and Renewable Energy: Why We're So Short on Both
Unitarian Church "Community Dialogue," January 19, 2002
asked to speak at today's event the suggested topic was on wind and
solar and conservation alternatives and how these could help make the
U.S. more secure by reducing our reliance on foreign oil. I
replied that I wasn't interested in talking about the topic directly,
but would be glad to address it in a different context. Our time
is brief here today and so I will put this very directly and simply: we
don't need more facts. We don't need another truckload of data to
convince politicians to do the right thing. What we need is the
ability to govern ourselves so we can start making the kind of future
we all know we want and need-one that will let us live in peace with
our fellow humans, the Earth and other species.
In case you
think it's a bit bold to say we don't need more facts, here are a few
In 1952-fifty years ago-the Paley Commission reported to President
Truman that, "Efforts made to date to harness solar energy economically
are infinitesimal. It's time for aggressive research in the whole
field of solar energy-an effort in which the U.S. could make an immense
contribution to the welfare of the whole world." The report
concluded that solar could play a greater role in energy production
than could nuclear power, and that an aggressive effort could heat 13
million homes and offices by 1975.
One year before that date, in 1974, even the Atomic Energy Commission
admitted that by 2000, solar could provide 30% of the nation's energy
In 1972, the American Institute of Architects published its study
called: "A Nation of Energy-Efficient Buildings by 1990." Their
study concluded that readily available energy conservation measures
installed in old and new buildings would offer an energy supply greater
than what we could get from the Alaskan North Slope, or domestic oil
production in the continental U.S., or an overly optimistic prediction
of nuclear energy output.
And the reports
go on, and on! All of these options, of course, create more jobs and
are far better for the environment than what we ultimately chose to
do. The big question it seems to me is "why?" And the
logical answer seems to be "because we do not govern ourselves in
Yes, right here, in
the land of the brave, the home of the free; in this fabled American
democracy of story and song, officials from oil companies and electric
companies write our energy policy-and our foreign policy in places like
Iran and Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.
officials from General Motors Corp. and the du Pont Corp. and tire
companies and paving companies write our transportation policy.
How else can you explain the way our clean, efficient, inexpensive,
environmentally friendly mass transit systems were sold off to
GM-controlled dummy corporations and then systematically
destroyed? Replaced first with General Motors buses belching
diesel fumes, and then with automobiles and expressways-killing our
downtowns and central cities, filling and paving wetlands and
farmlands, replacing the diversity of urban life with the sterility of
self-governing people living in a democratic nation do this to
themselves? Would we do this to our Earth, and then unleash our
corporations to plunder the rest of the planet; write corporate
governance laws disguised as trade agreements (GATT, NAFTA, FTAA);
install murderous regimes to guarantee resource extraction and global
control of markets?
believe we would. I believe we are much more intelligent and
humane than that. The problem is-fable and song and hype
aside-"we the people" don't call the shots in this nation. We
never have. And until we wrestle with that fact and what to do
about it, we will repeat the Paley Commission study and the architects'
study every generation and never get closer to a renewable energy
economy than we are now. Because ultimately it's not about good
data and persuasive arguments-it's about power-who has it and how it's
important to build energy-efficient buildings? Of course it
is. Is it important to push for solar energy development?
Certainly. But deep down inside we also know something
else. We know that the Earth and all the other species that live
here need us to do more than build a nation of energy efficient
buildings; develop more solar energy systems than the Paley Commission
urged; even more than rebuild our mass transit systems. They need
us-WE need us-to figure out why we don't govern ourselves now, what we
must do to change, and ultimately how to win the power needed to
democratically run our government and our economy.
lengthy task? An arduous task? A revolutionary task?
Of course it is-but what else will we do?