Visiting New Orleans recently, I took a trip out to the swamp and marshlands, something I've done several times over the past year, but this time I got to speak to residents about the Gulf oil disaster.
My observation of the sentiment in Louisiana does not surround itself with "blame game" sound bites; people are truly concerned about their livelihoods. One merchant told me he has seen tourists' visits to his shop decrease since the oil disaster. Others fish or hunt to put food on the table, while others bring home a paycheck from working in the water or by the sea; these endeavors are becoming more complicated. Fishermen and sportsmen are seriously concerned about how their families' lives are going to be permanently altered. The swamps and marshlands are more than just beautiful, they provide for a way of life.
There is a lot of anxiety. Some suggested that we need to start drilling right away to mitigate the economic damage those out of work are experiencing; more drilling would provide new jobs. Others argue that perhaps it is time to develop a new source of jobs. With all of the hurricanes in the Gulf, some are much in favor of wind power industries to replace jobs lost in the oil industry.
But are there really jobs in alternative energy?
On 21 June, Indeed.com listed over 4,000 wind power job vacancies. Estimates show one windmill has the potential to produce enough energy to power 300 to 4,000 homes, depending on the size of the turbine and amount of wind. The American Wind Energy Association reports excess electricity sold from a wind turbine at the elementary school in Spirit Lake, Iowa, earned the school $25,000 in its first five years of operation - with just one turbine.
There is always the concern that local oil vendors might be put out of business. That would not happen; demand for oil is not going to be eliminated, only reduced. And oil vendors who become acquainted with alternative technology could find opportunity for expanded business growth.
Cape Cod residents have concerns that wind farms will destroy the vista and are not good for the ecology of the water. Consider these points: 1) a vista with wind turbines is far more attractive than a vista destroyed by fossil fuels; 2) the damage done by fossil fuels extends beyond the damaged "view" of a wind turbine; 3) wind turbines need not necessarily be off-shore; and 4) those who argue that a wind turbine destroy "their" vista seem not to consider that they are not in ownership of the vista. A wind turbine is a modern day windmill, a beautiful sign of energy independence and evidence of care for our environment. If we can benefit from the cleaner, cheaper energy… great!
What of energy's future? If we, not just the people in the Gulf Coast, are serious about a cleaner environment - promised by at least the last eight presidents - forward thinking suggests it is time to dramatically change our attitudes and our behaviors about the way we obtain energy.
Doing so could help keep Massachusetts (and America in general) at the front of energy technology and development; new industries spur new jobs.
Wind power is certainly not a panacea to energy problems and has its complications and imperfections. But other sources of energy that decrease the need for fossil fuels are clearly needed. This is not a subtle plug for wind farms off the coast of the Cape, nor am I someone who has investments in wind energy.
The bottom line is that Louisiana or Massachusetts can't continue to do business as usual. Business as usual is ruining our environment, and when disasters occur, destroys economies, hobbies, livelihoods and lives.
PAUL HEROUX of Attleboro is a candidate at Harvard University's JFK School of Government for a master's of public administration.