Saturday, August 4, 2018

Feeling Guilty?

     Cape Cod has a fragile environment. It's just a spit of sand sticking out into the Atlantic ocean, with enough tourists in the summer, you'd think, to weigh it down and swamp it in Nantucket Sound. Hurricanes and Nor'easters have eroded some of the beaches. And since most of land mass has an elevation less than 50 feet, when the glaciers start melting, Cape Cod will be very vulnerable.

     Many people here think of themselves as environmentalists. Bicycle paths crisscross the landscape. Every town has protected some conservation land from development. People pick up after their dogs. A lot of homeowners go without air conditioning. The local ice-skating rink claims: "Our ice comes from the sun."

A windmill in Falmouth, MA
     I've actually seen a few solar farms on the Cape, which is a surprise since there isn't all that much sun here. And I've counted at least a dozen windmills spread out among the trees. There's plenty of wind on Cape Cod, and so those practical New Englanders have put it to use.

     I recall reading a book, Cape Wind by Robert Whitcomb, during one of our previous visits to the Cape. A consortium was proposing to build a wind farm out on Nantucket Sound, maybe 10 or 12 miles offshore. It would have produced almost enough electricity to replace the oil-and-natural-gas-burning electric generation plant on the Cape.

     However, the Cape Wind project ran into a lot of opposition. It would interfere with boating traffic; it would endanger migrating birds. But most of all it would spoil the view of the well-heeled waterfront property owners in and around Hyannisport.

     One opponent of Cape Wind was Sen. Ted Kennedy, who of course had a family compound in Hyannisport. Senator Kennedy eventually met his maker. But the Cape Wind project has not. While there is still no sign of a windmill in Nantucket Sound, apparently plans are still going forward for a wind farm sometime in the future.

     Meanwhile, there are already a number of windmills scattered across the landscape. So good for the Cape Codders who are progressing along the lines of clean energy, energy independence, and intelligent use of natural resources.

     But of course, nothing is ever quite so simple. Every year the town of Orleans holds an end-of-summer bonfire on Nauset Beach. It's a spectacular sight and lot of fun for the kids. But it seems like enough smoke billows out from the wood fire to cause global warming all by itself.

     I also noticed a conflicted attitude toward automobiles on the Cape. I saw many a Toyota Prius (50 mpg) and Honda Insight (40+ mpg) on the streets of Falmouth, along with other smaller cars that probably get 30 mpg. But there were also plenty of Jeeps (20 mpg), Chevy Tahoes (18 mpg), and Ford Expeditions (16 mpg).

     In other words, a lot of Cape Codders choose to ignore any warnings about air pollution or global warming, and they seem unconcerned that we derive a lot of our gasoline from the dubious practice of fracking, while we still import a lot from our frenemies in the war-torn Middle East.

     I figure, if you drive an SUV, you're a libertarian who believes that people should be able to do what they want, without restrictions on their freedom and despite any consequences to others. But  everybody, no matter what their political belief, agrees on one thing. They want to be able to drive 70 or 75 mph, not 55 mph, and they don't care that it burns up more gas that way. (A typical car engine is most efficient at around 50 or 55 mph. If you get 30 mpg at 55 mph, you will be getting about 25 mpg at 70 mph.)

     I know, I know, you're in a hurry. And gas is not that expensive. And what difference does one car make? But according to mpg for speed, if the national speed limit were set to 55 (as it was in the 1970s) it would save 1 billion gallons of oil per year.

     Of course, I'm like everybody else. I don't want to live near a nuclear power plant; I don't want anyone fracking in my backyard, and I don't want them drilling for oil in the Arctic. But I also want to be able to drive wherever I want, whenever I want . . . and not have to pay too much for gasoline.

     Most of us try to be good. As for me, I console myself that I don't drive an SUV; I drive a sedan and I don't drive as fast as many other people, so I get a little over 30 mpg on the highway. But let's face it, convenience often wins out over conscience. And I wonder. Cape Cod is a nice place to visit. But will it be swamped under water when our 16-month-old grandson wants to come here 20 or 30 years from now?

     P. S. For those who want to follow up on the topic, the New York Times Aug. 5 Sunday magazine devotes the entire issue to an article "Losing Earth" by Nathaniel Rich which focuses on the causes and dangers of climate change.


Anonymous said...

What are you driving these days? You got rid of the Acura?

Anonymous said...

Enjoy yourself, Tom. You're just driving to help fend off the cold when the ice age comes.

Kevin said...

Tom, I've enjoyed your descriptions of Cape Cod. If you haven't yet read any of Robert Finch's books, you might enjoy The Outer Beach, published last year by Norton.

gigihawaii said...

The highest speed limit here in Hawaii is 60. My daughter was ticketed for driving 90. The police did not care that she was late for class.

DJan said...

I drive a Honda Civic and get great mileage if I ever venture onto the freeway, which isn't often these days. And I also take the bus several times a week, mostly because I don't want to try to find a parking spot and pay for it as well! :-)

Linda Myers said...

I'm pretty conscientious as a driver- we have a Prius and an Accord. All I can do is what I do. I do wonder at the shortsightedness of other, though. Like if gas is inexpensive, all is right with the world.

Rebecca Olkowski said...

Too many people are living for the present and not thinking forward to the future. It's sad. I fear for my kids and future grandchildren. I like to drive at 55. Unfortunately, people in LA prefer about 80. I didn't realize there was a saving in that, so I'll continue to drive slower. Wind and solar are cheaper. You'd think more people would take advantage of that. Oh well.

BigScr said...

Living in Arizona solar and wind both make a lot of sense here however it seems the biggest push back to using those methods are the utility companies and the corporation commission that oversees utilities... They have made changes that make the payback for solar not a realistic time frame... It's about control and utility profitability and it needs to be a lot easier to support these alt fuel methods.

Barbara said...

Yes they are both on my mind very much. I do think wind energy is the right way to go but im sure there are a lot of negatives I've never thought of

Wisewebwoman said...

I drive a Yaris, so excellent on gas but so many out here drive trucks and SUVs. I had a cabin on my land in my last home and it was completely off grid and I didn't need sun for the solar panels. It was better with sun but even on rainy/misty/snowy days it drew power.

I honestly feel Tom that the bits that many of us are doing for the environment are amounting to zero.

I am completely discouraged.