Making the connection–personal energy use and ecological damage

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

While we are justifiably outraged by ecological damage resulting from the oil gusher in the Gulf, we seldom connect such damage to our personal consumption of energy. Cutting back on our own energy use is the one source of instant gratification available to us. While it may inconvenience us somewhat, we can reap the rewards of saving money and reducing adverse environmental impacts from its use.

We also tend to ignore or forget about other connections between our energy consumption and environmental degradation. A case in point is that some of the gasoline consumed in this area comes from the tar sands project in Saskatchewan, which is destroying forests, polluting water and releasing global-warming gases. It is shipped by pipeline to the Chicago area and refined into gasoline for our use.

While climate change has faded somewhat from the public consciousness, a recent article by Lauren G. McClanahan in the Green Teacher describes an educational exchange between students living in a small fishing village on the coast of the Bering Sea in western Alaska suffering the early consequences of climate change with students living in the state of Washington who are seen as contributing to climate change.

In the words of one Alaskan village student: “Please understand that what you do down there has a great impact on us up here. Understand that we are all in this together. Climate change doesn’t just affect polar bears—it affects people, too.”

Another village student’s view is: “The world is changing. It is getting warmer and warmer. Ice is melting everywhere, even underground. The melting of the permafrost causes hills, houses and other buildings to sink. Permafrost is a section in the ground where everything is frozen. It melts and refreezes around the year, but lately there has been more melt than freeze. If we don’t do something, we could lose this beautiful land that we lived in for thousands of years, forever.”

While last year’s Copenhagen effort to develop an international approach to cutting carbon emissions achieved little, Gwynne Dwyer, author of Climate Wars, points to the significance of the agreement to limit climate change to a 2-degree Celsius temperature rise. It is at that point that scientists believe long-known natural feedback loops could lead to runaway global warming.

Commenting on a Radio Eco shock program provided by the Center for American Progress, Alex Smith believes the International Panel on Climate Change is not really up to the task of warning the world about the real threat.

Here is the essence of his concerns: Since the panel reports are summaries in which each involved country reads and agrees to each line of information, the possibility exists that important information could be eliminated or modified.

When false information finds its way into the report, as it did in the predicted melting of the Himalayan glaciers, there is no one to correct the statement or deal with the press.

Numerous unknowns that science cannot predict that are not in the report—such as public panic, climate wars and mass migration—will have important impacts on society.

The reports are five years behind any newly-discovered scientific understandings; previous reports underestimated the urgency and severity of the impacts of climate change.

While we each bear some personal responsibility for the various forms of environmental deterioration connected to energy use, we are not alone.

This year’s Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair will provide opportunities to see what options are available, meet others with similar interests, gain some new understandings and reinforce others.

Major sponsors of the Aug. 7-8 fair include The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, The Rock River Times and ComEd.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. The Vogls and the IREA are members of the Environmental Hall of Fame. Dr. Robert Vogl is vice president of Freedom Field, and Dr. Sonia Vogl is a member of Freedom Field’s Executive Committee. The Vogls consult on energy efficiency, renewable energy and green building. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are active in preserving natural areas and are retired professors from Northern Illinois University. E-mail

From the June 23-29, 2010 issue

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