Opposing Fracking and Embracing Clean Energy

(view more articles in SOS Tompkins Weekly)

Tompkins Weekly 10-31-11
by Gay Nicholson

A recent opinion piece in the Ithaca Journal accused anti-fracking activists of moral hypocrisy. The writer assumed that those wanting to ban shale gas drilling in NYS were not doing anything to reduce their own fossil fuel consumption, and were therefore willing to push the negative effects of producing coal, oil, and gas onto communities in other parts of the world.

It’s true that if we did nothing about our dependence on fossil fuels, it would be hypocritical to not want its infrastructure in our own backyards. But many concerned citizens are reducing their reliance on fossil energy by taking the time and making the necessary investments in energy efficiency and renewables.  Over the past five years, I have talked about clean energy with thousands of residents across the Southern Tier in my work with Sustainable Tompkins, Green Resource Hub, and Energy$mart Communities. And I’ve coached hundreds on the specifics of reducing fossil carbon consumption and converting to renewable forms of energy. 

People face significant barriers to changing their energy consumption patterns and Sustainable Tompkins and other groups are helping to lower those barriers so our entire community can make the transition to a clean energy system. Our Finger Lakes Energy Challenge is an online platform that gives homeowners, tenants, and businesses a place to show their commitment to clean energy by pledging to take specific steps to improve their energy footprint. Along the way, they are connected to the information and support resources they need to take those steps.

As part of the Energy Challenge, we hosted an Energy Teach-In for leaders of various anti-drilling groups, and many of them have made significant progress in home energy improvements. We’ve also held an annual Energy Fair for the past two years for the anti-fracking movement where we feature updates on community progress toward clean energy.

We advocate that everyone do their best to wean themselves off fossil carbon, but understand that there are limits to what we can do as individuals embedded in a system based on “cheap” fossil energy. That’s why we created the Finger Lakes Climate Fund so people can still take responsibility for their unavoidable energy use by offsetting their carbon emissions locally. Donations to the Fund are redistributed to local modest-income households to help pay for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements to their homes. The net effect is to zero out or “offset” the carbon associated with an individual’s travel or building use. Our new partnership with the Ithaca-Tompkins Regional Airport will make it easier than ever to make the skies above us a bit more climate-friendly.

Our community is facing an uphill battle against becoming the next national sacrifice zone for an unsustainable and inequitable fossil energy system. Tompkins County is a recognized leader in the push for a clean energy economy, but we need everyone to get involved in dismantling the old fossil economy if we are going to be both effective and morally justified in demanding a fracking ban in NYS.

Our Energy Challenge and Climate Fund are just some of the tools available to help fracking opponents avoid charges of hypocrisy and NIMBYism. A large coalition of local groups is launching the countywide Get Your Greenback Tompkins campaign in an unparalleled effort to improve our energy security through conservation, efficiency, and renewables. The campaign will be providing inspiration and directing resources  into every corner of the county.

We need everyone to actively choose a better future by helping to drive both the market shift to clean energy and the political shift to a more equitable and sustainable energy policy. A concern for moral integrity is not misplaced, but let’s use that concern to guide us toward true energy security, not as an excuse to allow the gas industry to wreak havoc on our homelands.

Visit us at www.sustainabletompkins.org to learn more and get involved.

Gay Nicholson is President of Sustainable Tompkins

If you liked this article, you may want to check out our complete archives of SOS Tompkins Weekly articles