Sweating out wait for energy policy

Certain cliches come to mind every summer. “Hot enough for you?” “You know, it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.” Or fill in a family favorite.

During the past three summers, meteorologists have been headlining their news with one broken record after another. The cliche occasions have become so regular, they hardly bear uttering. Not so long ago, life on the Great Lakes meant well-defined seasons, pleasantly warm summers being the grand prize. Lately, though, the summer months have been grindingly hot and humid for long stretches of 90-plus days.

Undoubtedly, these unbearably hot summers, as well as several mild winters in a row, are symptoms of a world sickened by greenhouse emissions. The mid-July map of the United States on the Weather Channel burned red for days, and the channel’s online component carried this banner headline: “Dangerous heat wave stifling MILLIONS.” More than 90 percent of climatologists acknowledge the human lifestyle contribution to earth’s rising temperatures. Columbia University’s climate science professor Radley Horton has traced a steady rise in temperatures in New York City throughout the past century; his models extrapolate a 20 percent increase in heat deaths over the next 65 years. Other urban locations are seeing the same increase in suffering.

Not so, cry the deniers, claiming that temperatures in the 90s are normal for summer in New York state. They argue that as long as there are cold, snowy days in the winter, global warming does not exist. The big picture, though, looks at trends over the entire planet, with polar caps melting more and more and global temperatures rising slowly but steadily over the past century. On a local level, the recent winters have seen occasions of snow but also magnolia blossoms in December and trees budding in January. Anyone who grew up in New York should have a hard time accepting these phenomena as “normal.”

Despite an astounding pool of evidence, deniers with political agendas want to hold back on the clean energy solutions to these trends, such as wind and solar power. “Too costly” is the usual argument from the right, while some on the left fight wind turbines because they harm birds – a claim that has been debunked to the satisfaction of the Audubon Society, which now supports wind energy, according to a recent news article. Even conservative Republican Congressman Steve King is pushing for the job production and energy security he claims will result from wind turbine farms.

Before the recent Public Service Commission hearing at SUNY Fredonia, Andy Goodell sent a letter of support for the NRG plan. If his claim that the NRG plant would “support alternative power sources” is true, those of us who favor wind and solar technologies should continue to campaign for support and subsidy of these technologies along with installation of a cleaner facility. Ideally, the NRG upgrade will cut air pollution without the threat of fracking, an undeniably hazardous practice.

We must let our legislators know this entire nation, like Western New York, needs a package of clean energy that includes robust development of wind and solar technologies. These imperiled times require a strong energy policy that lays out a judicious combination of energy sources that will protect our fragile planet. Wind turbines have sprouted along the Buffalo shoreline, and we need these here.

Nationally, we must remind our representatives and president, regardless of who he or she will be over the next few years, to craft a stronger energy plan than the milquetoast documents I’ve seen on Internet searches. The European Commission may have its critics on the left and right alike, but it does have a clear and evolving plan for reducing dependence on carbon fuels – the big provoker of rising temperatures – and for integrating energy sources, including clean energy. That kind of ongoing, clear effort in this country would be heartening, as it has been locally with so much attention brought to the recent Public Service Commission hearing.

I remember the first Earth Day. There was environmental excitement in the seventies. I “walked for water” with Pete Seeger, built a solar panel with a mixed-gender Explorer Scout troop, and learned about the possibilities of wind, solar, and geothermal technologies in a physics course at St. Bonaventure University. If our politicians and corporations had heeded the momentum we the people brought to the ’70s, these “costly” technologies would be routinely implemented now.

We’ve lost 40 years already. Can we really afford to dawdle any longer?

Renee Gravelle is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com