Countering the “We Use It, We Need It” Argument for Oil

Oil-handsNothing derails and muddies an argument faster than the viscous sludge of oil. Supporters of oil view it as a source of wealth and riches. Oil and natural gas are resources that power our cars and cities and provide good jobs for hard-working men and women. Oil is no longer the hostage-child of unscrupulous sheiks but is rather a home-grown asset, as American as apple pie, as Canadian as a frozen outdoor rink. Oil equals independence and freedom. Community activists point out that burning fossil fuels pollutes and harms the environment, leading to disastrous climate change. Yes, the oil people say, fossil fuels have dangers, but we all use it and we all need it. How can you criticize oil’s dangers when you are as dependent on its benefits as everyone else?

Here’s where the argument derails. The green movement finds itself in an impossibly compromised position. Most conscientious and well-meaning people would have to admit that they are consumers of oil arguing for the abolition of oil. We want to protect our homes and communities and the land and waters around our communities, but oil has become essential to the life that we’ve constructed for ourselves. In short, our hands are dirty and we’re trying to appear like saints. It isn’t possible.

There’s a way out of this bind. If we think only in terms of either/ or, we’re in trouble. The same is true if we think there is only one solution. We need multiple solutions. We’re living in a period of transition. Everything is hybrid, a little of this and a little of that. There is no purity. Of course our hands are dirty. We created the problem. As on-going consumers of oil, we perpetuate the problem. But we can lessen our dependence on oil by exploring other options. Oil is a tool, it is not a shrine. It is one tool among many. If we find better tools, like solar power and electric cars, than we’ll use them. Our economy will not collapse once we’ve found cheaper, cleaner and more efficient tools. Just the opposite.

I suspect too much mental energy is wasted on debates over the oil industry. We don’t need to kill the industry. We need to embrace and invest in alternative energy solutions. We do not need the government’s permission to buy a solar panel or to purchase an electric car. As millions of ordinary people start acquiring these new tools, as money gets redirected and new industries arise, no smart young person or shrewd investment manager will seriously consider the field of fossil fuel as an employment or growth opportunity. Oil will be seen as a risky investment, an old tool for a time that is quickly fading.


Treadmill Mantra

Mantras are memorable words or slogans repeated over and over to point one’s thoughts in a positive direction. As I do my treadmill routine each morning, I reflect on key words. These words focus my mind, allowing me to maximize my energy. I asked Jay and Emma–one a ski instructor, the other a competitor in Cheer–to participate in a film version of the treadmill mantra. It’s the first project I’ve shot on a cellphone.

Two Rooftops

cropped-SunsetPrud2l.jpgOn a recent visit to Boston, Kathleen, Jay and I did one tourist thing,
JaySkywalkvisiting Skywalk in the Prudential Building, for a sunset panorama of the city. The sun appeared as a fantastic molten ball, dwarfing all things human, making the skyscrapers and freeways look like abandoned toy sets. Even in a city with so many sights and distractions, the glowing sun stole the show.


RooftopGarden2The next morning, the three of us found ourselves on the roof of the Boston Design Centre, guests of Higher Ground Farm, an urban farm taking advantage of otherwise unused space atop a sprawling 8-story building in the heart of the Seaport District. It was Higher Ground’s last day of the season and a crew of volunteers were busy harvesting salad greens from many neat rows of identical raised beds. The greens are sold to local restaurants, as well as to shoppers in the spacious design centre below.



The rooftop farm was co-founded by friends Courtney Hennessey and John Stoddard. The two share an interest in sustainable environments and locally grown organic food.  Courtney explained to me the difference between urban farms and community gardens. The farms are for profit, with all produce sold to the public; while the gardens support individuals growing small quantities of food for their own use.

DSCN1954 copyFarming on top of a large city building has its challenges. Birds use mulch material for nests; what’s left tends to blow away in the high winds. Luckily a nearby hotel has beehives on its roof. A construction crane was needed to lift the soil to the roof. There are advantages to the roof as well: lots of sun and rain and the heat from the building warms the soil and extends the growing season. The farm supplies fresh produce for city dwellers, eliminating carbon costs of shipping food.

The green roof is an eco-friendly oasis that turns an unused space into a healthy and productive resource. Thanks Courtney and John for sharing your experience.


Music video promotes solar power

I met with Ian Guppy from Solar Nova Scotia and we had an animated conversation about using social media to promote alternative energy and community health. I mentioned there is a lot of serious material out there that is often difficult to navigate. Some fun and stupid snippets might help lighten the mood. In response, Ian sent me this link. Thanks Ian.

Hello world!

Brian-Eno-04In 1975, British musician Brian Eno created a ground-breaking album combining catchy pop riffs with experimental ambient sounds. He called it Another Green World. The music  sounded like a soundtrack for aliens or music for astronauts orienting themselves to new physical laws. There were few lyrics and songs had titles like “Sky Saw,” “Sombre Reptiles” and “Spirits Drifting.” And of course, “Another Green World,” a song that painted not a picture, but a blinding expansion of vision. Listening to it, I felt as if I was emerging into an  open meadow from a dark woods or suddenly discovering another habitable planet after years adrift in space. It’s one of the great dreams of science fiction or any fiction, to escape and find a better place. I grew up listening to Eno’s music. So I adopt his title, with a minor change, to suggest our challenge today is not to leave the planet but to see it differently and behave differently toward it.

Our environment faces many threats that require action. But what can one person do about it? This blog is an attempt by a small group of friends to answer that question. Trying to live sustainable lifestyles, sharing information, experiences, recipes and tips. We hope this blog is of some use and we invite you to join our on-line community.

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