the grid).
⁃ We researched and elected, this past May, to rent a super fuel efficient compact RV with a 240 watt solar panel. Virtually all of our electricity and cooking energy was provided by the sun. (no generator, no hookup). In addition our exploring of the National Parks was accomplished by hiking more than 70 miles of trails rather than continually driving to locations.
I am not so proud of, but am trying to do better at:
⁃ The amount of high carbon footprint travel we do most especially annually to Las Vegas….kind of the antithesis city for environmental responsibility….just sayen’…. though I would say we have intentionally stayed in LEED Gold and energy star certified resorts as well as resorts that have solar arrays (a vast improvement from 40 years ago, but still, full disclosure, morally corrupt on multiple levels).
⁃ The amount of eating out we do, perhaps the most energy costly choice we can make, however we have been slowly cooking more at home since retirement.
⁃ Sometimes whimsical purchases of goods and services especially in the past, though, you do get to a point in your life where collection of things is replaced by downsizing and a deeper connection to people and experiences.
⁃ My seemingly inability to grow a garden – some year I will get it right.
⁃ Other decisions that I have made that impact the environment or future generations because I was oblivious or ignorant.
⁃ Writing and communicating my thoughts and opinions – This letter is a start and I cautioned a contractor we hired the other day about snowfall as being evidence against global warming by reminding him that all that water in the snow came from a hot ocean somewhere. I told him I would give the senator who recently brought a snowball on to the floor of the senate as evidence against global warming an “F” on understanding the water cycle if he were a student in my class.
I think it is the aggregate of all of our actions that ultimately makes a difference rather than any one action. I hope that my (our) decisions have, on the whole, been responsible and I pledge to always keep good environmental stewardship as a heavily weighted metric for decisions we make. Love Jon