By Gay Nicholson, Ph.D., President of Sustainable Tompkins

The theme of our recent Energy Fair was community energy security. Real energy security.

Most of us associate “energy security” with fossil fuel industry lobbyists who try to convince Americans that we will be more secure if we stop relying on imports of foreign oil and just let them expand drilling offshore or in the rural lands of America.

But is that really a plan that will make us more secure?  Consider this:

Energy efficiency has never polluted the Gulf of Mexico or slimed the shores of Alaska.

Solar panels never gave a child asthma or blew off a mountain top.

Wind turbines have never threatened millions with cancer-causing radiation.

Energy conservation has never polluted drinking water supplies or destroyed a rural landscape.

We’ll never be really secure if we continue to base our economy and our way of life on fossil energy.  We know it’s a tightening noose with constantly rising prices and amplifying environmental damages.

Even though President Obama and plenty of Wall Street investors believe that shale gas is a necessary and viable source of energy, we don’t think it will add up to be an overall advantage for our country – not when all the costs are factored in, and certainly not when we consider how justice is distributed.

Here in Tompkins County, we have a powerful coalition of citizen groups, local governments, businesses, nonprofits, and institutions all devoting considerable time and resources to energy efficiency and renewable energy investments.  We clearly have made progress toward community energy security, and we’ve got a lot going in the right direction, but it’s also clear that it is going to take all of us working together, and staying motivated, to reach our goal of a more enduring, safe, affordable, and fair system for powering our community.  We really are in this together, and together our community is poised to make a successful transition to a new energy system based on responsible use, and investment in a diverse mix of energy sources like geothermal, biomass, solar, wind, and hydropower.

We need to work both at the individual level and at the community level.  As we each take responsibility for our own fossil fuel consumption, we can feel good about “walking our talk” when it comes to opposing hydrofracking.

We will also be participating in plugging the leaks in our local economy that come from buying fossil energy imported to our community.  Instead we’ll be helping support our local economy by creating green jobs.

And as we convert more systems to biomass, our rural landowners can earn money from growing a self-renewing energy supply – a reliable, long-term source of income compared to the destructive boom and bust cycle of shale gas drilling.

Every county resident has the capacity to become a hometown energy hero.  To make your pledge on the Finger Lakes Energy Challenge.  To get the help you need from local energy experts.

But also to step forward and be visible in our community on this topic of energy security — to speak up and tell your energy story and inspire others to take the time and make the investments that will lead to our individual and collective energy security.

To be willing to say “this is important” and to act as a change agent in your family, at work, and with your friends.  To speak to your local elected officials about their plans for transitioning local governments and schools to a safer energy system.  To tell state and federal officials to act responsibly and treat us fairly when crafting energy and climate policy.

To be willing to donate and invest locally in helping other people achieve energy security, such as through the Finger Lakes Climate Fund, or simply by becoming a member of Sustainable Tompkins so that events like the Energy Fair can be offered to our community.

This is the path to community energy security.  Transitioning our systems and our lifestyles, and watching out for each other along the way.   It is not the goal of the fossil fuel industry to make us more secure.  We will have to do that for ourselves.