Am I a hypocrite?
Of all the responses I get to this column, by far the most common attack pertains to my supposed hypocrisy.
They usually go a lot like this:
“Well hello to all you liberal brain dead fools!!!! How are your little brains working today???? While your [sic] deciding which granola bar to eat today or maybe which government handout you will apply for today, how about you shut your electricity off and then drain the oil out of your vehicle and punch a whole [sic] in your fuel tank. Then see how long you will last on your hemp oil and windmills.”
This is an actual note I received from a guy we’ll call Bryan. If you didn’t catch it, Bryan is pissed. (Who else would have the courage to quadruple their punctuation marks?)
Unfortunately, unless you’re in a fistfight, anger is a poor substitute for a thoughtful argument.
Why should I punch a hole in my gas tank, Bryan? Nowhere have I suggested people go fossil-fuel-free today. What I have said is that we must drastically increase system-wide efficiencies while transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables as quickly as possible.
The benefits fossil fuels have bestowed upon certain segments of society do not excuse their negative impacts on human health and the environment. All industries and technologies evolve – typically to maintain or improve performance while mitigating unintended side effects. Energy is no different.
Our communities do not need fossil-fuel energy. They need energy, period, preferably from sources that do not destroy the natural world, toxify our bodies and drive us off the global-warming cliff. That preference for energy with less civilization-damaging baggage is what is driving the transition to renewables.
The market gets this. In 2013, investments in renewables (excluding large hydro) outpaced new fossil-fuel plant capacity by a factor of almost two.
So why the hate mail? Because transition is a soft word for change, and change invariably creates winners and losers.
I have no sympathy for the big fossil-fuel companies who will lose in this transition. Much like big tobacco, they have profited obscenely by obstructing society’s embrace of the truth.
Where my sympathies lie is with workers, some of who may lack the resources, mobility or job skills to navigate the industry shifts. Maybe folks like Bryan.
If I were in his position, I may reflexively hate me, too.
But here’s the thing. San Juan Citizens Alliance is not the driver behind the tectonic shifts hitting the energy industry. The blame there lies with the creative destruction of capitalism itself. Society’s understanding of how the world works grows; in return, businesses and industries evolve. Try as you will to find a villain, at the end of the day, the ones to blame are those business and civic leaders who cannot or will not see the changes coming and adapt.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Dan Olson is executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.