OPINION – It’s not easy being green.
Of course, doing the right thing isn’t always easy.
Led by Mayor Jon Pike, St. George city officials are trying to do the right thing, but are falling just shy of the mark.
Pike is the muscle behind a proposal to create a countywide recycling program.
It makes sense, of course, to take measures to preserve our environment, and Pike and the council should be applauded.
They should also be prodded to take the proposal a step further and make the program mandatory without allowing residents to opt out.
Bulging landfills and the dangers involved with emitting gases into the air and pollution to the groundwater mean we have to seriously do something about the mountains of trash we throw away daily.
It’s irresponsible to keep digging holes and filling them with garbage. Still, a certain segment of the population looks upon recycling as an unnecessary practice adhered to only by hippies and tree huggers. It’s a political and cultural thing for many who also fail to acknowledge the implications of global warming and the environmental unbalances that threaten future generations.
That’s why this could be a more difficult nut to crack.
Recycling isn’t that tough. All it takes is separating the organics you scrape from your dinner plate from the inorganics that can be repurposed. It is fairly effortless. All it takes is an understanding that what you are doing will help protect the air we breathe and the water we drink.
Look, if any state in the Union should have an understanding of how damaged the environment can become by man it should be Utah. Even after looking back to the Cold War arms race and nuclear detonations at the nearby Nevada Test Site that dumped poison on its residents – killing many here and across the nation – Utah has developed an abysmal environmental record, whether in the way it pursues fossil fuels or by allowing companies to store nuclear waste within its boundaries.
In other words, there’s more lip service given to protecting the environment than practical effort.
We’ve seen it locally. Those who opted for solar power years ago because of its conservation principles and budget savings could now see themselves facing additional charges, not because the program doesn’t work, but because it works too well.
There was a token push and some incentives were given to those who switched to solar power. As more and more people signed on, it created a situation where the power company started losing revenue. Instead of rewarding people for their efforts and investment, they find themselves being asked to make up the dollars lost by the power company.
That’s not being environmentally responsible, that’s just plain being stupid.
Progress across the nation has been slow in fixing the environment thank to the power of Big Oil, the automobile industry, and Corporate America’s lobbyists who insist there’s nothing to fix. We see a lot of that in politically conservative Southern Utah, where the science of the environment is not accepted by many residents who argue that there is no danger, there is no global warming, there is no end to the fossil fuel chain. They are unwilling to make the kinds of sacrifices, or even simple changes, to preserve the planet.
The biggest argument is that it’s expensive and takes too much time to develop alternative energy or participate in serious recycling programs. Thankfully, some people are not bogged down with such backward thinking. You have to look away from the West, however, to see the impacts being made.
Burlington, Vermont, the state’s largest city, has recently reached the point where its power is 100 percent renewable.
By purchasing the 7.4-megawatt Winooski One hydroelectric project, the Burlington Electric Department can now lay claim to owning or contracting enough renewable energy sources – wind, hydro, and biomass – to fulfill its needs.
The Washington Electric Co-operative, serving customers in northern and central Vermont, has also reached the 100 percent renewable energy milestone.
The state has a goal of getting 90 percent of its energy – electricity, heating, and transportation – from renewable sources by 2050.
The conversions in Vermont did not occur overnight. But, elected officials there were doggedly determined to see their programs through and make them work.
The Vermont energy programs are not totally without a carbon footprint. Woodchips and other residue from the state’s highly regulated logging industry are burned to generate power. While it still results in emissions, they are cleaner and smaller than coal-fired plants.
Energy prices are, and will remain, stable there, and not at the mercy of fluctuating fossil fuel costs. And, there’s also a small bump financially as Burlington figures to save $1 million a year over the next 20 years.
It wasn’t easy and, in fact took about 10 years for Burlington to get to where it is now. But, city officials were determined. They found money and people interested in helping them pull it off and didn’t give up when things got dicey.
The bottom line is that St. George, because of its geography, could do a lot more than Burlington, Vermont did to convert to renewable energy sources.
St. George sits on the edge of a big, empty desert where there is considerably more wind and sunlight than Burlington, which is located near the Canadian border.
But Burlington did it step by step, realizing it could not make the change overnight. It was a matter of not only having the vision to set the goal, but the patience and tenacity to stick to the plan that led them to the goal.
Could they do it in St. George?
If city leaders wait for recycling and power alternatives to generate from constituents, it could be a long time because of the prevailing political and cultural attitudes.
If, however, the feds start handing down tougher clean-air, environmentally friendly mandates it will happen a lot sooner.
Why put off the inevitable?
Southern Utah officials should make recycling mandatory and not offer the option of opting out.
It only makes sense.
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Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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