« Rush to Judgment | Main | Plugging the Hole »

May 20, 2010

Changing the Game

A couple of nights ago, I joined in a panel discussion/debate titled "Drill Baby Spill" at the Commonwealth Club in SF. The first speaker was Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association. To the surprise of many in the room, including yours truly, she called the BP disaster a "game changer." That wasn't exactly what I was expecting from an oil industry executive (or at least someone who runs one of their trade associations). "Could be interesting," I thought. 

As it turned out, Ms. Reheis-Boyd wasn't ready to change the game in quite the broad, systemic way that the Sierra Club has been advocating. Although she did talk about the importance of a diversified energy mix (been hearing that a lot from oil and gas execs lately), she stopped well short of suggesting anything that would really take our country where it needs to go.

As I listened to her, two things occurred to me. One is that the U.S. will spend more than a trillion dollars in the coming decades on energy infrastructure. There's no question about that. What's at issue is how we spend that money -- our money. Like all investors, we have lots of choices: more offshore drilling, nuclear plants, solar parks, wind farms, geothermal, wave energy, big coal facilities, and beyond.

To be smart investors, we need to use some criteria to evaluate those choices. During the debate, I threw out four questions we should be asking ourselves before deciding our energy future: What is safest, what is cheapest, what is cleanest, and what is quickest? Offshore oil, nukes, and coal plants all come up short by those standards.

The other thing I realized is that, hard as it is for us, we have to take the long view as we make these choices. The oil platforms off the coast of Santa Barbara have been there my whole life. The next generation of power plants we build will last at least 40 to 50 years. In 2060, what will we and our children think about the choices we make today?  Somehow, I wouldn't expect to be congratulated for getting every last barrel of oil or for having leveled the last coal-bearing mountain in Appalachia.

When we talk about our future energy policy, there's a lot of fear and anger in the country right now, along with an absence of both accountability and clear guiding principles. The fear is understandable if you're out of work and unsure about your future. And the anger is justified as corporations put profits over common sense and then act surprised by the consequences.

But fear and anger can't get us where we need to go -- by themselves, they'll only hold us back.

So, getting back to the long view, we need to roll up our sleeves, sharpen our pencils, put on another cup of coffee, and get to work solving this challenge. The anger must become action. Sure, we must hold BP accountable, and the MMS, and the Obama administration, but let's also hold ourselves accountable. Have you called up your Senator or Congressional rep yet to demand a plan to get us off oil? Maybe you're a donor, or a journalist -- have you twisted the arm of someone in the Administration or challenged them with tough questions about our oil addiction? What are each of us doing to make change happen? And as for the fear -- when people discover that clean energy also means good jobs, national security, and a safe environment, a funny thing happens to the fear. It becomes hope.

User comments or postings reflect the opinions of the responsible contributor only, and do not reflect the viewpoint of the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club does not endorse or guarantee the accuracy of any posting. The Sierra Club accepts no obligation to review every posting, but reserves the right (but not the obligation) to delete postings that may be considered offensive, illegal or inappropriate.

Up to Top

Michael Brune

Join Michael Brune's email list:

   Please leave this field empty

Find us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Rss Feed



Sierra Club Main | Contact Us | Terms and Conditions of Use | Privacy Policy/Your California Privacy Rights | Website Help

Sierra Club® and "Explore, enjoy and protect the planet"® are registered trademarks of the Sierra Club. © 2013 Sierra Club.
The Sierra Club Seal is a registered copyright, service mark, and trademark of the Sierra Club.