All eyes are on coastal Louisiana once again, as Gustav roars ahead. While our thoughts and worry center on the human inhabitants in the path of the storm (Rebekah's maternal and paternal families live scattered throughout Louisiana and Mississippi), we haven't failed to notice the oil rigs and oil ports the storm may also destroy (especially the Lousiana Offshore Oil Port) . Gas prices are creeping up already in anticipation. Wondering whether Gustav will veer slightly east (towards New Orleans and further destruction of that beautiful city) or slightly west (towards more oil rigs and much higher gas prices for the whole country) reminds us literally of being stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Off-shore drilling has been promoted, especially by the McCain campaign, as a way of securing energy independence from the vagaries of other political entities (i.e. Saudi Arabia and Iran) that may not want to pump their oil or gas as fast as possible, just so we can burn them in our big cars and houses without interruption. There is, however, a rather large fly in that fossil fuel pie sitting just off-shore, and it's the size and shape of a big ole hurricane (Gustav, the latest but certainly not last example). While politically we may or may not agree with pumping oil out of the continental shelf as fast as our thirsty straws can suck it up, mother nature definitely does not seem quite so pleased with the idea. The endless debate about whether Global Climate Disruption caused by burning fossil fuels is exacerbating the hurricane season will undoubtedly continue, especially now that McCain has unveiled Palin, a global warming doubtress. Regardless of the cause, hurricanes are a fact.
We live in North Carolina, and honestly we don't know whether oil or gas worth pumping lies off our shore or not. We will very willingly pray to any god you direct us to that there is not, so those monster straws that suck out life-killing crude stay far away from our beautiful shores. We've already made the colossal error of building oodles of million dollar homes on most of the tiny spits of shifting sand along our coast. Every year or two, a hurricane or even just a foul-tempered nor-easter washes a few dozen or hundreds of these into the ocean, plopping many thousands of pounds of vinyl siding and treated wood into the oceans and estuaries where our seafood comes from.
Now, here's a question for you. Is it really a good idea to spend time and money putting a bunch more oil and gas rigs out on the windy seas? Will this really lead to energy security? Renewables such as wind and solar often get critiqued for being intermittent, and to a certain extent this is true. Storing renewable energy will be a much larger issue once renewables provide around 20% of our total electrical needs. But right now they provide less than 1%, and aren't projected to provide 20% at least until 2020 if we're lucky. But we can make the same critique of fossil energy, especially since most of the easily available stuff has been used up. The race is on for sucking fossil energy out of hard to reach places like tar sands and the arctic. But these things depend on the vagaries of mother nature as much if not more than renewables like wind and solar. Tar sands require colossal quantities of water. A prolonged drought would seriously hamper our ability to use them. We've never been to the Arctic, but we've seen pictures, and it looks pretty treacherous up that way as well. Melting permafrost under the trans-Alaskan pipeline means heat exchangers are needed to keep ground cold and solid. Is this really what we want to depend upon for our future energy supplies? When we already have viable alternatives that just need our focus and encouragement?
Fossil fuels are a dead end, and the illusion of energy security they provide is just that, an illusion. If we're thinking about putting some of our energy supplies off the coast, wind turbines are the way to go. We hear some strong winds blowing out there!
Stephen and Rebekah Hren are the authors of The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil-Fuel Habit from Chelsea Green. For more information about green living, the Hrens, or their book, visit chelseagreen.com.