by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
This weekend, Columbia will celebrate the 37th Earth Day in Peace Park. Like previous events, I’m sure it will be fun and educational, but frankly, the more Earth Days I attend, the less I know what to think about it all.
It is well known that more than 80 percent of Americans want to see our environment protected and our national resources conserved. A majority of Americans know that global warming is real and want our government to take serious action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to move our country toward sustainability.
Given citizen concern, you’d think that on each Earth Day we’d have a long list of accomplishments to celebrate. But looking back on the recent past, there seems to be little to celebrate. Our government’s main environmental accomplishment in the past year has been a change to daylight-saving time. Unfortunately, it’s not clear that changing daylight-saving time has reduced electricity consumption. The Department of Energy said, “The jury is still out on the potential national energy savings of extending daylight savings time. A preliminary report, based on decades-old information, indicates a very small amount of energy savings. After November, we’ll be in a better position to accurately figure out what, if any, additional benefit there is.”
However, we do know that this change in daylight-saving time cost U.S. businesses somewhere around $1 billion in software and labor to get all the computers, networks and widgets updated so that they could tell the correct time. And the energy department has blamed the daylight-saving change for an increase in both gas use and gas prices during March.
In his State of the Union speech, President George W. Bush made the bold step of committing our country to reducing gasoline consumption by 20 percent by 2017. Such aggressive goals call for aggressive action, so you’d expect that the White House would have followed up with a host of initiatives to restructure and increase the efficiency of our transportation system and to encourage alternatives to travel.
Instead, the president has focused his entire program for energy independence on ethanol, which is not necessarily an environmentally friendly alternative to gasoline. Although ethanol causes less overall carbon dioxide emissions when compared to gasoline, you have to burn more of it to get the same amount of energy. Modern corn production often employs techniques that take a toll on the environment. Furthermore, we simply don’t have enough arable land to continue to produce crops for food and produce the amount of ethanol the president wants for our cars.
The White House has an answer to these concerns: cellulose-based ethanol. Of course, no one has yet shown that cellulose-based ethanol can be produced on a large scale. It makes me think the president has been reading “The Secret” and believes he can use the power of attraction to solve our energy and environmental problems with cellulose-based ethanol.
Unfortunately, believing that a future technology will solve our problems prevents us from making progress with the technology we possess today. We need to stop waiting for a miracle cure and start using the technology we have to increase the energy efficiency of our vehicles. We need to implement transportation systems that allow us to reduce our dependency on the automobile. And we need to encourage telecommuting and other technologies that help us avoid travel altogether.
It is time that we start demanding that our leaders provide real leadership on environmental and energy issues, so we can all have something to celebrate on future Earth Days.