As we approach a new election cycle, it seems wise to reflect on where we have been, where we are, and where we want to be.
We all know that fossil fuels have made possible great strides in building industry, infrastructure, and prosperity for West Virginia and the United States. While we all appreciate our warm and bright homes, we also now see the great social costs of an economy based on extraction and exportation of fossil fuel energy. While fossil fuels will certainly be part of our energy mix for some time, any rational and thoughtful person looking to the future would also know that fossil fuels are the energy sources of the past and are gradually going the way of the dinosaurs. And yes, climate change is real and is being largely driven by extraction and burning of fossil fuels. We will need to deal with that problem, and soon. Anybody who still denies that is some combination of Ill informed, scientifically illiterate, or purposefully disingenuous.
In the mid-eighteenth century and early nineteenth century coal was certainly the energy of the future, supplanting wood and water power. Likewise, from the mid-nineteenth century through the early twentieth century, oil and gas were the energies of the future. However, those days are gone. Those energy economies have had their day and, in the end, have come up lacking. Fossil fuel energy economies are now surviving largely due to the fact that they are heavily subsidized, directly and indirectly, by government and society.
We, in West Virginia, are just finishing up about a decade of booming shale gas development. Yet, after that decade of grandiose promises, our State government is finding itself unable to balance its budget and is busy cutting education and other essential services. Meanwhile, our citizens are again facing another bust in the ongoing boom and bust cycle common to energy extraction. We also, once again, will see a variety of energy companies going bankrupt, or just packing up and leaving, and passing on social and environmental costs and liabilities to the taxpayers. We’ve seen it all before; is that where we want to be? Is that what we want for our children and grandchildren?
Elected officials and candidates for office who are still insisting that coal, oil, and natural gas are the future for a vigorous and sustainable economy have their heads securely stuck on a nineteenth century economic model. Furthermore, any politician who tries to justify the continued subsidizing of fossil fuels over other energy sources is clearly stuck on a nineteenth century political model and government support of a “robber baron” driven economy. Any politician who is still denying the science of global warming is being intellectually dishonest and is not worthy of representing the citizens of West Virginia in this century. The energy economy is changing, whether we want it to or not, and not because of some global conspiracy by scientists and environmentalists to kill the Appalachian coal industry. Ignoring that reality only hurts West Virginians in the long run as we bypass the real opportunities to diversify our economy and profit from the clean energy future.
It is past time for voters to insist that our elected officials quit being lazy and get busy planning for the future. It is time for our government leaders, at all levels, to face the realities of a life in this twenty first century world. Citizens must hold them accountable to develop and articulate a vision for a sustainable, just, and open economic model for the mid twenty first century and beyond. Do not let them be bought off by wealthy special interests. Do not let them deny good science, because of political dogma, ignorance, economic expedience, selfishness, or wishful thinking. Do not let our elected officials and politicians lead us backward, once again, into the nineteenth century.
Tom and Becky Berlin
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