Wednesday, May 5, 2010

New UND nickname - I think I have the answer

Obviously the rigamarole involving the the nickname and logo used by University of North Dakota athletics has been a huge story lately in this neck of the woods. It looks like a new nickname will be coming down the line in the near future. But what to choose? There have been plenty of suggestions bandied about, but I think I have a good option. It is something many North Dakotans view as integral to the state, and as the editorial from Tom Dennis in today's Grand Forks Herald demonstrates it is something for which there is already plenty of cheerleading in the region...

North Dakota Fossil Fuels

The Herald has been recently scheming for how we can spend the continuing monetary windfall from fossil fuel extraction, so it is not surprising that in the wake of the oil-cano in the Gulf of Mexico we get something saying essentially we just have to accept such events. The supposed concept behind the editorial is about risk & trade-offs, which could also be views as cost & benefit. The problem with it is the woefully skewed descriptions of the risks/costs when it comes to energy. In particular there is not even a mention of climate change, which is like talking about the Red River impacts in this region and ignoring flooding.

Yes, we have decided 30-40 thousand American traffic deaths a year is part of driving, and most certainly the current hand-wringing over offshore drilling will not spur us to try to shake away from as much oil usage as possible. Yet after imploring us to accept risks like oil spills or nuclear accidents, wind and solar power are belittled in part because they impact birds? Give me a break. Just because we cannot flip a switch to go from dirty and limited energy to clean and sustainable resources does not mean contined heavy reliance on fossil fuels is a good choice. It means we should be working harder to transition as quickly as possible to clean energy to minimize the risks and costs from fossil fuels.

If you want to talk about risks from fossil fuels, the current disaster in the Gulf as well as the likes of the Tennessee coal ash spill (that most people have probably never heard about) are small potatoes. The primary threat of fossil fuel use is that climate change and acidifying oceans will cause large scale environmental damage and impose serious costs on society at least as high as making regions uninhabitable. And this is not a case of maybe it will and maybe it won't, like maybe that oil platform will blow up or maybe it won't. The effects of climate change are occurring and will continue to worsen, and our choice is how bad we allow the effects to become for that "relatively cheap energy that fuels modern ... lifestyle."

Worried about the space the solar panels and wind turbines take up? Consider the land rising sea level will take. Worried about the limited ability to produce energy from wind and sun? The wind and sun may go down, but they always come back. Fossil fuels are the finite resource here. That 3-4 billion barrels of oil in Bakken sounds like a lot, unless you consider it is only enough to cover current global usage for about 5-7 weeks.

The effects of global warming are not immediate but rather take time to be felt, like a pot of water takes time to boil on the stove. So really bad effects like loss of agricultural zones and inundation of coastal areas will take decades to centuries. Plus it happens gradually not in any Pearl Harbor or 9/11 all-the-sudden way.

That does not excuse us to run up the ecological bill now to charge to future generations just because we feel coal and oil are easy and wind and solar is hard. We have an obligation to those future generations to weigh the risks and costs to them too. We can begin to seriously address the threats of climate change now even though everything may not be easy. Some people do still believe that Earth is not a disposable buffet for us to take what we want and trash the rest but rather that "we borrow it from our Children".

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