My turn: We need a plan to move beyond oil

Posted: Wednesday, June 23, 2010

By Kat Haber

The BP oil disaster is one of the largest environmental calamities the United States has ever experienced. So, instead of responding with small solutions, I ask President Obama to announce a vision for moving America beyond its dependence on oil within 20 years.

Alaska has been impacted by a reliance on oil, for good and for bad.  We have felt oil disasters not only with the Exxon Valdez disaster but with many more recent spills like the Alyeska pipeline spill in May.  There is growing concern from our local fishing and tourism economies about possible impacts of future oil spills on our coasts.  Our identities as Alaskans stem from our fishing communities and we cannot afford to overlook the risk we put them in when we continue to pursue offshore drilling.  It’s time to turn the tide away from oil for good.

It’s now painfully clear we cannot pursue only stop-gap measures. For decades, the oil industry has cunningly stood in the way of the clean energy future our leaders, teachers, scientists, economists and engineers have told us is on the way — someday. The day to overcome Big Oil’s obstructionism arrived with the catastrophic blowout of the Deep Horizon well.

We’ve all been moved by heartbreaking images from the Gulf: brown ooze stuck in dragonfly wings and hard working men and women watching their livelihoods drift away. But the effects of Big Oil’s recklessness are local, too.  

In Alaska we want to be part of the solution, and that’s where we’re headed. In 2008 a strong bipartisan effort created a path toward a more secure energy future by committing millions to the Renewable Energy Fund.  Even former Gov. Sarah Palin put forth a goal of generating 50 percent of our electricity from renewable energy.  It is essential to continue down this path especially as Alaska feels the affects of climate change today.  We need a long-term energy policy that highlights new job creation, lowers energy costs, and lowers energy demand.

Together we can end our dependence on the dirty fuels that ruin our health and contribute to climate disruption, and this national effort needs President Obama to announce a plan to move our nation off oil in the next 20 years.

Rather than drilling in the Arctic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, we should embrace 21st century sustainable energy solutions that make cars more fuel efficient, promote conservation, invest in clean, renewable energy, and protect our natural heritage. We already have the technology and clean energy solutions for a 21st century transportation system that will create energy independence and end our addiction to oil. With Toyota’s partnership with electric car maker Tesla, a new generation of electric and hybrid electric cars is ready to roll off assembly lines. There is no doubt that a new way of fueling our prosperity is within reach.

What’s more, moving beyond oil and to a clean energy economy means more green jobs. Studies show dollar for dollar, clean energy creates three times more jobs than oil. One step further, energy efficiency and home retrofits can be an enormous source of jobs. For example, if the Railbelt were to cut energy generation needs in half by 2025, we could have over 9,000 new jobs.  This is the easiest way to cut our dependence on conventional fossil fuels while boosting our economies and creating more jobs.  And let’s not forget the jobs that we will get from bolstering our local tourism economy.

City by city and nationwide, we need action to ensure that our beaches, fisheries, wildlife habitats, economy and public health are not sacrificed to tomorrow’s oil disasters.

President Obama should be encouraged to embrace this environmental catastrophe as a leadership moment, a rare chance to move the nation away from an entrenched but destructive policy with a plan for the clean energy future we all know is achievable and inevitable. This won’t be easy. But, when faced with a crisis, it’s what America does.

Someday, hopefully very soon, the president’s daughter will ask him if he’s “plugged the hole yet?” And he will answer “Yes. Done.”

Think how much more satisfying that answer will be to his daughter and the nation if he can also assure us such a catastrophe will never happen again, because he has a bold plan for moving America away from oil in 20 years.

• Kat Haber is a resident of Homer and volunteer organizer of Hands Across the Sand, a worldwide event to protest off-shore drilling and promote a clean energy future.

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