Energy Security is a Community Project

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Tompkins Weekly- April 4, 2011. By Gay Nicholson.

Sustainable Tompkins and more than 20 partners are hosting the second community Energy Fair on Wednesday, April 6 from 6:30-9:00 pm at the Women’s Community Building.  The evening’s theme will be our community’s pursuit of true energy security.

The oil and gas industry has long waged a lobbying campaign aimed at convincing Americans that our energy security is dependent upon constant expansion of drilling rigs into untouched territories on land and sea.  It seems very doubtful that this is true.  The drilling industry plays a global game, so any inference that domestic drilling means domestic consumption is on shaky ground.  More centrally, the basic premise that having more fossil fuel makes us safer is not true in the short run or the long run.  Consumption of fossil fuels is driving climate change and affecting food security, disease patterns, and many natural systems.  Drilling accidents are polluting ocean systems as well as freshwater drinking water supplies.  Combustion of fossil fuels has damaged air quality and escalated asthma rates to epidemic levels.

How is any of this making us secure?  I think the real intent of the industry’s message is that more drilling means income security for them and maintenance of a destructive lifestyle pattern for the rest of us.  Not to mention that eventually we will run out of fossil fuels and are even now in the stage of “extreme energy” where it costs us nearly as much to manufacture these fuels as to use them.

So what would true energy security look like?  Being secure implies having a low risk of loss or damage.  Most of us buy insurance to protect ourselves from loss, but we can’t do that for energy.  However, we can find ways to use less energy and develop self-renewing, more benign energy sources.  If you don’t use very much fossil fuel, you are naturally insulated from the financial losses caused by rising oil and gas prices.  If you have access to a diverse mix of renewable energy sources, you can meet more of your basic needs without fear of the multiple vulnerabilities associated with fossil fuels.

Many people have been taking these steps at the household level – eliminating wasteful energy consumption, investing in insulation and efficient appliances and cars, buying local and organic, and converting to biomass, solar, or other renewables to power their homes and cars.  These investments are like an insurance policy that pays off every time fossil energy prices go up.  For example, when I first bought my tankless water heater, it saved me about $150/year on propane – that’s now $340/year because propane has gotten so expensive.  My energy security has improved greatly from this and other investments in my home.

But working alone at the household level won’t be enough for our community to achieve energy security.  Transportation is our Achilles heel, and too many people on modest incomes drive long distances to get to work or other destinations.  We need more affordable housing close to employment centers and a mix of public transit options.  Our community also needs to facilitate and help finance a diverse infrastructure of renewable energy sources.  And we need to keep working on reducing our exposure to risky fossil fuels in our food system and other supply chains.  We won’t eliminate fossil fuels from our economic system, but we can reduce the insecurity that comes with utter dependence on them.

Dozens of local organizations and government agencies are working toward the goal of community energy security, and several will be at the Energy Fair on April 6 to share their expertise and provide a briefing to the community.  We’ll hear about our energy and climate security goals, what resources are available to reach those goals, and what we must do now to reduce risk and create stability in our energy systems.

This is an important conversation for all residents to join.  A motivated community working together can lower our shared risk and raise our collective energy security.

Every step we take together makes us more resilient and insures a better future.

Gay Nicholson

President, Sustainable Tompkins

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