“The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself; then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This is the just, and generous, and prosperous system which opens the way to all— gives hope to all, and consequent energy, and progress, and improvement of condition to all. No men living are more worthy to be trusted than those who toil up from poverty.” – Abraham Lincoln, quoted in “Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year.”
The just ended election dealt, in part, with Lincoln’s economic formula. At least environmentally, the question seemed focused on whether “new beginners” were to be given a chance or whether their efforts would be stymied by the efforts of financially successful technologies to protect their treasure.
Somewhere deep inside most of us – 98-percenters and 1-percenters alike – is the understanding that we can’t go on the way we have. The forests once were thought to be too expansive, too fast growing, to ever threaten the nation with wood shortage, and few people were aware of the damage clear-cut mountains could render to rivers and streams.
Pennsylvania once had limitless amounts of anthracite coal, but the heat-bearing mineral became increasingly difficult to mine and increasingly destructive to the environment. The only thing limitless about it has turned out to be the fire burning since 1962 below the Pennsylvania coal town of Centralia..
Now we have natural gas from deep shale, another fossil fuel being used to block invention, dirty our home, and protect the fiscal assets of those comfortable exploiting old resources and the expense of future generations. In the election Tuesday, Michigan voters turned down Proposition 3, a plan that would have amended the state’s constitution to require that state’s utilities to generate, by 2025, at least 25 percent of their sales based from renewable sources, including wind, solar, biomass and hydropower.
Prop 3 supporters raised about $10 million, against about $23 million anted by opponents under the curious banner of the Clean Affordable Renewable Energy (CARE) committee, comprising such industrial leaders as DTE Energy, Consumers Energy and Wolverine Electric to oppose it. What a beautiful, sensible name for a coalition out to protect its position in notably unclean, mostly nonrenewable, energy.
A slightly more cynical person than I might well suspect the opposition also mounted the support for setting energy policy through a constitutional amendment – probably the last place such laws should be made – as an argument against what otherwise should have been sound policy.
In Pennsylvania, we have avoided taxing natural gas to any significant degree, which could provide more funding for, among other environmental issues, additional staff in the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. Meanwhile, questions continue about whether fracking can be truly safe over the long term. Maybe the only way we find out is 100 years after the last well is fracked, we discover whether fracking fluids have shown up in out drinking water or shattered shale has caused more earthquakes.
But the planet is getting warmer, and climates are changing, turning New Jersey into beach front for the Pennsylvania Poconos, and Manhattan into an under-water municipality. And generations of “new beginners” could find meaning building and maintaining the machinery of clean, renewable energy sources, putting their incomes to use providing the wherewithal to purchase goods and services made and maintained by other “new beginners.”
Photo by NASA
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