A look at this year’s Renewable Energy Fair keynoter

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

While fossil fuel advocates claim our energy future is bright, their outlook is far too narrow, as the consequences of our excessive energy use are showing up in other ways. Oil spills, adverse impacts from fracking for gas and oil, Western droughts and forest fires, widespread flooding, atmospheric carbon emissions reaching 400 parts per million, and stressful economic conditions reveal that the reality of our economic, energy and environmental problems are far from over.

As we fill up our motorized vehicles with gasoline, we seldom consider the true costs of our oil addiction. Much of the environmental damage occurs far removed from our local communities, which contributes to public apathy regarding the consequences of our energy decisions. One of the keynote speakers at the 12th Annual Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair (Aug. 17-18 at Ogle County Fairgrounds, Oregon, Ill.) will provide us with a stark picture of what is occurring in the tar sands of northeast Alberta. It should cause us to rethink our addiction to oil and become more involved in efforts to reduce our oil dependence.

Andrew Nikiforuk, a Rachel Carson Award-winning journalist living in Alberta who has written about the oil and gas industry for the past 20 years, will provide an overview of our shared energy challenges. He has won the Canadian National Journalism Award seven times since 1989. Given his broad understanding of the interconnections between our energy, environment, economic and political conditions, he will make two different presentations.

One presentation is titled “Pipelines, Bitumen and the Petro State.” His presentation is partly based on his award-winning book, Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent. In it, he points out the consequences of rapid development of tar sands, the world’s largest energy project located in northeast Alberta. The project has changed the political and economic character of Canada. The nation muzzles its scientists, attacks environmentalists and actively undermines global action on climate change. He sees the proposed Keystone pipeline as worsening these trends. Moreover, the development will not make the U.S. more energy independent or secure.

Bitumen from the tar sands already flows from Canada through pipelines in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. Where pipeline breaks have occurred, they have inflicted unique adverse impacts on ecosystems, human health and property.

Nikiforuk’s second presentation takes a different tack based on his most recent book, The Energy of Slaves. In it, he points out that cheap oil has created an army of energy slaves or machines that provide us with comforts the same way human slaves once did. The proliferation of billions of energy slaves poses a variety of social, environmental and political challenges, along with the end of cheap oil. He asks the questions: Who are the masters and who are the slaves?

His presentations will raise public awareness of the adverse impacts of our oil addiction and the rapid expansion of expensive fossil fuel supplies without environmental restraints.

Both presentations provide us with a call for action and include what needs to be done to move us to a more sustainable energy future.

The fair will provide timely information about energy efficiency, renewable energy, educational opportunities and sustainable living practices to encourage people to take appropriate personal actions and support efforts to implement public policies consistent with a cleaner energy future.

Major sponsors of the fair are The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, The Rock River Times, Northern Public Radio, Clean Line Energy Partners and the Kickapoo Foundation.

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. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the July 17-23, 2013, issue

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