Sunday, October 5, 2008


The vice-presidential debates last week touched upon the country's energy future. I was disappointed that Sarah Palin reacted to Joe Biden's dismissal of "drill, drill, drill" with a correction. "No, Joe, it's drill baby, drill!" I was hoping to hear a more substantive discussion of what might happen over the next four to eight years to get us moving toward the new technologies.
The first picture is a scanned postcard that shows a portion of the Mahoning River Valley as it looked when I was a kid in Youngstown, Ohio (click on it for a zoomed view). On overcast nights, the underbelly of the clouds would flicker with an orange glow from these and other steel mill stacks and furnaces. Water from the river was used to quench the hot steel. The air was pretty bad, but people said that the fumes and soot were a sign of good times: everybody working. My Dad and Granddad jockeyed locomotives in and between the mills and freight depots. In the late seventies, the mills began to go away and now the stacks are gone and there is loose talk of what to do with the river, again showing signs of life (though the bottom has several feet of toxic sediment). Some of us would like to see it restored to a truly live river fit for fishing and paddling. Northeast Ohio may be in the heart of the rust-belt, but we have tremendous water supplies (even though many are too polluted to bear their full potential) and beautiful, still fertile countryside in between the expanse of urban sprawl.
The second picture shows solar panels arrayed over a parking area and the third is obviously a cluster of windmills (these are not located in Ohio). The steel mills are never coming back to northeast Ohio, but I wonder what we're waiting for (as a country) to convert our power grid. Think of all the roof space atop malls, strip plazas, parking decks, schools, and factories that could support solar panels. Here in one of the cloudier regions, we will need combinations of new technology and energy efficiencies. As a family, we drive a little less and favor the hybrid that gets 50 mpg over the vehicle that averages 20 mpg. I have a feeling we are all going to be making much bigger adjustments in the near term.
I try to imagine what our towns and countryside will look like twenty years from now. I am optimistic, because we have no choice but to change.
(postcard compliments of Kelly Bancroft)